Entering the Big Leagues
Before coming to Dartmouth, I had only ever been to the East Coast once. I didn't know the culture of New Hampshire, nor anybody else going to Dartmouth because it simply wasn't a part of my everyday life. My existence, up until that point, was firmly rooted in my place in the mitten state.
In some ways, it still is. Once you get to Dartmouth, you'll quickly feel that around 50% of the student population comes from California, and the other 50% is split between New York City and "just outside Boston." Disclosing the fact that you are from neither place automatically makes you somewhat of an anomaly, and it does feel a little lonely at times. College, for me, was the big unknown. For (what seemed like) everyone else, college at a prestigious university on the East Coast was a given. While I was doing everything by myself for the first time with little guidance, it felt like everyone else had a handbook that told them who to meet, where to be, and what to do. My friends often talked about meeting up during break or how they were going to visit other friends at nearby schools when that simply wasn't an option for me.
Other aspects of my identity exacerbated this feeling: I am a first-generation American, whose parents know even less about the American school system or professional networking. I am also a Questbridge student, relying heavily on school funds and gracious opportunities to get by as other people got internships through connections or simply volunteered at an organization and paid their own way. And lastly, I was homeschooled from middle school until high school in Metro-Detroit. Whether because of where I lived or the ways in which my parents decided to educate me, my experiences are just so vastly different from my peers that it felt like I was doing everything alone, failing at times.
If you're worried about this, here is my advice as a happy, rising sophomore! I'm worked through these issues quite a lot my first year here and have some pointers.
Know that this "isolation" will happen, in small doses or large ones. No matter what school you go to in the future, Dartmouth or otherwise, various aspects of your identity will make you different from the average student. For you, it may be that you're from a small town. For others, it may be that they are the first in their town to leave the state for college. Be proud of your history and how far you've come, but also don't feel discouraged when these little doubts start to come your way. Just remember: the fact that you feel a little uncomfortable or lonely means that you are breaching the unknown, making your way in the world, and growing in ways that other people aren't even possible of doing.
Also know that you are capable of doing it and taking this loneliness and turning it into something great. Dartmouth chose you for a reason—because it sees a spark and potential in you. Rely on this, rely on your instincts, rely on what you are capable of. Call your friends and family back home for reassurance.
Lastly, find places on campus where you do feel at home. If there aren't any, create them. Make Dartmouth the place where you feel safe and where people like you can feel loved and appreciated in the future. In addition, create dialogue and growth in places where you may not feel as welcome. If there's anything that I've learned this past year, it is that Dartmouth students are hungry for a better school and better environment. If you see change that you want to make, there will always be a person who will hear you out (even if it is just me!). Behind one person is always a support group and cheerleaders, so find them here. I promise you that although it may be scary, it is always worth it.
I haven't completely done away with my imposter syndrome or my issues "entering the big leagues" alone yet, but these tips have helped me to stay grounded. Today, I have many lovely friends and people I can trust who work at Dartmouth, and I sincerely believe that I belong at Dartmouth and can make it a better place. Choose not to see this as an obstacle but as a stepping stone into your future. After all, the best memoirs and success stories always have a little trouble in the beginning.