Each year, as soon as the freshmen set foot on campus, the rush for friends begins. It isn’t strange. Who isn’t afraid of coming to campus where nearly everyone is a stranger?
Northwestern provides freshmen peer advisor groups and seminar classes. There are residence hall icebreakers and Wildcat Welcome activities. Students hurry to the activities fair to put their names on ten or more email lists. Then, during winter, hordes of students, men and women, young and old alike, pledge sororities or fraternities in search of closer bonds.
NU, and college in general, has a social atmosphere. When they are not in class or studying, students are expected to be either going to parties or participating in extracurricular activities. Every second is accounted for, every relationship addressed. Yet I can’t help feeling that in the midst of all this socializing and activity, one connection gets lost: the relationship with yourself.
I am not talking about loving the unique person you are or building self-esteem. I’m talking about giving yourself some time to think. On a college campus, it is almost impossible to find yourself alone to take a breather. Whether in a dorm, class or local hangout, students inevitably surround you. Maybe it’s the introvert in me, but I sometimes find the constant company of people suffocating.
Last year, I received a phone call from my ex-boyfriend. Combined with the stress of starting college, the conversation left me overwrought. Unfortunately, I was stuck in a bustling college dorm. I really don’t like to cry in front of people, particularly ones I hardly know, so I flung on a coat and ran outside. Perching myself on the steps of the Rebecca Crown Center, I sobbed on the phone with a friend from home. Students walked past me with curious glances, but at least they couldn’t see my face well in the dark. That beat crying under fluorescent lights in the game room of my dorm. In that moment, I wished I was back home with my own pillow and room or taking a walk through my neighborhood.
On more than one occasion, I have heard a student say, “I don’t really want to, but I feel like I really should go out tonight.” Why does socialization become an obligation? Why does rest suddenly seem like a waste of time? After a whole week of classes and people, all I want to do on Fridays is put on some television and knit. But college isn’t always conducive to that lifestyle.
After my outburst last year, at the advice of my friend, I began searching for a corner or nook to call my own. She climbs to the highest floor of her school library and sits somewhere among the stacks if she needs some quality self-reflection or crying. And as I talked to my friends on campus, I found I wasn’t the only one who sought a place to be alone, or at the very least, a place away from college students.
One friend drives all the way up to the Panera a few miles away from campus to eat a giant cookie. Another buries herself in a deserted corner of Barnes and Noble, leaning against the bookcases, reading a magazine and eating M&Ms. Another likes to study by the music collection in Deering, and my boyfriend sometimes walks all the way down to the cemetery by the lakefront south of campus.
As for myself, I used to spend my Saturdays walking two miles to the Robert Crown Ice Arena to ice skate and then grab lunch by myself. Those were some of my favorite mornings. Now I go for runs way up north or way down south. Sometimes I drive to the Caribou Coffee in Winnetka or sit on the floor of Barnes and Noble flipping through books.
Everyone, whether extrovert or introvert, social or anti-social, needs a personal cave, a place to sit back, think and do nothing without interferences from the outside world. Constant noise only makes a person go crazy.