The Transfer Experience: Navigating Change, Experience, and Regret

A Typical Interaction.

I get a question about my freshman year about once a week. For example:

Everyone: “What freshman dorm were you in?”

Me: *splutters* “Hahaha um so, I, uh–”

Everyone: ???

Me: *finally* “So I transferred.”

Everyone: “Ohhh you’re one of those. From where? Why? When? How? Who? Whom? Whomst? Whomst’ve?”

Why.

So why did I transfer? Lots of reasons. If you’d like, I could give the long “I-thought-I-knew-what-was-important-but-I-didn’t” story, but for now I’ll keep it short:

I transferred from Emory University because I felt it was too close to home. I transferred to Cornell University because of its unique academic and extracurricular opportunities this change in location offered me. Cool? Basic? Maybe. But who cares.

Why I transferred isn’t as important as what I learned in the process.

When I received my acceptance letter in the middle of May, all I could think about was my new life at Cornell. How many friends I’d have, how great the statistics program is, how much more “worldly” I’d become. And when I finally left Atlanta for the first time in my life, it was really awesome. Nevertheless, the “new and exciting” factor wore off very quickly. After that, the rest of the semester was…

An Absolute Wreck.

First and foremost, dealing with the weather change was horrible. For those of you who don’t know, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD – how appropriate) is a mood disorder that occurs when the season changes to the winter months. While I’d heard about her in the past, we finally met last winter. After spending my whole life over yonder in the warm and sunny South, the transition to a dark, frigid winter was depressing as hell. Big oof.

Then there was my dorm. All of the transfers were housed together. I liked my suitemates, but I found it frustrating that everyone had friends to begin with. Furthermore, I didn’t fit in with any one of these groups. For example, there were the girls whose sole purpose in life was to party. I do like going out on Friday nights… but I also like being with people who can hold relatively intelligent conversations, so that didn’t work out. And then there were others whose friendships seemed to be based on proximity. They were either from Westchester or or Long Island, NY. They were also all in CALS, the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. As a southerner in Arts & Sciences, I couldn’t really talk about NYC or dairy farms, so that didn’t work out either.

Last October was a blur. I would wake up, eat some food, go to class, and climb back into bed. I was so emotionally exhausted that leaving my dorm room was too much effort. It was the low-point of my life.

Of course, I couldn’t blame it all on SAD—my depression was multifaceted. My classes were not engaging, Ithaca was dreary, and the constant pressure of a competitive environment was quite unlike anything I had experienced before. Also, my attempt to go off anxiety meds. Major yikes. But that’s neither here nor there.

My Solution.

The first step was realizing I was unhappy. Which, admittedly, wasn’t hard. Especially considering the fact that sleeping was the only thing I looked forward to, and the way I sobbed after ending every phone conversation with my old Emory friends.

I figured the best way to start would be to meet more people. Classic solution, right? So, next semester, I did. I “put myself out there.” I changed my housing situation, joined more clubs, surrounded myself with a more diverse group. While it wasn’t a “quick fix,” it definitely helped.

Another thing: I took classes I actually cared about. It’s easy to get bogged down with requirements, GPA-boosters, and classes that aren’t interesting but will “help you with your career!” or something. NO. Resist the temptation! I’ve found that taking classes that interest you will help you enjoy your time in college. Because if you enjoy what you’re studying, you’ll actually be motivated to try. So you’ll actually go to lecture, and you’ll actually not dread studying (as much). And you’ll actually boost your GPA, because you’ll actually care, and you’ll actually feel good about yourself.

Finally: self-care. This was probably the most helpful thing for me. Over winter break, I started exercising more, reaching out to old friends, switching to a healthier diet, etc. The simple things make a huge difference, because you can’t make yourself happy if you don’t feel like you’re worth it. And you most definitely are worth it, so why not make yourself feel worthy?

Anyway, that’s my experience, but the process is obviously different for everyone. I’m not trying to scare anyone away from transferring. As it turns out, I can say with confidence that I’ve finally found my place at Cornell. However, it took me a full semester, a bout of depression, and a month of soul-searching to get there.

If you’re currently in the process of transferring, don’t be surprised if the first semester is rocky as hell. And always, always, always keep the future in mind. Things may seem bleak in the moment, but you transferred for a reason. Everything will improve, if you can figure out what’s wrong and make changes, and especially if you are patient with the process.

Recent Revelations and Final Thoughts.

Last week, I decided to visit Emory for the weekend. Of course, it was great seeing all my old friends. It was also emotionally exhausting. After walking around campus, hanging out at my old favorite spots, and going to parties, I realized that I didn’t feel any sense of belonging. My friends kept asking me if I was alright, telling me I looked distracted. After 24 hours on campus, all I wanted to do was go home.

The next day, I spoke about my visit with Yikes! founder Juliette. I told her how great it was to see everyone, but also how weird it felt to be back. And how I felt so disconnected from everything, like I was trying to relive my old life. Something I’d never be part of again because I’d left it behind.

She responded with this:

If there’s anything at all I’d like you to get out of this post, it’s this. I left behind my life at Emory— a life I loved at a school I loved—to explore beyond the confines of my hometown. While I still have a lot to learn, I’ve grown so much in less than a year. The harder, scarier, bigger thing, was in fact, the best thing. It’s pointless to consider the “what-ifs”: What if I’d stayed? Would I have been friends with X or Y, or would I have pursued X or Y instead of what I’m doing now?

But it doesn’t matter, because life is unpredictable. There’s only one thing I could possibly know for sure: If I hadn’t transferred, I wouldn’t have experienced anything from my new life. I wouldn’t have crossed a gorge to get to class, or joined my current a cappella group, or spent post-class lunches with my friends at Trillium, or took a class titled “Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds And More.” Or experienced a true winter. Or learned how to ski.

I could go on.