Jacob Garber: Finding the real freshman experience

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Jacob Garber

My freshman-year roommate never showed up.

I arrived at my Crawford Hall room after a long, solo flight from California to D.C., dragging behind me as much home as I could fit in two suitcases. There were two names on the door, but I was the only one who arrived. I was alone and over the next few weeks I became despondent.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Jacob Garber

Those first few weeks at GW were marked by a feeling that I was out of place. Even worse, I felt as though the rest of the freshman class was already having the best four years of their lives while I moped in my bed, staring at the empty one across the room.

I considered transferring, but what kept me from following through was the thought that I’d have to start over again at another university, right from the beginning. I spent hours in my study alcove, studying, reading, painting, doing anything to distract myself from the malaise.

Now, as a senior, I have lived with freshmen every year I have been at GW – first as a freshman myself, then as a house staff in Crawford and West halls. It is only after living through three freshman experiences – my own, and that of two years with freshman residents – that I realize that feeling of loneliness my first year wasn’t limited to me.

It is part of the real freshman experience.

We often talk about the freshman experience in terms of positive community-building: joining clubs, making friends in class, taking advantage of all the connections college provides. But nobody’s freshman year begins with immediate comfort. All freshmen, in some capacity, must go through a blind immersion into the GW community.

We are thrown headfirst into a crowd of new people, ideas and experiences, oftentimes far from any place we can call familiar. I remember sitting on my Crawford Hall bed thinking, “I am alone. I’m not meant to be here.”

But over the past two years, I have spoken to residents who articulate those thoughts and feelings that isolated me during my first year. They seem to feel exactly what I felt, what I thought that nobody else was feeling, what nearly drove me from the University for good.

As a house staff, I spend a lot of time talking about the amazing possibilities of freshman year. And they are innumerable: finding a first internship, connecting with a passionate professor, meeting a close friend. However, we should find solace in the fact that the freshman experience isn’t all about novelty and excitement, because, for so many of us, it isn’t. We go through similar hardships, regardless of how lonely we may feel, and we can find empathy in that shared – yet simultaneously isolated – experience.

Of course, there is a diversity of freshman experiences: Not all freshman experiences are identical, and some have an easier time with the adjustment than others. But nonetheless, the experience – adjusting to GW life, finding academic and extracurricular passions, finding friends – can be immensely difficult.

We should know we can find empathy within this alienation. I know that because I’ve seen this feeling take shape in so many iterations over the past three years.

This year, it appeared poignantly after the loss of three residents in my building. We experienced profound hardship, yet the feelings that would normally isolate us brought us together in our grief.

When one of my residents talks to me about the darker side of the freshman experience, it is, in a strange way, relieving. It affirms that, regardless of how isolated we feel during our freshman year, we aren’t the first to feel that way.

And that, as I’ve lived it three times over, is the real freshman experience.

Jacob Garber, a senior majoring in English and creative writing, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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