Up ahead in the distance, I can hear voices, laughing and talking. I walk faster and I can just make out the figures of a group of kids my age.
I say hi and wave, but I’m too far away – they can’t see or hear me. I start walking faster, yet just as I do, they start running. I scream louder and ask them to wait for me, but I’m too far behind, so I begin running faster. I’m so close now that I can see their faces. They are beckoning me closer and reaching out to me, but I am just too far away. No matter how fast I run, I am always trying to catch up to the group of kids – the group of friends.
This isn’t a nightmare, this is what it’s like to be a transfer student.
My story starts out a little differently from that of most transfer students, in that I was almost going to study at Northwestern for my freshmen year. I backed out at the last minute, afraid that the rigorous academic scene would destroy my already damaged mental health. So, instead I decided to go to school in Los Angeles.
Loyola Marymount University was a dream. The resort-like campus was on a bluff overlooking the city and the ocean, the students were beautiful, and the city was alive with healthy food and vibrant culture. I owe a lot to the friends I made there. It was the first time I ever felt cool and beautiful and happy.
I realized early on that my current major in film was not right for me, and that I would most likely have to transfer universities. The initial beauty of LMU faded as I became jaded to vegan desserts and beach trips in January. The one thing that remained beautiful even after all this time, however, is the people. I often wonder what would have happened if I had stayed, and I regret losing touch with some of the people who so deeply affected me.
On the six-hour flight from Los Angeles back home to New York, I was constantly on the cusp of a panic attack. I had packed all my bags and said my goodbyes, yet I had not heard back from Northwestern.
For about a week, I sat at home doing nothing but try to regain control of my breathing, as I waited to find out if I had even gotten into any of the schools I had applied to. Even though I had been accepted to Northwestern previously, I was now applying as a journalism student. Only five transfer students, including myself, were accepted into the journalism program. When my acceptance letter came, I cried in release and my parents looked at me with relief that I had not screwed up my life completely.
Let’s fast-forward a few months, past summer, Welcome Week and the first few weeks, during which I found companionship among the other transfers. Now we are the moment when I was ready to become a part of Northwestern, yet it felt impossible to make friends. All of the friend groups were already formed and divided, and there was no room for this random girl who wasn’t even there when this-and-that happened during freshmen year. I didn’t know which clubs to join, and even if I did, the chances of me getting accepted were slim. Fall quarter was so rough that I ended up having to go home halfway through.
When I came back in winter quarter, I forced myself to be optimistic and begin again with a new fire. I joined student government and a sorority. Northwestern’s social scene slowly adopted me in. Winter and spring quarter passed in a blur of Greek events where I always felt just a little out of place. I guess some of the discomfort came from being a sophomore in a pledge class of predominately freshmen.
Still, I welcomed it, because it got me out of my single room in Foster-Walker Complex where I ate alone, slept alone, worked alone and cried alone.
Now, I’m in the fall of my junior year, and I have spent roughly a year at Northwestern. Despite this, I still feel like a transfer. I’ve made countless attempts to make this place feel like home, yet I still feel like I am just a visitor. I keep waiting for the moment when I need to pack up my bags and go to a new university. I see my friends in Los Angeles traveling the world together, and I want to pick up the phone and give them a call, but I stop myself. Would they even remember me? I go to call some of my new friends and ask them if they want to drink tea and talk, but they can’t – they are busy with their real friends.
So, what’s it like being a transfer? It’s flirting with boys you don’t like because you don’t have anyone else to talk to. It’s seesawing between anxiety and depression until you just shut everything off completely. It’s always keeping a bottle of wine in your fridge for when everything becomes too much. It’s being so self-aware all the time that you start to feel your skin crawl.
But there is also so much strength in being a transfer. It’s knowing that you can adapt to any situation. It’s recognizing that you are unhappy and deserve more, and then doing something about it. It’s making new friends and trying new things. It’s developing an unspoken bond with other transfers, because deep down, you all understand. It’s saying, “I’m a transfer” with a smile on your face because you are proud of yourself and your transfer friends, because despite the challenges you continue to face, you are still a pretty awesome person, and you’re going to be just fine.