Bursting the Bubble: Making freshman year better

Opinion by Edward Ngai
May 30, 2012, 12:28 a.m.

Bursting the Bubble: Making freshman year better“Freshman year is the best time of your life,” we are reminded. At the end of high school, at NSO, every Friday. “You’re only a freshman once.”

This much is true. We probably only have one chance to make completely new impressions, air-dropped in late September into this new and curious conglomerate of people and buildings. And as this once-in-a-lifetime milestone comes to a close, perhaps it is wise to pause and reflect on how my friends and I approached a whirlwind year.

Some of us wish we had met more people. My friends wish they had been to more events during NSO, gone to more club meetings, been more involved. I, on the other hand, can’t stand that kind of surface networking. “Hi, I’m Edward. I’m probably a PoliSci major. I’m from Canada, but not the cold part.” Limp handshake. Rinse, repeat.

I remember sitting on my bed in September skipping meals because I hated meeting people so much. But — perhaps wrongly — I don’t consider myself antisocial.

Unlike some of my friends, I don’t wish I had met more people. I wish I knew people better.

Take just one example. I’d consider myself pretty close with my PHE, Mona, but I only asked her about where she was from last week. Not where she was from — her nametag will tell you that — but  about where she was from. Important difference.

And so we launched into a discussion about race in urban centers, changing demographics, political implications, all based on what was happening on the ground in D.C., Mona’s hometown. A real, interesting, mutually educational conversation between an urban studies major and a sweaty, post-workout, protein-chugging freshman.

When I went to bed that night, the difference between “Where are you from?” and “What’s home like?” became starkly apparent to me. Too often, it seems, freshmen forget to ask the second question.

Some of my friends wish they had taken harder classes, more units, worked harder in general. They swore they would keep fit, pick up a hobby or learn a new language.

Not me. By the end of June I will have taken more than 60 units of coursework, be really into — if not too great at — beach volleyball and be learning Chinese.

But like them, I wish I had challenged myself more. Maybe I should’ve gone to dinner with the dorm at NSO. I should’ve gone out with the rest of the third floor to play IM softball. I’ve only been to Terra Happy Hour once, literally picked up a drink and then left to hang out on Wilbur Field. I probably should’ve stayed and schmoozed. But it wasn’t really my (our) element, so I (we) left. What a shame.

Finally, I wish I didn’t hear every waking moment how much fun I was supposed to be having. I’ve commented at length before on how happy this campus is, or seems to be. That’s a good thing. But what if this general happiness just makes those who aren’t doing so hot feel worse? What if we feel we have an obligation to be happy here (we are so blessed, after all) and we don’t have an outlet for our frustrations?

We all go through some not-so-great times. Some bad moments are just due to unfortunate circumstances, but some might be because of deeply-held problems we have with ourselves: insecurity, commitment problems, being scared of being away from home for the first time. And freshman year is the time you figure it all out.

But Stanford students don’t really like to figure our lives out, at least not in groups. We don’t like to talk about what keeps us up at night; we prefer to force ourselves to sleep by inhaling shots of hard liquor.

As a result, some of my friends are taking their search to other places. They’re transferring, taking years off, joining the military. Good on them. Freshman year has shown them where they need work, whether that work is academic, athletic, artistic or social. Freshman year at Stanford has shown many of us how we must improve ourselves and, simultaneously, how Stanford is not the place to do it.

There is little else we can ask of our education.

Freshman year has undoubtedly had a steep learning curve that has been a great pleasure to slide down. And in trying to make the most of it, I wish I had done three things. I wish I had gotten to know people better. I wish I had challenged myself more. And I wish most of all that I had understood that we’re all here on uneven footing. Some of us have never been away from home before. Some of us have just broke up with a dear companion. Some of us are intimidated, unprepared, scared. Autumn wounds do not always scab with the spring bloom.

Every fresh face has a different story. And until we are at peace with our own stories and identities, it’s probably difficult for us to really enjoy ourselves, comfortable in our own skins.

A shame, really, because freshman year is the best time of your life.


Tell Ed all about your freshman year at edngai “at” stanford “dot” edu. 

Edward Ngai is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, he has worked as a news desk editor, staff development editor and columnist. He was president and editor-in-chief of The Daily for Vol. 244 (2013-2014). Edward is a junior from Vancouver, Canada studying political science. This summer, he is the Daniel Pearl Memorial Intern at the Wall Street Journal.

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