Finding Community in College
PHHS '18, Rutgers University '22
Growing up, I was always a shy person, especially in school. I only had a few people I could proudly call true friends. Even so, isolation was affecting me mentally because I did not want to confide in anyone about my problems unless they were academic in nature. When I moved into college back in September of 2018, I was cut off from the few friends I had. 90% of the time, I felt alone even in a filled lecture hall or in an LX bus that just left the Student Activity Center stop (that means full for non-Rutgers people). That is a feeling no college student should feel, and it is why I implore every incoming freshman to find community when you step on campus. The biggest regret I have since I started going to college is not finding community sooner. It would have made the transition into college so much easier with people who have been through that process helping you out.
First, even before you get to college, consider what your interests are. Are you a gamer? Do you have a passion for history or comics? Which religion are you affiliated with? Do you like to play football or ice hockey? What do you look for in people you would love to be friends with? Be sure to have all your thoughts ready before you move in because there is a good chance your college has a day set aside for underclassmen to browse various clubs. Talk to the people at booths you find even remotely interesting. Then attend the first few meetings and meet the people there. These are the people you may becomes friends with in the next few years. Find people who genuinely care about you and see you as a friend rather than an asset. If they go out of their way to help you develop as a person with no expectation of reward, then you found the community for you. If I may give some real-life examples, I remember walking through the doors of the Catholic Center at Rutgers a bit nervous because it was a big step for me in my faith. Instead of passivity, I found warmth. I remember one of the sisters happily gave me a tour and introduced me to some of the people that were present. A few days later, there was an open invitation for some guys to have dinner and then play a game of flag football. I remember when I walked into the house and being welcomed by the people that owned it. They did not know my name or my past, they just saw someone walk in and treated me as if I was one of their close friends. In both cases, these were friendly faces who practically opened their homes to new people.
Now that you think you may have found the group of people for you; the next important step is to be an active participant. Now, I do not mean you should stand in front of the club and act like you are the president. I mean that you should participate in whatever the club has to offer because your experience is based on what you put in. You are only in college for a few years, so it is best to make them count. Some of the people you might become friends with are seniors so you should enjoy the time you have left with them. If you feel sad because the seniors are graduating, then it is a good sign because you miss the good they brought in your life. If your club offers any trips or retreats to partake in, you should take that opportunity. Going on the Fall 2019 Catholic Students Association retreat was one of the best decisions I ever made because it truly made me feel at home with my spiritual family. Sometimes a simple yes to a trip or a meeting can make all the difference between wanting to leave and wanting to stay.
Before I conclude, I want to bring up a quote I heard from a conference that one of my clubs attended back in January: “community is not perfect, but it perfects us”. I do not know where I would be without my community because they truly changed me into the man I am today. Sometimes they might be hard on you, but it is only because they care about you so much. Sometimes it will be awkward and even uncomfortable. There may even be times when you feel like leaving them because you feel overwhelmed in other parts of your life. You shouldn't feel like you need to give up on your community in times like these. I remember being unsure before I joined CSA at Rutgers and did have a couple moments where I questioned my decision to join. Yet, I trudged on because I remembered when they opened up their home to me even though they had no perceptible reward to gain from me being there. Sometimes you will struggle, but it is through adversity that you emerge a more refined person and having people there to back you up makes the process easier to overcome. Give your clubs a shot! The bonds you form in your four years might last a lifetime.