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Advice for my first-year self: Finding community

Part one of our 2023 summer series features stories of how students can make new friends, create campus communities, and make connections that will last a lifetime.

Advice for my first-year self: Finding community

Have you ever been away from home, feeling homesick, and unsure of your future? Most people have. And it’s one of the biggest challenges for college students. So we’re featuring short stories of how students can make new friends, create campus communities, and make connections that will last a lifetime.

So take a leap of faith and put yourself out there. Because friends are just as important as academics, and belonging to something bigger than yourself can create connections that will last a lifetime. 

Scan the QR code below to listen on your phone. 

advice episode 1 community

Read the transcript

Speaker 1 The views and opinions expressed in this podcast by the hosts and guests may or may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Miami University.

Speaker 2 Freshman year, I came in undecided.

Speaker 3 I'm finance, entrepreneurship, anthropology.

Speaker 4 I'm a senior architecture student.

Speaker 5 I'm involved in the blockchain club here.

Speaker 6 I'm very passionate about studying abroad.

Speaker 7 Classes are going great.

Speaker 8 And then obviously very involved with my sorority.

Speaker 7 I'm thriving.

Meredith Aliff Hi, I'm Meredith Alife and this is major insight. This is the podcast where we talk college life with amazing students about how to find your place and purpose on campus. Have you ever found yourself alone for the first time, away from family and good friends, feeling homesick or unsure of your future? Lots of people have, and it's one of the biggest challenges that almost everyone has in college. We've collected some of the best stories from across campus for a special two part summer series here how to meet new people and join cool clubs, How to find your community, or even create a new one. So take that leap of faith and put yourself out there because friends are just as important as academics and belonging to something much bigger than yourself can create the kinds of connections that will last a lifetime.

Alexandria My name is Alexandria Coffman. I am a senior majoring in urban and regional planning, geography and sustainable development and sustainability.

Meredith Aliff Oh, my goodness. 

Alexandria And I am the president of MU eco reps, which keeps me very busy.

Meredith Aliff So what would you say are some of the biggest challenges that you've had to overcome during your college experience? 

Alexandria One of the biggest things that I dealt with freshman year was making friends and feeling homesick. I'm originally from central Iowa and so I'm quite a ways from home.

Meredith Aliff Yeah.

Alexandria I'm very close with my family and so all of a sudden I was only able to connect with them over face time and had to figure out how to create a new community. And there's the perception, and I had the perception as a freshman too, that everyone had friends within the first semester that they got along with, and we're going to be their forever friends. And while I was meeting people, I wasn't forming those strong friendships quite yet, and I kind of started to my second semester freshman year. I think one of the things that has been a challenge is just creating a new ...a new network pretty much from scratch. And there are lots of resources on campus and certainly eco reps has been a big part of that. I have this one memory that sticks out in my mind. I was walking across the hub where the seal is having a rough day, feeling really homesick, walking back to to my dorm and one of the ECO reps leadership team members, Claire, just yells across the Hub, "Hi Alexandria" and was super excited to see me and just waved. And then we both kept walking. But there was something about having somebody on campus who recognized me and who was excited to see me, where I started to feel like ... I kind of felt like a switch flipped and I started to feel like I had connections here. And now, as a senior, I make a point to wave to people when I see other eco reps or my residents or other people that I recognize on campus. I think that that's making a point to let others know that you're excited to see them on campus or you hope that they have a great day, even if it's just in passing, has been a way for me to feel like I'm able to build community here at Miami.

Meredith Aliff Almost like the pay it forward type. Like, as an upperclassman now you've gone through it, but you don't forget how you felt as a freshman, right? That feeling of homesick. And am I going to find these people that I click with? And I think it's so great that you're now turning around and being that for other people, because obviously Claire doesn't know the impact that she had on you. And I'm sure that there are people that you reach out to that you don't understand the impact that you have on them and just making them feel more comfortable.

Alexandria Yeah.

Meredith Aliff If you could go back and talk to yourself before freshman year, is there anything else that you would say just to calm nerves or anything like that about where you're at now in college?

Alexandria I think the biggest thing is be patient with yourself and give yourself time. You will find people that are interested in the same things you are. You will find people who you click with. And even if it feels like other people on campus have it all figured out, nobody has it all figured out. And so it's ...

Meredith Aliff Totally a facade. Oh, it's not real.

Alexandria Yeah. So being able to know that nobody has it all figured out and that there's always time to reach out and branch out and introduce yourself to somebody new or create a new relationship. Freshman year is not a deadline. The connections and relationships that you've made at the end of freshman year do not dictate the rest of your college experience.

