Keeping my Stanford alive

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College is a place of intense growth. We enter fresh out of high school, many of us living away from our parents for the first time, suddenly presented with possibilities (and responsibilities) we had never dreamed of. At the end of it all, four years of life — excitement, disappointment, love, heartbreak — we emerge, fundamentally changed with even fuller stories to tell.

In the midst of this extraordinary journey, we have been removed from the place where we are supposed to experience these four magical years. I was fortunate to have a place to go when Stanford shut down. I returned to a house in sunny SoCal with my parents, a house in which I thought I would never live again.

Recently, I had my first staff meeting on Zoom. It was the first time all of us shared a space together, and our RFs started by asking us to write down on a scale of one to ten how comfortable we were speaking as our authentic selves in our current situations. None of us wrote a ten. 

I wrote a seven. My parents still think I’m the same eighteen-year-old girl who left in 2017, rather than the free-thinking, creative woman I am now. They don’t know I’m the executive director of my dance team. They don’t know about my first heartbreak and how I worked through it. I can’t talk to them about these things because they don’t expect college to be anything more than career prep.

We never have conversations about growth or mental health struggles or even a “what do you miss about Stanford?” chat. They can’t understand why I like hanging out with my friends more than living back at “home” with them. The answer? Because my friends have shown me unconditional love in a way my parents never have, and it is tiring to be in a place where I know I won’t be accepted for who I am. 

To cope, I sometimes find myself burrowing into the 19 units of S/NC classes I self-prescribed for a rather subpar spring quarter. As someone who spent a summer grappling with grief, I fear the sadness that could encroach on me if I think too hard about the uncertainty surrounding the present and future.

However, as I learned throughout the summer and fall quarter, the most helpful (although not always easiest) thing to do was to turn to my support network. It included frosh dorm friends, pset pals and a therapist. Sometimes I needed a deep heart-to-heart analyzing my relationship behaviors and how generational trauma played a role. Other times, I needed a long movie (aka naptime) to escape the present. 

Fostering meaningful relationships at Stanford is already difficult, and scheduling video calls with best friends can feel forced and awkward. It’s not the real thing — not even close. I would be sitting in Meyer Green with my bike lying in the grass on a gorgeous Friday afternoon, not sitting in front of a screen with my friend’s face freezing every five seconds.

Moreover, with such scheduled hangouts, I end up with much more downtime alone than I would at Stanford. This is scary. I fear that I will slowly regress into my high school self, the one who lived with my parents, and forget who I was at Stanford, where I was surrounded by my beautiful friends and support network.

While it is scary being away from my real home, I have realized that that version of me is so far in the past. I can compare who I really am to the image that my parents still have of me, the one that used to live in this house, and I see exactly where I have outgrown the old me.

The old high school awards and college acceptance letters that meant the world to me a few years ago show me how different my priorities are now. The pictures of friends I haven’t seen since high school remind me that I didn’t use to not invest in meaningful relationships. My first time doing laundry in this house was proof, however trivial, of the years I have spent away from home, learning how to grow up into my own person.

Turns out, it’s not so hard staying true to me. I’ve learned how to listen to my needs and how to reaffirm myself, even as I live in what I previously would have thought was my worst nightmare. Before the pandemic, I subconsciously let my identity rest on Stanford. Stanford was where I was growing into an adult. Stanford was where I found loving friends. Stanford was where I pursued my passions. Hundreds of miles away from Stanford, I now see that I have been in charge of my growth. My journey doesn’t stop at the boundaries of Sand Hill Road and East Campus Drive.

I must remind myself that I can still reclaim the secret ingredient that made Stanford so special: love. Love for myself, love for my friends, love for life. Whenever I feel ready, I can choose to lean into the beautiful relationships I already have and to take this extra time and space I have to pause, to see myself and reflect on the resilience of my identity to be what I want it to be, regardless of where I physically may be. 

Contact Caroline Kim at ckim99 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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Caroline is a junior majoring in Chemical Engineering and minoring in Modern Languages. Some of her hobbies include baking (vegan) banana bread, dancing and thinking about how to make scientific knowledge more accessible to society.