New student adjusts to life at Vassar, finds second home

Hannah Hildebolt ’21 (right) and her friend, pictured above at Sunset Lake, revel in the freedom that Vassar affords, and look forward to the many adventures they will have here. / Courtesy of Hannah Hildebolt

There were lots of people screaming. Well, to be more specific, they were actually cheering. Upperclassmen clad in blue tie-dye shirts jumped up and down, welcoming my family to Vassar College as loudly as they could. My mom thought it was funny, and she waved gaily at them as we pulled up to Strong. Several of the kids scrambled to help us get my suitcases and boxes into the elevator, and a few more joked with me as they handed me my room key. My nerves jangled in the pit of my stomach. Would I soon know all of these people by name? Would I like them once my parents were gone? What the heck was going to happen to me now?

The next week answered all of my questions. Sumiko [Disclaimer: Sumiko Neary ’20 is a copy editor at The Miscellany News], my amazing student fellow, led my fellow group everywhere, from meals to lectures to house team introductions. I learned how painful it can be to sit in the Chapel for two hours in 90-degree weather, and I also learned that it can be impossible to eat healthy when the Deece serves fries all the time. The most difficult part of the process was picking classes—I had this hunger to learn everything. It felt good not to have my choices restrained by the rules of high school curricula. Now I could take courses I loved without having to worry about AP credits.

Then, of course, there was the social aspect of the whole thing: I had to make new friends. It was thrilling to meet everyone I’d seen on Facebook, including my roommate Delaney, whom I’d chosen because of our online interactions. Kids would even come up to me and bring up things I’d said or done, which made my stomach glow with warmth. It was nice to already have a sense of community on which to lean; there were old posts to refer back to and online jokes we could pull out when the time was right. It was way easier to strike up conversations that way.

If there was a hard part, it was that we were all new to each other. No one knew my backstory. Back in high school, I’d been surrounded by people who had grown up with me, and so I’d been secure in the knowledge that everyone around me knew my background. This was not the case at Vassar. I found myself fumbling to explain certain facets of my personality. However, I knew that as time passed, my classmates would become familiar with the nuances of my life. It was just something I would have to wait out.

Maybe that was why I found myself reaching out to my family so often. I’m away at camp a lot, so my family is used to me being gone for month-long stretches. It’s fairly difficult to get ahold of me at camp because I’m so wrapped up in whatever I’m doing, and we figured college would be the same way, but that ended up being wrong. My mom and I have exchanged texts nearly every day, and I’ve called my house at least three times in the past two weeks. I think that being surrounded by so many people who don’t know me has made me want to talk to the people who know me best. It’s not a bad thing by any means—in fact, I think it’s great that we’re so in touch—but it’s made me think a lot about how important my family is in my life, and the differences between living with them and living in Strong.

Despite the difficult transition and homesickness, I love dorm life so much. My summer camp took place on a college campus, so I’ve been in and out of dorms for the past few years, and I’ve realized that I thrive in communal living . It gives you access to your friends at any time of day or night, which means that even the most mundane things become fun. Going to the bathroom can turn into a gossip session, and walking down the hallway alone becomes an impromptu trip to the dining hall with five other people. Being part of such a large communal living space provides an endless source of stimulation, both emotionally and mentally, and that energy is just the most wonderful thing in the world. If it’s ever a drain, I know that I can just close the door to my room or slip off to take a walk in the more remote parts of Vassar’s campus.

Once classes started, I realized that dorm life wasn’t the only source of energy here. Academic discussion at Vassar made me eager to participate. My classmates brought so many new perspectives, and I felt like I was surrounded by people who wanted to talk about the differences in their experiences as well as the commonalities between them. This was something I’d never experienced before. Even the homework was thought-provoking, and all of a sudden I found myself beginning to take notes, a new habit for me. The reading I had to do as a humanities and social sciences kid was a lot, but at least I was enjoying most of it. I noticed that the classes at Vassar tended to be very specialized with a lot of depth, and I appreciated that a lot more than the broadness and lack of depth I usually found in my high school classes. Learning was a much more natural and enjoyable experience for me this way.

I can feel myself adjusting more and more to life here at Vassar as time passes, and it’s a good feeling. The campus is becoming my home—an unusual one, but one nonetheless. There have been countless moments when I’ve wondered how I’ll feel about Vassar and my first year once I’m back on Long Island for the summer. My gut is telling me that things will feel as good then as they do right now.

I’m hoping my gut is right.

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