By Erin Smith
When people talk about their freshman year of college, they always mention how much fun they had. While they do mention that the whole experience can be academically stressful, they still talk about how they had friendships that will last a lifetime and the parties they went to. The one thing that nobody prepared me for was having the opposite experience. For the first time in my life, I can say that I am truly lonely and isolated here and have been since the day after I moved in.
Here at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, a lot of the black people are from Chicago and in a lot of cases, they went to high school together or just know each other from something else. My roommate, for example, came down here with some of her closest friends which I’m sure has helped make her transition a lot smoother. As for me, I came down here with really one friend that I met freshman year of high school and one of my co workers (who became one of my close friends) from over the summer. While they were about 30-something other kids that came from Oak Park and River Forest High School with me, they’re mostly white and scattered across the biggest campus in the state of Illinois. Regarding the other black freshmen, it’s not like I haven’t attempted to make friends, I feel that I’ve been trying my very best. But, I’ve come to realize that my very best isn’t good enough anymore. Not only is the black freshman class one large clique that I may never be apart of, I also just don’t know how to make friends.
My friends from back home may be reading that last sentence in confusion, but when you really think about it, making new friends is a skill that I lack. Growing up in Oak Park, I feel like this handicap of mine never had to be addressed because it wasn’t necessary. When I moved there in the first grade, my mother enrolled me in Girl Scouts for me to make friends so there wasn’t much work to be done there. Also, when you’re 6 years old, friends just come out of absolute nowhere. Kids are so fearless and honest that friendships just come naturally without much recollection as to how they happened in the first place. After elementary school, I still knew the same people and used those previous relationships to meet more people in middle school and then the same in high school. But now I’m in college with no previous relationships to latch onto. There are no clubs small or consistent enough in meeting times to where I could become well known like I was in high school. There is no “hey Erin!” when I walk around campus. On most days, I have nothing.
At first, I was doing alright with my two friends down here and things were fine. Through my friend from high school, I met a few more people that I try to keep up with and through my other friend, I’ve met another person. I had become so reliant on those two friendships (since they’re all I really have), that I didn’t know what to do when they stopped having as much time for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that my friends are doing what excites them and they are thriving, I just wish I would’ve prepared myself. I have joined clubs and stuff and am even on the executive board for one of them. They just don’t meet all too often so much of my free time is spent alone.
The loneliness used to not bother me because I used to distract myself. While my roommate went out to parties and other things with her friends, I constantly poured myself into my work. But when the work started to slow down, it finally happened…I broke down. It wasn’t my shining moment (and I have had many moments like those since) because I’m a self-proclaimed “hardbody”; I knew something had to change.
I had to stop pouting and wondering why I had no friends and become my own friend. I have since opened the blinds in my room to bring in more sunlight, I walked around until I ended up at a neighborhood park very far away off campus, and I have been watching YouTube videos to fill my time. When my friends do have time to spare, I make them hang out with me. I went to the gym with one friend yesterday and I’m making one go to Chipotle with me tomorrow (I even scheduled the hangout days in advance, so he couldn’t back out). I refuse to let this feeling of being alone destroy my mental health and I refuse to keep feeling sorry for myself. If I’m going to be lonely, I am going to enjoy it and find my passions. Sure, I still feel sad sometimes about my situation and wish that things were better since it’s October now. But, I know that before I try to branch out in the world that is the UIUC class of 2022, I need to strengthen my relationship with myself, God, my family, and the friends that I already have here. After all, I’d rather have 4 quarters than 100 pennies.