Natasha Bedingfield’s song “Pocketful of Sunshine” has unfailingly gotten me through many stressful situations I have experienced in my 18 years of living. Whether I was having a tough day at school, didn’t want to go to work or was in a fight with a friend, its melody always put me in a better mood that would keep me from exploding inside.

Recently, I’ve found that I haven’t had the same opportunities I once did to dance around and belt Bedingfield’s liberating words “take me away.” It is hard to find time to be alone, totally and completely in solitude, when living with 400-plus freshman students in a college dorm. I was forced to welcome a new home that is incredibly different from my old home 42 miles away.

Going into college, I thought I was prepared for it all. I knew the campus, the students and the culture. I was ready to come to school and get away from my life at home. I have found that one of the biggest challenges no one explicitly prepares you for is living in the dorms. College was my first time living away from home, and I had no idea all it would entail.

At college, the ability to separate school from home life gets increasingly difficult, and I find myself constantly thinking about classwork. I go home to people I go to school with and wake up next to them just to do it all again. Constantly living around people who can observe and hear my every move leaves little time for me to truly be myself, as I am constantly conscious of my actions and how they will resonate with the people who live in such close proximity to me.

No longer do I have time to come home, sit on the couch and watch TV. I am constantly moving and thinking about what assignment to do next. I pack my bag in the morning, knowing I won’t return until late at night. Then by 2 p.m., when all I want to do is watch an episode of “Friends” and relax, I am still sitting uncomfortably at the coffee shop table where I have been cemented for the last four hours. No longer can I shower alone in the bathroom, and I have to leave my “house” to get lunch.  

The transition from home life to dorm life can be a struggle that many students think they’ll know how to handle before coming to college, but it is hard to anticipate all the changes living in a dorm will bring. This struggle that many freshmen face is something that is not always recognized but is nonetheless valid.

I am struggling to find time to be in solitude. It is hard to always go home to someone in the room or someone down the hall. For me, being comfortable in any space is something that I value wholeheartedly. I long for moments when I can belt show tunes without any thought that I am disrupting others.

The experiences that I have had with communal living have taught me to truly never be embarrassed for who I am and what I am interested in. And, no, I still can’t bring myself to sing in the shower when I know other people are in there, but I commend the people who do. I am proud of the girl who showers to Beethoven, and definitely could learn a few things from her.

I have said it before and I will say it again: College is a growing experience. Having the ability to adapt to certain situations in this first transitional year is really something to be proud of yourself for. It is hard to move to a place you are unfamiliar with and have to find new outlets for expressing yourself because the resources are vastly different here.

Next year, I will have my own room, in an apartment with friends I know and love, and will be comfortable belting Natasha Bedingfield, even if they don’t appreciate it. The difference is that when you are surrounded by people whom you are familiar with, you are more comfortable in expressing who you are, no matter who that may be. The challenge of sharing a space with individuals you don’t know or share interests or backgrounds with is tough. It’s during these moments when I stop myself from singing Bedingfield’s catchy tunes and hum the lyrics quietly so only I can hear that I realize this struggle.

Living in a dorm presents freshmen with a unique opportunity to constantly be surrounded by their classmates. This often underestimated transition has presented me with lots of challenges that I thought I was prepared for. The struggle of moving away from home is often brushed off by the fact that students come to college to further their schooling. There is no way to be successful if we are not first comfortable in our living situation, which I have found to be the hardest adjustment. I think we should cherish these moments where we are constantly surrounded by others, and immerse ourselves in situations where we feel most comfortable. Finding the environment where I truly feel at “home” is going to take time, which is something I have had to recognize and embrace. And I hope that future Wolverines and current students know that this adjustment is normal and you are not alone in this struggle.

Michelle Phillips can be reached at mphi@umich.edu.

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