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Why feeling out of place freshman fall is A-OK

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If I had to encapsulate the NSO experience in a few words, I would describe it as a potent, visceral blend of exhilaration and social anxiety. Exhilaration, because Stanford was no longer a figment of our undetermined futures, but the ground under our feet and the roof over our heads. But anxiety, too, because being an innately competitive person, I couldn’t help but compare my social “progress” to that of my peers. Was I making friends fast enough? Beyond that, was I even befriending the right people? What if I waited just a day too long to talk to my future best friend, and now they’ve fallen into a different group? Was I doing any of this right?

It goes without saying that this was a rather misguided mindset. Of course, no one really knows each other during the first few weeks after moving in. The same staple introductory questions permeate the halls, like you’re trapped in an endlessly-looping fever dream. People are cordial and friendly with each other, but no one has any friends, because how could they? Deep-rooted connections don’t just spring up from the ground; it takes much longer than five days (or even five weeks) to truly cultivate lasting relationships.

As I reflect upon these stressful first few weeks here at Stanford, I realize that I didn’t meet my best friends from home until halfway through high school. It took two entire years of craziness to finally fall into my place. We feel obligated to form friendships with the people in our dorms, and we become discouraged when we don’t immediately click. But how can we possibly be expected to find our “people,” our lifelong friends, within the span of a few weeks, given only the 80 or so people we share our living space with? It’s an impossible task, and it’s one we needn’t feel pressured to take on.

That’s obviously not to say we shouldn’t be friends with our dormmates because I’ve already met some pretty incredible people on my floor alone. But I want to encourage us all to relax, to internalize the fact that feeling out of place for a little while is completely normal and expected. 

Although we’ve all wished we could at times, we can’t predict the future. And being a freshman, I don’t have the benefit of retrospect. But I’ve tried to combat my anxiety with hope for the coming year, armed with the knowledge that wherever I am on my social journey is exactly where I’m meant to be. 

Contact Eden Gibson at eden3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.