Meredith Aliff Absolutely not.

Gianni I am Gianni Dimacchia. I am a games and simulation major here with a concentration in art.

Meredith Aliff Cool. What have been some of the biggest challenges that you feel like you've faced in college?

Gianni So the absolute biggest challenge I think I faced was actually making friends and that even like went into sophomore year, I still just didn't really have like a group of friends to go do things with on campus ever. And then I like started talking ... that sophomore year was when I joined the club teams for Overwatch, and that's really when like I actually met a friend group that I like started talking to and started doing things with. Then over the summer, like did more things with them, and now this year we're just doing something every day.

Meredith Aliff That is hard. I mean, it's kind of just opening yourself up. Yes. Is really difficult. And you don't expect it to be. You know, I feel like, at least for me, I grew up in a small town. I left a group of people that I was very comfortable with. They'd been my friends forever. And here we are going our separate ways and it kind of hits you like, I have to do this on my own. Like, I don't have any safety net here. Like I'm either going to make friends because I'm doing it or I'm not going to put in any effort and I'm not going to make friends, like ... Yeah. And it's really scary to put yourself out there like that. What is the single best decision that you've ever made in college?

Gianni That is a tough question. But I do think joining the Esports Club was, like, the best thing I could have done.

Meredith Aliff Yeah. Yeah. Why would you say that?

Gianni Just friends. Meeting people. That was the easiest way for me to meet people. And without it, I still probably wouldn't have any friends on campus. 

Meredith Aliff Well, I mean, yeah, definitely. And I think finding your group is just as important as being academically successful in college. I mean, you have to enjoy yourself. And you can't just work and be like, That'll be enough. Like, I'll make it through. You won't make it through. Like, you've got to immerse yourself in college to make it.

Eckhardt My name's Eckhardt Karsten. I am a microbiology student. I'm also studying environmental sciences with a geology minor. 

Meredith Aliff Tell me a little bit more about, like, internships, study abroad, things like that that you've gotten to experience since you've been here?

Eckhardt Sure, I... They're terrifying. First of all.

Eckhardt That's definitely has been what used to be one of my biggest problems is that I really didn't think I was ready to apply to those things. Generally, I was like, no, like, there's no way. I've been here for a year. I'm not ready for that. It's like they're going to look for someone with more experience. And again, it was my advisor and my brother who talked me into just applying for these, because, you know, like they're looking for people who aren't too experienced but have the motivation to want to get better. So I just kind of applied to the first one, which was a research experience for undergraduate students, and they accepted me and I was able to go to Kentucky and do fieldwork in the Appalachian Mountains, which was super fun. It was super pretty, and I got to make loads of good friends and connections there. And then the summer after that, I end up getting an internship at a national lab, the Pacific Northwest National Lab. But overall, the internships have honestly been the highlights of my year. It's always great to spend my summer somewhere new and experience something different.

Meredith Aliff If you could go back and talk to yourself, you know, summer before your freshman year, you're getting ready to come here. Is there anything that you would kind of tell yourself at that point?

Eckhardt I think the biggest thing that I would say to myself, and I think I would just say to anybody is that you're a lot more capable than you think you are. You're a lot smarter, a lot better, and so much more qualified than you give itself credit for, because that is something that I struggled with in high school, and I know I still kind of struggle with now is sort of a lot of self-doubt, really not believing that I'm capable or that I'm ready for things. And I think definitely, looking back, that would have made so many more things in my high school experience a lot better if I would have just reached out, actually tried it. Instead of just kind of sitting back and being, "no, I'll just kind of wait it out." 

Meredith Aliff Yeah, No, I love that. That's a great advice. If you had to choose one thing in college that you would say, "This is absolutely my favorite thing that I've decided to do, the best decision I've made." What would you say that that is? I know that that's a really tough question.

Eckhardt How dare you make me reflect on my life...

Meredith Aliff [Laughter] I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I just have to know.

Eckhardt I think the best decision I ever made was finally putting myself out there and finally sending one email to ask for a letter of recommendation. Because after I did that, everything else sort of started falling into place. That same professor was the one who invited me to join her lab and who is now inviting me to join in Antarctica. That recommendation letter got me into the summer internship and got me into the next one. And now I've already gotten this huge wealth of experience, both academically and for my career, but also just all the friends and memories I've made. So yeah, just that one email I sent was honestly the best thing I ever done.

Kailey So my name is Kailey Kraft. I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and I'm currently a junior quantitative economics major.

Meredith Aliff If you could talk to yourself, go back to senior in high school or freshman year, you're coming in. What would you say to yourself in the position that you are now to kind of give yourself some advice about the next years of your life?

