Image from Pexels.

Image from Pexels.

A little more than eight months ago, I packed up all the clothes I could fit into two suitcases and took the 3 am flight (you may not get snacks in your flight via Spirit, but man, is it cheap!) to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And even though I had been counting the days to leave for college for more than four months, that night I started to doubt everything.

Why was I starting college in the spring? Sure, I had already graduated from high school in December, but if I had waited until the fall semester I would’ve had at least seven or eight more months to spend in my beloved Panama City. But deep inside, I knew that if I had stayed, I would be spending those months partying and getting on my mom’s nerves. And sure, I would be taking a few classes at the local American universities, but none of this would have exactly been a new experience.

And sure, I was really excited to spend the next ten days in my favorite place on earth (Disney World!) with my family, but if we had skipped that trip, I would have an extra ten days to spend with my boyfriend and grandma. But that would just be postponing something inevitable. Eventually, I would still have to say goodbye to them, and it would be just as hard. And the next ten days were incredibly fun. But, let me tell you, saying goodbye to my grandma was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my whole life. And seeing my boyfriend face in the airport’s gate for the last time for four months was incredibly difficult as well.

But, I survived! And now, with my spring semester and two weeks of fall semester under my belt, I feel a lot wiser than I did at the beginning of the year, and if I had the choice, I would most likely do it all over again. It wasn’t easy, though, but it was definitely different. I think for a new experience to be considered life-changing, or at least a great learning experience, it has to be.

It’s different, for example, hanging out with someone you’ve known for a couple of months, from hanging out with someone you’ve known for five years. Not bad different, just different. It’s also different living in a country where you had previously only visited on vacation. Not bad different, but definitely different.

Almost a month ago, I was talking to my boyfriend’s brother and his girlfriend and they were asking me how college was going for me.  When I said it was “fine”, they both said that if I didn’t have a lot of friends yet, it was completely normal. I was surprised. My boyfriend’s brother and his girlfriend are the coolest people I know. You know when you know someone who’s older than you and also so cool and you just don’t want to say the wrong thing in front of them so they’ll also think you’re cool? That’s exactly my relationship with them. His girlfriend even told me that during her first semester basically her only friend was her roommate.

I always assumed that not having a ton of friends was my fault because I’m painfully shy. But now, two of the most extroverted and nice people I know are telling me it was also hard for them to make friends at first. So, it’s a thing that happens. Making new friends in a new country is not always a piece of cake. And I definitely made a nice group of friends during my first semester, so I must be doing something right then. That’s when I knew everything would work out in the end.

Maybe you haven’t met anyone you really enjoy talking with. Or maybe you have met a ton of people, but none of them feel like friends. And maybe you’ve made some really good friends you love hanging out with. It’s all normal. There is not a set way to do college; everyone has a different experience, but the important thing to remember is that you’ll be fine. Maybe not today, or maybe not a week from today, but I promise that when you look back a couple years from now you’ll have some amazing memories. Maybe you would even go back to this awkward stage to relive all the awesome stuff that’s to come. So relax.

And really, what can I tell you about making friends that hasn’t been said already? Befriend the people in your dorm, talk to people in your classes, and join student organizations that interest you. Meet other international students because they are also going through the same things that you are now. They are also adjusting to life in a new country, and chances are, they don’t know a lot of people either. Always take advantage of opportunities to meet people, no matter how small, because you never know when you might make your new best friend. If I hadn’t gone to an awkward International Coffee Hour a couple months ago, I wouldn’t have met the girl who introduced me to a lot of my best friends in college now. Just know that if you put in a little bit of effort, you’ll meet new people and make good friends.

I would like to end with this lovely quote from this amazing Hello Giggles article, “When you’re eighteen and making major life choices for yourself for the first time, everything seems so monumental. It’s not though. It will all be okay. You’ll love college or you’ll hate college. You’ll graduate in four years or you’ll drop out after two. None of it is life or death and all of it will help shape the person you will become. Just keep your head up, never leave your drink unattended and you’ll be fine.” So, have fun and study hard. You’re going to be okay. More than okay.

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the author

Clarissa Gallardo is a sophomore at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Originally from Panama City, Panama (only place in the world where you can see the sun rise in the Pacific and set on the Atlantic!), she is majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in Mathematics and Ballet. A member of the Honors Program and dancer at heart, you can find her studying at the library, scrolling through her Tumblr feed , dancing, or reading. Clarissa has a really bad case of wanderlust and is obsessed with white chocolate mochas, The Big Bang Theory, and Doctor Reid from Criminal Minds. You can follow her on Twitter and on Tumblr.

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