“Watch out!”

I heard it from somewhere behind me. Before I knew it, I was engulfed in a tidal wave of water as I sat on the side of the McKeldin Mall fountain at 2 a.m.

I turned quickly to see three streakers booking it down to the end of the fountain. An eruption of laughter and applause followed as they all took a bow. I looked to my friend that I’d met two hours prior and joined in with the crowd of people cheering, my stomach cramping from how much I was laughing.

And that was my second night of college. That was the beginning of it all. But let’s backtrack to the first day.

Somewhere in the midst of the haze that was move-in day, I found myself crying at the desk I’d just organized in a room with far too many people and far too much energy. It had finally hit me: I was at college. I was moving out of the house I had lived in for 16 years. I was moving away from my best friends, from my family and from my dog (who, still to this day, is the thing I miss the most).

Before that moment, I had felt almost numb to the reality that I was moving five hours away from my hometown of Brookfield, Conn., a town that was my own little world. I remember feeling a huge pressure in my chest, thoughts of regret and panic flooding my mind. “I can’t do this. I really can’t do this,” was all I thought that day.

Before I knew it, I was saying goodbye to my parents. And then I was alone with people I didn’t know at all. In the bustle of the activities the school had planned, I almost forgot how sad I was. I’d almost forgotten, but not completely. I spent the rest of the night bonding with the people on my floor over how freaked out we were, crying to my roommate who, thank God, is very patient, and clutching my teddy bear as I cried myself to sleep. Super bleak, I know. Don’t worry, it gets better.

The next day was service day for the scholars kids. It was a blur of community service, sweat and mosquito bites. I counted,I had 15 on my legs. I spent the day talking and laughing with people I’d only met for a minute the day before. One girl I bonded with asked me to go out with her that night within the two minutes of us talking.

When we all got back to the dorms, we sat and bonded over how sweaty we were. About 15 of us sat in one dorm room laughing, yelling and trying to forget that we were about to start college. That night was the beginning of everything. It was the building block of the friends I have become close to, the connections I have made and the happiness I have found here.

We went out that night, about a dozen other people and me. We walked around, found parties, hung out and at 2 a.m. ended up sitting and talking at the McKeldin Mall fountain. That night was so surreal. I had only known these people for two days, and yet I still felt so connected to them.

The next week was a compilation of far too many people hanging out in one dorm room, introductions and connections. But it was also waves of regret, sadness, anxiety and having friends call me up crying, feeling the same way I was. It was crying in the shower and crying of laughter. It was advice and counseling. It was also missing a connecting train in D.C. and having to play games to pass the time.

I felt so many emotions that first week I thought I might break down. The only thing that really kept me sane was the nightly chill sessions we would have in various dorm rooms, each time with more people. Eventually we had accumulated about 20 people, all of us standing in the hallway on the guys’ side.

These moments were keeping me from regretting my decision to move five hours away from a place I had lived for my entire life. The quiet moments walking with people I had become so close to, the blowing up condoms and playing volleyball with them in the hall — those were the moments that I felt at home.

And now, sitting on my bed with eight other people in my room, all making it impossible for me to get work done, I wonder how I was so sad that first night.

But I was lucky. I connected with everyone on my floor. Some people aren’t so lucky. Some people can’t bring themselves to get out of bed, paralyzed by the thought of the amount of work they have to get done. Some people feel so alone at school they go out to parties every night to try to numb everything they’re feeling. Some people are in a limbo where they’re neither happy nor sad.

Everyone reacts to this culture shock differently. Every person’s story will be different. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by people that I consider friends, people who have made this experience amazing for me so far.

Featured Photo Credit: Taken on Labor Day, 13 of us went to Washington, D.C. to see the sights and be tourists. However, the pack got separated so not everyone is pictured. Photo courtesy of Aska Gaines.

Monica is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at mpizzo@terpmail.umd.edu. 


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