International students are an essential part of the Emory undergraduate community. At our Atlanta campus,…
When I accepted my place in the Emory Class of 2020, I was sure I was ready for college. I could already picture it:
I’d find my group of friends in the first couple of weeks. We would get breakfast together before classes, study on the quad during sunny days, and stay up all night talking, discussing our dreams and aspirations. I could practically see the photos of us at graduation.
These clichéd expectations were built almost unintentionally, from glossy college brochures, movies, TV shows, and summer camp experiences. But coming to Emory was nothing like what I had expected it to be, and that realization was jarring and, quite frankly, uncomfortable.
The discomfort came from comparing my experiences at Emory to the idealized picture of college I had in my head, and realizing that the experiences I imagined were not the same as the reality I lived in. I really noticed this at the extracurricular fair, an event that nearly every Emory first year attends. I remember excitedly making my way to McDonough Field, knowing what I wanted to get involved in, only to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of student organizations Emory had to offer. I distinctly recall giving my email to the Chemistry Club, a subject I knew I was not interested in, only because I might change my mind. I walked on, signing my name at the tango club and Model UN and Feminists in Action and swing dancing and club tennis and impact investing and an array of other organizations, completely swept up in hordes of students and excited shouts of organization leaders.
I walked back from that fair in a daze, suddenly unsure of what my Emory experience would be, slightly afraid of all the choices I had, and utterly disoriented when it came to what I really wanted. And these feelings continued through my first months at Emory. I grew apart from the friends I made in the first few weeks, I changed my major more times than I care to admit, and I spent more time alone than I ever expected to.
This confusion was hard, uncomfortable, and made me wonder if I was in the right place. I had believed Emory to be a place where anything was possible, and yet I was struggling to build the college experience I has always wanted. Why?
What I realize now, is that the choices Emory offered me and the diversity of people that I met fundamentally changed what I wanted from college. While my mind was still fixated on my glossy brochure image of college perfection, I had subconsciously begun to crave something entirely different. It took time for me reconstruct my expectations, seek out the people and organizations that I truly wanted to connect with, and begin to reimagine my Emory experience.
Slowly, I made small efforts to pursue the things I enjoyed, and a new image of what Emory could be started to emerge. I met with and talked to professors about my academic options. I attended on campus events alone, looking to meet people who shared my interests. I got to class early and tried to strike up a conversation with the people sitting next to me. I joined organizations I was passionate about and reduced my involvement in the things I didn’t like.
By my third semester at Emory, I had carved out a space for myself on campus. I started seeing the same students, professors, and staff members at events and in my classes, and those people became my close friends and mentors. I progressed into leadership roles in the organizations I was involved in, and a new picture of my college experience began to solidify. As my goals became clearer, I found Emory to be an incredibly supportive environment to pursue them.
Now, as a rising senior at Emory, it is difficult for me to imagine my college experience any other way. I know that I have made life-long friends at Emory, created relationships with professors that I plan to keep in touch with, and joined organizations that have helped me find enduring passions. It is now abundantly clear that I could have never built this experience for myself without my disorienting and uncomfortable first year in college. That tumultuous time may be the greatest gift Emory gave me. It allowed me to reflect, challenge my firmly held expectations, and construct an experience that continues to be fulfilling.
Priyanka Desai 20C
Double major in BBA and History