How I am learning to live with loneliness at a Jesuit college
So far, college has been lonely. It is the loneliest I have ever been, in fact. Lonely in a “what if I’m always lonely” or “I don’t think I’m cut out for this” way. My mom was the first in her family to graduate from college, and I have found that when going to college is not the norm in your house, it is hard. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for my mother or for first-generation college students today—to have that drive and to know that this is a small step toward elevating your family, your culture and yourself.
I was the friendly girl in high school. The girl who knew everyone’s name. The girl who did not really have a friend group, but it didn’t matter because I was always smiling. I entered college with one of my very best friends from high school, so I figured I was set. Even in the worst case scenario, I would go all four years with her as my best friend.
But it was selfish of me to assume she would be at my beck and call. After a difficult day of texting her constantly and receiving few responses, I realized that she needed her own space to grow and settle. It has been three days since I have talked to her, which does not seem like much, but when you are just a five-minute walk away, it feels like an eternity. And yet I am indescribably proud of her.
I believe some people are built to belong immediately. And I believe that some are not.
I am constantly told that “everyone is having a hard time,” but I don’t believe it. I see kids from orientation at parties and spending time in each other’s dorms, and I admire their confidence and ability to acclimate. I do not believe that everyone cries in their room every day. I believe some people are built to belong immediately. And I believe that some are not.
I am not built to belong. I do not say this as a sad sentiment—truly, belonging is not my gift. If it were, I would have probably gone to college back home where most of the kids from my high school went. I would stay close to my family. Belonging makes life easier. I truly believe some people belong everywhere they go. What a beautiful gift that is.
On Sunday morning of my first week at school, I walked. I walked because I could not stand to be in my room anymore. When I came upon the chapel, I sat there and cried. I cried for two hours. I could not clear my mind, but I sat there until I could clear my eyes. I prayed, and then I walked back. I tried reaching out to a few friends, but I was not surprised that they were busy.
The next day, I decided to go to morning Mass. Five elderly women, all of whom were religious sisters, were the only other people in attendance. I cried all throughout Mass, feeling absolutely mortified. Afterward, one of the women, Sister Evelyn, hugged me and asked what was wrong. The easiest way I could sum it up was that “I’m just a little homesick.”
“Homesick is good, love. It means you have a good heart,” she says.
And I am homesick. For foggy mornings, for my parents, for a sense of purpose. For the people who know my name and the people who know my soul. I am homesick for the days when I fantasized about what college would be like.
My grandmother called the following day. Coming from a Mexican background, faith and patience have always been at the core of our belief: Good things take time, and God has a plan for you. Growing up and struggling with anxiety, this was the last thing I wanted to hear. I wanted answers and a plan. Until now, I have generally been able to come up with something—some remedy in the face of the unknown—but here I feel stuck.
I have gathered that college is just as much about learning to be alone as it is about making friends.
My grandmother asks if I am all right.
“I’m just homesick,” I tell her.
“This is what you need to do,” she says. “This is how you grow.” I know my grandmother wants more than anything for me to be home with her.
“Up. Always up, mija,” she says.
Some of my older friends encouraged me to give it two weeks. Others swore that come Halloween, I would be settled. A few told me the whole first semester was rough and some the whole first year. One friend even told me that you might never feel settled, but one day you will get your degree and remember why you pushed through all those lonely days.
I have gathered that college is just as much about learning to be alone as it is about making friends. Learning to rely on yourself but knowing your limits and when to ask for help and better yet, who to ask for help. College is about learning what it means to belong.
For now, I feel like I do not belong here. Maybe a few more months will confirm this. Maybe my place is somewhere else, or maybe not. My fear is that “my place” is not anywhere. But my faith is my ally. I will keep my faith and remind myself that I am here to work hard, get a degree and make the world a better place. I am here because my great-grandparents were strong enough to leave their country, my grandmother was strong enough to learn English and my mother was strong enough to go to college. Every morning I wake up and tell myself in prayer: “It will get better.” I leave my dorm. It is pretty empty here in the morning. I walk and tell myself I am here to build upon the legacy my family has left. I am here to make it that much easier for my kids to go to college. I am here to make the world more just.
Up. Always up.