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A love, hate letter to freshman year

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APRIL 24, 2023

Dear freshman year,

You kicked my butt. I’ll be the first to admit that, though I cruised through high school, the imposter syndrome evidently kicked in as soon as I stepped foot on campus. Here, I met people with professional headshots as their LinkedIn profile photos and SAT scores of 1580 under their belts.

I had gone through high school hearing from almost everyone I knew that college would be the greatest four years of my life. Imagine my shock when my first semester turned out to be five months of influenza, pink eye and questionable dining hall food. A male a capella singer did not, in fact, serenade me from his parents’ car as I moved in, a la “Pitch Perfect.” My move-in day actually consisted of one too many trips up four flights of stairs with my dad, lugging up my entire life in the confines of eight storage boxes. There was no riff-off in an empty swimming pool (much to my disappointment), no “Lady Bird”-esque coming of age, realization of self moment. I came to college as essentially the same old Naomi I was in high school, and my lack of a crazy transformative era as soon as I arrived in the city of Berkeley was disappointing, to say the least.

Then came the issue of living alone for the first time, outside of the comforting bubble of my hometown. As my high school friends lingered at home for the extra month of summer that the quarter system gave them, I was tasked with a near impossible mission for someone as introverted as me — socialize for an entire week at orientation. The first seven days of my time at UC Berkeley were spent trying my best to bond with my orientation group through awkwardly attempting to ice skate at our Day in the Bay excursion and memorizing the names and majors of 50 people I never spoke to again. 

Making friends in college was a complete 180 from making friends in high school. Instead of bonding over having the same favorite local lookout spot, or sharing a mutual dislike for the same teacher, I had to open every conversation with an awkwardly placed “So, what music are you into?” I quickly learned that sharing the same music taste does not always make for a good friendship. In fact, I have almost nothing in common with some of my closest friends — but that’s the beauty of the relationships I’ve built outside of my hometown bubble. Despite our many differences, we inevitably share the same core values. While I attempt to understand the lore behind the K-pop competition show they love, they listen patiently as I dissect which Taylor Swift album they best represent and why. They have seen me at my worst — from the times I’ve cried over my homework to the unmade pile of sheets on my bed during exam season. 

Despite the bounds and limitations of my introversion being tested by constant socialization a college freshman goes through, I still felt like I hadn’t broken out of my box enough — which brings me to my time as a columnist. As someone who has a stack of diaries full of thoughts I have never revealed to the world, sharing my writing with the loyal audience of my parents and the middle-aged friends they send my columns to was something daunting. The idea of being vulnerable on the internet, my words next to a giant (and unflattering) color photo of my face, was unsettling. There was no veil of anonymity for me to hide behind, no auto-generated username that would serve as an online persona that I could keep distinctly separate from the “real world.”

Pouring out my strangest thoughts and my most awkward interactions where anyone can read them has been an experience. In fact, I have explicitly banned any of my friends from mentioning anything about any of my columns to me. I don’t even want to know if they’ve read one. But, writing for an audience has taught me something important — that it’s OK to be open. And that sometimes, it’s better not to keep everything to myself because who knows? Maybe someone feels the exact same way as I do about something. Although it can be a little awkward when my dad sends a link to 850 words of me writing about airports to his coworkers, or when someone from high school messages me about how much they loved my column on childhood friends, it’s also heartwarming to see that people actually read what is essentially the word vomit of whatever’s on my mind that week.

So, freshman year — while you may have bested me in the first semester of many, I bounced back. I found friends, developed an undying love for the em dash and wrote about my period on the internet. Best of all, I left my comfort zone. Whether that was through learning how to befriend even my polar opposites, or through learning about myself in writing this column, I have learned more about life this past year than ever before. So, even though I can’t go back to the easy homework I’d have in high school, or the easy and comfortable friendships with people from home, I’d say I’ve had a decent freshman year.

With love,


Naomi Lam writes the Monday column on human connection. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

APRIL 24, 2023