By Karlota Arnaiz-Palacios, DSST: GVR HS '18
When I moved into my college dorm room in Iowa I was ecstatic. I was going to be on my own— meeting new people and discovering the person I was meant to be. But, as summer turned to autumn, my morale dropped faster than the leaves did in the frigid climate. I went to numerous club fairs and received hundreds of emails from clubs welcoming me or sending more information… Yet, I had never felt so lost. So excluded. As a freshman far from home, fitting in and making friends seemed like the most important thing, and it wasn’t going as well as I had expected.
In the fall, I decided to try out formal recruitment for Greek life with my roommate. I soon joined and my sisters became some of my closest friends. I ended up taking an office as Vice President of Philanthropy. The risk of doing something out of my comfort zone helped me make friends. Yet as time passed by, I still felt excluded in other parts of my college life. I felt alone. As a first generation immigrant woman who attended a Title One high school in Denver, I did not feel accepted. At DSST, I had never lacked diversity in my classrooms, and, suddenly, I was the token woman of color. My picture was taken for all the posters and brochures. I felt like I was representing the entirety of my race and the pressure built until I hit a breaking point.
After an invalidating conversation with staff at my university, I decided to transfer to the University of Hawaii and I signed my transfer commitment on December 18, 2018. When I arrived on campus for my first day of classes, I cried so much because I knew I was home. I was able to make friends so easily, and I found a community that valued me for my individuality.
My first year in college wasn’t easy, but I’m really happy now that I’ve found my home. I’ve compiled a list of tips to create your community as you transition to college. While everyone’s experiences in school are different (especially during COVID), I am confident that all DSST students have the capability to build an amazing community in college.
Tips to Build Your College Community
Start by exchanging phone numbers with your seat neighbors in class to make sure you both know someone for the homework, in case you miss a day or you need help. It also gives you another friendly face to wave to around campus.
Remember that your closest friendships can grow from truly anyone you meet, whether that is someone in your classes or clubs, peers on your hall or in your dorm, or even the people you always see in the cafeteria before your 1PM class.
Here are a few other simple ways to help build your community:
- Joining multicultural clubs - It is a nice support system, especially during cultural and religious holidays that you are used to celebrating at home. Some of these clubs will still operate virtually!
- Talk to your RAs - RA’s are meant to act as a support system, especially for new students. They can really help you find your niche in college, you just have to ask! RA and community advisors will likely still be available to you virtually.
- Always greet your seat neighbors in class - If virtual, shoot a classmate a note after class! Ask them about a comment they made or see about setting up a virtual study group or sharing notes.
- Visit club fairs and take information flyers - This will give you a sense of what is happening on campus- virtually and in person- and help you figure out what you want to get more involved in.
- Follow clubs and organizations on their social media - They’ll share updates about in-person and virtual events and opportunities.
Finding your fit doesn’t always happen immediately. It can take time. Sometimes you just know, and other times it takes a little bit of digging. Take things at your own pace, but venture out and don’t be afraid to say hello. Even if virtually online! Like many students, feeling comfortable and confident at my college campus helped me make more friends.
My name is Karlota and I graduated from DSST: Green Valley Ranch in 2018. I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. I am studying Archaeology and Anthropology and pursuing a minor in Political Science. I am hoping to earn my PhD, but in the meantime I am studying to take the LSAT in order to get a law degree. I love to read, write, sew, and crochet.