Say it with me: college can be great. Often portrayed as the Best Time of Our Lives, college is full of opportunities and experiences; it is the time to try crazy things and get to know the friends who you will, hopefully, have for the rest of your life. It’s thrilling; it’s exciting; it’s fun. But we’re forgetting one thing: often, college is wonderful only if you have friends. If you don’t, well — college can be lonely.
Say it with me: college can be lonely. A Cornell freshman recently said this aloud in a viral video which she made to tell others about her experience. “The phone sucks,” she said. “It’s a constant reminder of all my friends back home and how close we were and all the fun stuff we did together.” She goes on to say that these very people seemed to be having a blast in university, according to their social media. The student says that she knows “social media is fake and stuff,” but it still “gets to you.”
And she’s right. My freshman year at Princeton University, my phone made it seem like my high school friends were having the Time of Their Lives, while I was a misanthrope unable to blossom into the person that college was supposed to make me. Making friends was hard, and I hated partying. Whenever I sat at a table full of people in the dining hall, I felt like I was sitting alone. Everyone else seemed to know each other — but me? I was friendless. To put it bluntly, the beginning of freshman year sucked.
My one refuge was shul. Shabbat gave me an opportunity to interact with others and conquer my loneliness. Thanks to the Shabbat programming at Princeton Hillel, ranging from Freshman Shabbat to dinner at our Orthodox Union-Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus rabbi’s house, I got to know people in my grade, and the feeling started to dissipate. I got to know two of my best friends through events like these — and they were the people whose shoulders I cried on whenever I felt lonely and insisted that I had no friends (which was, of course, false).
But now that I’m in sophomore year, the challenge has shifted. I no longer feel lonely — although, admittedly, there are occasional bouts of the feeling. I instead feel like I have no time for the friends I’ve made. In between schoolwork, choir practice, and internship applications, I find it hard to make time to sit and have lunch with the people I met at Freshman Shabbat or at our rabbi’s home.
But it’s funny: during freshman year, when I had no friends but plenty of time to do coursework, I would have given anything to not be lonely. I would have gotten bad grades in my classes; I would have even taken physics. But now that I am getting good grades and leading a fuller social life than I did last year, I feel pressured to sacrifice my friendships.
I have to remind myself, though, that, just like the cliché, friendships can indeed be forever. Unlike my grade in physics, I can truly take the relationships I make in university out of my college experience in the hopes that they will accompany me throughout my life. With that in mind, it’s my responsibility to nurture them.
And thanks to other programming at Princeton Hillel, like study breaks, themed Shabbats, and learning programs, I can spend time with my friends without having to worry too much about it.
What my Hillel helped me begin — it is also helping me sustain. It’s funny — college went from being lonely to being busy. But with true friends by your side, college can truly be the Time Of Your Life.
Leora Eisenberg is member of the Class of ’20 at Princeton University.