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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Perspective: Moving to a big city is daunting. Here’s what I’ve learned

I still miss home, days with my hometown friends and the Jersey Shore — but I can miss them while still enjoying my time here.

I knew since childhood that I would one day live in a big city, swapping my acutely suburban central Jersey hometown for an epicenter of vitality and opportunity.

I moved to D.C. this year, finally fulfilling that dream. And while my childhood hopes have come to fruition, my eagerness to live and learn here distracted me from what I’ve left behind — my ties to home have been difficult to move past.

When my family went on trips to Manhattan, I felt tethered to the city like the endless songs sung about it. I worshiped its constant noise, the luminosity of its street lights and its overwhelming sense of hope. The strip malls that lined my town’s streets seemed insignificant compared to the expansiveness of the city.

In August, I crammed a copious amount of clothing and mementos — an Asbury Park postcard, a MetLife concert ticket — into my dad’s car and moved into Thurston Hall. I met my roommate in person for the very first time, and we spent countless hours decorating our dorm. We attended oftentimes burdensome orientation activities, where we enthusiastically introduced ourselves to people we’d never speak to again and feigned shock after meeting yet another person from New Jersey.

But moving to D.C. meant I lacked my usual support from friends who lived close by. As someone with a small circle at home, the concept of “breaking out of the bubble” was difficult to come to terms with. Constant activity during orientation kept me occupied enough not to overthink the foreignness of my situation, but fear and uncertainty started plaguing me once classes began and I had more time to myself.

I felt isolated and missed my hometown friends and family despite making new friends, and I suddenly felt very far away from the people and places who meant the most to me. I have always been sentimental, attaching myself to people and places, looking at old photos and birthday cards and loving the nostalgia that comes with watching childhood home videos. That is why I feel so drawn to cities — there are so many opportunities for connection, whether it be through art, culture or new people who are always creating, dreaming and changing.

I had a feeling that I’d struggle at first to get acquainted with a new city and community — after all, I had lived in the very same town for 18 years, and this was the biggest transition I had ever experienced. But the feeling was still overwhelming and more sudden than I expected.

Everybody talks about the importance of making friends in the first couple weeks of college and how easy it is to meet people on your floor or in your classes. But many of these “friendships” are feeble, and it can be uncomfortable to put yourself out there. I spent so much of my time with these people, but we didn’t even know each other’s names. It was all a bit disorienting.

During this period, I did the things I had always valued and made me feel the most at home: I rewatched one of my favorite movies, “Lady Bird,” letting myself cry over its relevance; while walking to class, I listened to some of my favorite albums — “Wish” by The Cure and “Blue” by Joni Mitchell; I journaled often; I had phone calls with my best friend and my mom, reminding myself that they would always be there.

So while the advice to “put yourself out there” is important, take time to reflect, to simply exist and to do the things you enjoy. Doing so grounded me and gave me a sense of familiarity that is easily lost in times of transition. Even the most extroverted people need some time without strangers surrounding them, and meaningful connections are even harder to make if you’re only focused on meeting as many people as possible. I find that I made my closest friends at GW with a clear head — not during chaotic orientation activities.

In my first months at GW, I’ve finally experienced what I’ve always dreamed about. Beyond the wonderful people who share my interests I’ve met and the interesting classes I’ve taken, I’ve learned to become more independent. D.C. is my home, and I’m dedicated to making it feel that way, whether through familiarizing myself with the streets and landmarks, finding a favorite park or attending events around the District like at the Kennedy Center and the Brookland Arts Walk.

I still miss home, days with my hometown friends and the beaches of the Jersey Shore — but I can miss them while still enjoying my time here.

Carly Cavanaugh, a first-year majoring in journalism and mass communication, is an opinions writer.

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