You know how sometimes people recount their past mistakes and conclude with “but I wouldn’t have changed a thing?” The story of my freshman year does not fall into that category. This is not to say that I had a terrible freshman year — I made a plethora of great memories — but if given the chance to do it over, I would gladly take it.
It was the dawn of a new year. The future was ripe with possibilities. The amazing memories I was going to make with my soon-to-be friends flooded my brain. I envisioned that college, and college at Stanford specifically, would be a dream. Paradise. I pictured an escape from everything I disliked about high school.
I was more than ready to leave home and experience the best four years of my life. While I had already had an enriching high school experience, I could not wait to discover what lay ahead. I felt that I had outgrown my hometown, and I was ready to move on, find myself, and start metamorphosing into the person I envisioned I would become. I wanted to get out there and live in a breeding ground for thought and have stimulating conversations with friends who wondered about the same idiosyncrasies of life that I did.
I heard that the transition to college was not always smooth. However, I felt like I was going to be fine. A few of my friends were already at Stanford, and I had met a bunch of awesome new people over Admit Weekend as well. I had my fair share of independence and going out in high school, so I sailed on, expecting my transition to college to be seamless. My expectations rose with my anticipation.
Then, it hit me. Literally. It was the end of NSO, and a friend’s rebound hit me right in the face as we were playing basketball. I had a black eye the first day of school, and my bad luck didn’t stop there.
Throughout the course of the year, I failed countlessly. I failed to avoid a bike accident, and I broke my first bone. I failed to keep my immune system robust, and my constant stream of viruses kept me stuck in my dorm many nights. I failed to join and stick with any extracurriculars, as I didn’t feel like I was a very good archetype of any of their communities. From the tour guides to the sorority I thought I wanted to join, I was turned away. I failed to live up to my academic standards, and I received my first “B.” I failed to pay attention to my mental health. I didn’t hear back from most of the professional positions I applied for, and, discouraged, ended up not having that fancy summer internship I so coveted. I failed over and over again.
Now I know it sounds bad to say this, but I was not accustomed to failure, especially in such high volume, and it took a toll on me. While before I was so driven to be the best version of myself and so confident in my abilities, I started to doubt myself. I began to feel less unique and less inspired to change the world for the better. I stopped feeling like myself and started questioning what my ultimate goals were.
I began to question whether I had made the right choice in choosing Stanford. At first, I couldn’t figure out which version of myself I wanted to be. I felt like I didn’t quite fit in with the culture here, though the discomfort was so subtle, even now I cannot completely explain exactly what it was. I felt like I didn’t thrive in Stanford’s social scene like most of my friends seemed to. I felt, especially after choosing not to go Greek, that it could be hard at times to meet new people and sustain connections with old friends when everyone’s lives are so disparate and jam-packed. I could see my expectations of my first year of college wilt in juxtaposition to my everyday reality.
Whenever people would ask me how my first year of college was going, I would sometimes spare them the details and tell them that my year was going great. The guilt of lying weighed on me as I felt myself giving in to Duck Syndrome.
Stanford Duck Syndrome is characterized by someone appearing to float along without any trouble on the surface, while underwater, they are paddling frantically to stay afloat. It usually applies to our academic-related pressures, but when applied to a more social and emotional standpoint, I define it as being ostensibly happy, but in reality feeling otherwise.
What was wrong with me? Were my expectations set too high? Everyone around me seemed happy. After all, Stanford is paradise, and I was sure that there was no dearth of people who would be happy to take my place here.
While at times it seems like I’m the only one who feels this way about my dream school, I find that as I dig deeper, there are others around me also struggling under this Duck Syndrome induced facade.
Through this article, I hope to encourage others to be more vocal about the little things that are going wrong so we can take measures to improve them together. I want to stress that it is okay to be not okay in “paradise.”
While my hardships didn’t taint my entire freshman experience here, I reflect on them a lot as I think about how to craft my remaining years on campus. I am still trying to view Stanford as “home.” I know that feeling won’t come instantaneously, but I am embracing my past, putting it behind me, and preparing myself for a new year, ripe with new communities and experiences. Until then, I’ll just keep paddling along, slowly.
Contact Madison Hurr at mnhurr ‘at’ stanford.edu.