All across the state of Maine, newly minted college students are pinning up posters, Pinterest-inspired canvas paintings and photo collages of high school friends on beige walls of their assigned dormitory room — trying to make this new place feel like home.

They are sitting in their first classes, feeling intimidated, overwhelmed and, hopefully, excited about the prospect of diving deep into the topics that interest them. They are lying in their lofted, twin-size bed trying to fall asleep while ignoring the fact that the snoring person on the other side of the room, their new roommate, is a complete stranger, just a random person they met a few days ago. They are contemplating whether to pledge to a fraternity or sorority. Is Greek life really for them? Maybe they should join a club instead. Or an intramural team. Or an a cappela group. Or student government.

But really, they are just trying to figure out where — or if — they belong.

I both envy and pity these incoming freshmen. Of course, my college years were transformative, eye-opening and a tremendous amount of fun. I forged meaningful friendships, found guidance from mentors and professors, discovered a passion for writing and, subsequently, the confidence to share the product of that passion with others.

But those first few months can be absolutely brutal. That period of time stands out in my mind as one of the loneliest of my life.

I was not one of those lucky people who was assigned a roommate who turned out to be their long-lost best friend for whom they had been unknowingly seeking the past 18 years of their life, and then with whom they are serendipitously united during their college years. While that depiction of college is largely what we see on television shows and in movies, it scarcely happens in real life. I, like so many others, fell victim to the cruel, invisible hand of the housing department.


My first obstacle: The majority of the students living in the dorm to which I was assigned were sophomores. There were two freshman floors in that residence hall, but of course, I didn’t live on either of them. I lived on a sophomore floor, meaning all of my neighbors were settled. They already had friends. They were used to the pace of college and weren’t looking for anyone to accompany them to the dining hall.

That factor could have been made up for if I’d ended up in one of those long-lost best friend situations, but no such luck. I had two roommates that year: the first, a sophomore business student/blonde California sorority girl who treated me like her personal driver rather than a friend; the second, a St. Louis native who spent the night in our room only once, and for the rest of the semester treated our living quarters as a daytime lounge in which she could kick up her feet between classes. I spent so little time with her that I can’t even remember her name, but I do remember that the only two movies she brought to school were “Spanglish” and “Save the Last Dance,” which is an insane duo of movies and reason enough to be skeptical of our friendship potential.

So, without finding camaraderie with my floormates or my roommates, I spent a lot of my time on my own. I had lunch and dinner alone, but I read a book as I ate so it appeared like it was my choice rather than the fact I had no one to sit with. Instead of going out on the weekends, I binge-watched shows on Netflix. Sometimes I just sat in my car, listening to music and writing my name in the dust that collected on the dashboard, because it was the only place that felt familiar to me.

One Saturday afternoon I was walking up from the laundry room, fresh sheets in tow, and I ran into one of the girls who lived on a freshman floor. We met during welcome week so made small talk in the stairwell. I asked her what she was up to and she said something like, “A bunch of us are watching ‘Mulan’ upstairs,” and I said something like, “Nice!”

For just a second I thought my fortune could change, I’d be invited up to hang on her floor and we’d hit it off and I’d finally belong to a group. But then she just said something like, “Well, have fun with your laundry.”

Although I don’t remember exactly how that conversation went, I remember exactly how crushed I was by it. I went upstairs, got into my bed without even bothering to put the clean sheets on first, and just cried. I probably cried for hours, all the while wondering why it had to be so hard. I wondered if I had chosen the right school or if I should transfer. I wondered if I’d ever feel as though I belonged.

I want new college students to know, especially the ones who feel as though they’re never going to connect, that this first year is a hard and frustrating transition — but that feeling doesn’t last forever. Take a deep breath and give it time, because one day, someone will invite you out. You’ll find yourself at some apartment party where the music is vibrating the walls and you’re among a crowd of shiny happy people, all clutching cups full of something red and radioactive. You’ll dance and laugh and wake up the next morning with a headache, but also with a few new friends. The next thing you know, these are the people you eat dinner with every night and go to the library with every Sunday. And they slowly form the backdrop to the next four years. And, maybe, five years down the line, you’ll think how lucky you were to be placed in that dorm on that sophomore floor, because eventually your neighbor down the hall becomes that long-lost best friend you’d been hoping for all along.

Still, it might take a while to find that group of people with whom you feel like you belong. It didn’t happen for me until I stepped into my college newspaper’s newsroom. So don’t give up. When it happens for you, it will feel as though they’ve always been in your life, and you’ll pray that they always will be.

Emily Higginbotham, originally from Illinois, is a copy editor at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. You can follow her on Twitter: @EmilyHigg. Or reach her by email: [email protected]

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