Through The Looking Glass: Paving my own Path

by Tierra Lynch | 10/1/15 6:20pm

10.2.15.mirror.tierra_Tiffany.Zhai_
Tierra Lynch '16 looks back on her first few days at Dartmouth and reflects on the things that she has learned.
by Tiffany Zhai / Tiffany Zhai/ The Dartmouth Senior Staff

I came to Dartmouth from Taos, a small town in New Mexico, not knowing anyone or what to expect. How could an hour-long campus tour possibly prepare me for such a massive transition? I was moving across the country, living away from home for the first time. I was a mess of nervous excitement. How was I supposed to find my way around campus? Was I going to make friends? How could my small-town public school possibly compare to the prestigious prep and boarding schools of some of my peers? But I was excited too — excited to test myself and try new things, to be able to take control of my life for the first time, to choose my classes based on my real interests, to choose my activities, my friends and what I was going to eat for dinner that night.

And so I arrived on the Robo lawn for my Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trip with a pit in my stomach. Thanks to an ever-punctual mother, I was early — very early. In fact, I was one of the first kids there (Thanks mom.) I could barely move I was so nervous. If my arms and legs didn’t work how was I possibly supposed to dance with the crazy, hair-dyed, intimidatingly confident upperclassmen? What if I threw up on them out of nervousness? How would I ever make friends after that?

But I survived — in fact I thrived. I came out of my shell. I met lots of new, interesting, inspiring people and absolutely I loved my Trip. I had two fantastic leaders and met one of my best friends to this day. The magic of Trips continued through my freshman fall. I distinctly remember one day when I went canoed to a rope swing during pre-Orientation with my friends. It started pouring rain on the way back, and we screamed the alma mater at the top of our lungs. I have no idea why, but it felt like the most quintessential Dartmouth moment. This was such a happy magical place, and I wanted to belong here so badly.

When you come to college you get a blank-slate. You come here shiny and new. You have a chance to completely reinvent yourself. Keep the things you like and leave behind the high school stigmas that kept you down. But you also leave behind all your family and friends — the people who watched you grow up and know you best. Like me, you might even have to leave behind things like sports or activities that were central to your identity and connected you to your true self. So though I was excited for this chance to reinvent myself, I had also left so much behind. No longer was I a three-sport varsity athlete, but I had to plunge right into NARPdom. Without my friends, family and teammates, I was very scared I would lose myself. To fill this void, I worked to be open-minded, meet new people and try new things. I applied for a range of activities, and for the first time I was faced with rejection. Like many of you, I was used to succeeding in high school. If I worked hard, things would usually fall right into place. Rejection was a new taste, and I didn’t like it, especially when it came from activities that I believed I should be good at, things I thought I belonged in. It was a huge blow to my confidence, and I started to question myself and whether I belonged at Dartmouth, a school that was full of such amazing and talented individuals who seemed to be involved in everything. How did I fit into this community? Was I building genuine relationships or just surface acquaintances?

By the end of my first term, I had joined a couple of organizations on campus. It was such a necessary validation, but at the same time, I didn’t find myself fitting in as naturally as I expected. Everyone else seemed to meld together so easily. And though I had made many friends who had lots common interests with me, I wasn’t as ragey or outgoing as some of them. So though I was now involved in such a wonderful community, I still felt awkward and alienated. FOMO is real.

After three years, I am just starting to see campus as my home, a place that I could be myself. This feels weird to say about the place that has been my “home” for three years, but it took time and patience for me to find the sense of community I needed to feel grounded. Finding your sense of place takes time and patience, and it doesn’t always come naturally — I had to put in effort and make it my own.

On a similar but separate note — a big part of campus social life has always been defined by the Greek scene, at least that’s how I saw it initially. Like many of my friends, I decided to rush my sophomore fall. In high school, I never imagined I would join a sorority, but it felt like the thing to do. And so I did it.

The whole rush process felt shallow and superficial — I hated it. After much debating, though, I decided to join a Greek house. I wanted to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone and my friend group. While at times I felt very out of my element, I had a lot of fun getting to know a group of amazing, inspiring and passionate women. Even with this newfound community, though, I had a very difficult sophomore year. The magic of freshman year seemed to have faded and reality set in. Both of my trip leaders and a lot of the upperclassmen with whom I was close had graduated, and I lost many of my role models and mentors. I watched as several of my friends lost themselves to constantly going out almost every night in a way that was completely unsustainable.

So even though Greek life seemed like the thing to do — my friends loved it and completely immersed themselves in their houses — I still felt like it wasn’t completely for me. This is just my experience — not everyone’s. Due to a heavy workload last spring I went inactive, and I found that I didn’t really miss Greek life. I found myself refocusing in other directions on campus and exploring alternative communities. I started hiking, biking, rock climbing and spending much more time outside, and I had a wonderful group of friends who supported and loved me and let me drag them on crazy adventures. I filled that void in other ways — ways that have been so meaningful to my personal growth. In the beginning of this term, I disaffiliated from my sorority. I do not regret joining for a minute. It was so good to try something new and to meet new people, but deep inside I always knew that Greek life wasn’t really for me. This decision feels so good, and I feel like I am finally being true to myself. So it’s okay that I didn’t find my home in the Greek system. I found it in other parts of campus — parts that I needed to reach out to and make my own.

So as a SWUG looking back at my experiences, here is my advice for all the young’uns on campus. Be open-minded and try new things. Throw yourself into these experiences, but don’t lose yourself along the way. If something doesn’t feel right, make a change. Don’t do things simply because you feel you should do them. Do them because you love them. Some things might not work out, and that’s okay. Others will. Always stay true to yourself, your values, your passions. I’ve always tried to live without regrets, and I believe that everything happens for a reason. You will make mistakes, and you will be rejected. But you learn a lot about yourself when you fall down. Just don’t be afraid to ask for help getting back up.

Everyone here carries with them their own worries and excitements. We all come from different backgrounds and have different ambitions and passions. We all will have a different Dartmouth experience. There will be periods of triumph and rejection. Remember that no one really has it all together or is as perfect as they might seem. Strive to be your best selves. But be gentle with yourselves and those around you.

And always wear sunscreen.