Kailey This is kind of basic advice, but I really don't think you can like say it enough is, like, everything will work out. Don't stress out. I think throughout high school, I was so, so stressed out. So focus on like getting into a top college and like, doing well, getting straight A's, taking every AP class. And I think going into college, I was hoping that I could still have great academic achievements and be involved, things like that. But like not put myself into like that kind of pressure cooker of stress that, like, I did to myself. Like, my parents didn't do that. They're like, We're proud of you no matter what. And I was just like, I have to do this. And everyone's like, Kailey, take six steps back. Like, we do not need to be this crazy about sophomore year English, you know? And so I think even freshman year, it was kind of an adjustment, just trying to like realize, yes, I need to be focused on my studies, but I also need to have fun. I think just kind of like really focusing on the fact that college is such this unique experience in your life. So I think just kind of trying to make sure that I got the more social aspect of college and just put myself out there and, you know, not fear rejection and just realize that like, it's not that deep, Like, it sounds stupid, but it's not that deep. That one test that you get a "C" on is not that deep.

Meredith Aliff And I think what needs to be known by everybody coming into college is: you can think that all you're going to do is sit and study and that's how you'll succeed in college. But those people will not enjoy their college experience. They won't leave knowing that they've, like, gotten the most out of it. Yeah, you have to immerse yourself fully into all of it. Like there's so many of these, you know ... If you can't join an organization that's so fun for you, like, I wanted to be in an acapella groupd because I love to sing and I didn't want to study that, but do things that you think are fun and you'll meet people and you'll make connections and leadership opportunities and all this stuff, but it's leadership opportunities and things that you actually enjoy. So you're not just sitting and studying all the time. Because that's really not what college is at all.

Laura Yeah, well, my name's Laura Schonken and I'm currently a junior and my majors are botany and I have co-major in fashion on the design track.

Meredith Aliff Did you immediately come in with both of those, or was it kind of a progressive thing that you decided to tack on? One after or? 

Laura I came in knowing I wanted to do botany and fashion, but I had to add the fashion on afterwards because it's a program you have to apply into. And so I came in with botany and then I added sustainability in between there and then added fashion lastly. But then I was having issues with like scheduling and stuff and I realized it was just too many things, it was too much going on. So I decided to parse it back down to just botany and fashion.

Meredith Aliff Now that you're where you are now, what advice would you give yourself or any freshman coming in that might be interested in what you're interested in studying?

Laura I'd say just go for it and like if it doesn't work out, you'll be able to figure it out, probably. Things tend to just kind of figure themselves out and like, sometimes you'll make some kind of mistake and you'll have to deal with that. But like, in the end, it'll work out, I believe.

Meredith Aliff Yeah, I definitely have noticed that as well. Everything just kind of seems to fall into place. 

Ryan I'm Ryan Rosu. I'm a junior majoring in English literature, philosophy and film studies. 

Meredith Aliff So what are some of the biggest challenges that you've had to overcome as a college student?

Ryan I think the biggest thing for me was that I was way too insular for my first ... almost all of freshman and sophomore year. I didn't go out. I didn't make any effort to meet people, to participate in clubs, even just to go to parties and stuff like that, just to meet people. And I started doing that at the very end of my sophomore year. And this year, my junior year, I've met so many people. I'm walking to class and I'll run into three or four people I know. And it's so rewarding to. Connect with people all over different majors and life experiences. And it just makes life so much more meaningful to feel connected to the people and the place around you, rather than just sort of passively going to classes and not putting yourself out there. And now I look back and I regret that I didn't do that, but I'm so happy I started doing that now, and I didn't realize this at the end of my senior year when it's too late.

Meredith Aliff No, I mean, but you're right. I mean that especially coming in as a freshman and it's super daunting. And there's all these people around you that have been at it for a year or more at this point, and you're brand new. And it really is an uphill battle to try to put yourself out there. I mean, it's scary.

Ryan Yeah, It's terrifying.

Meredith Aliff And it's definitely a really big challenge, but worth it.

Thank you for listening to our special summer series of major insight. Next time we'll hear stories of personal growth and self-discovery from students who are finding out who they really are and who they want to become.

Ryan College, I think, is about developing yourself as an individual and figuring out who you really are. And so that sort of self-awareness and the understanding that comes with that of other people, and who are figuring themselves out is the key to a happy life, I think.

Meredith Aliff That's next time, as our two part summer series continues.

Major Insight is a roadmap for college students who wish to find their place and purpose on campus. Each episode features real stories with real students who are successfully navigating 21st century university life.