September 4, 2019

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | Finding Home Away from Home

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I still vividly remember my first semester at Cornell as a newcomer wearing a shiny ID on the red “Tatkon Center” lanyard. Early freshman year was many things, but it mostly boiled down to two activities: sporting my fashionable “Hello, my name is ____” sticker and strutting down College Ave. in my massive O-Week group with only Google Maps to guide us to a party we had found on Facebook.

Now a junior, I’ve been here long enough to feel at home that I rarely walk through Collegetown in groups larger than three. But watching — from the eHub window seats — the new generation of Cornellians engage in these freshmen processions makes me reflect on my own arrival on the Hill.

As an early decision applicant whose first choice was Cornell, receiving my red “Welcome to Cornell” envelope was the achievement of my lifetime. And having spent the eight-month wait until college watching “Glorious to View (Full Version)” and “Glorious to View (Short Version)” at least 73 times each, my excitement about life at Cornell was at an all-time high.

So I kicked off my first year dreaming about all the wonders Cornell would have in store for me, but, oh boy, was college full of the unexpected.

The pinnacle of my freshman year career speaks for its anxiety-filled chaos pretty well. It was the epic season finale: missing my Campus-to-Campus bus by a minute, running after it only to watch it leave without me, and hitchhiking my way to the Vet College lot — the last on-campus stop — after two unsuccessful attempts to find help. I am eternally grateful for the kind then-junior who, without any hesitation, rescued me from missing my JFK flight back to Seoul.

I also had not envisioned spending Friday nights in my room watching Netflix and — through the Clara Dickson windows — see other freshmen head down to Collegetown parties. As a non-drinker, it felt as if there was practically no difference between being alone in my room or being the only uninebriated kid at a party. I soon realized that the dozens of icebreakers during classes, orientation and floor meetings weren’t going to make my freshman year the “Time of Our Lives ™️” experience as promised.

To make things worse, I often felt out of place and homesick, always reminded that I was halfway across the globe from family without anyone to rely on. Living in four countries and moving schools 10 times during that period, I was confident that the move to Cornell would be a smooth one. But it wasn’t, and the experience hadn’t made adjusting any easier. On many days in early freshman year, calling home at night or in the morning — when Eastern Time and Korean Standard Time aligned — was the highlight of my day.

Like any other major leap you’ll take in life, your transition to college may be a journey with many bumps and twists — and buses that depart without you. But know that you are not alone in this. This particular leap is one that countless Cornellians who have come before us have already taken.

I will tell you quite confidently that you will find your place despite the struggles of your first year. Whether your home is a 16-hour flight, a two-hour layover and a six-hour bus ride away or a quick TCAT ride downtown, you will find your new, second home here at Cornell.

Nevertheless, I will also tell you that this process is a deliberate one. Take some time to get out, explore, and join organizations that you click with. Join the Student Assembly and advocate for support resources for incoming freshmen and transfers. Become a member of the International Students Union and run programs that will help the next generation of students settle in on the Hill. Join a project team and meet students that share your enthusiasm. But whatever you do, don’t be the freshman me, who thought “finding my people” meant trying to fit in with the nearest group of students I saw, in fear of missing out.

Cornell is full of resources to support you throughout this challenging time of change and growth, but they are only as helpful as you let them be. Take benefit of these, but also remember to give yourself time to adjust.

As someone who struggled to find a sense of belonging in the first few months of life in Ithaca, I am rooting for your success. I hope that by the time you realize what an extraordinary community we have here on a picturesque campus like no other, you too will be passing the halfway mark of your own Cornell career, reminiscing about your rather turbulent arrival on this Hill.

First-year students, I can’t wait to see you make your four years the Time of Your Life, with friends you’ll proudly call your family away from home.

Welcome to Cornell.

Jaewon Sim is an undergraduate student-elected member of the Board of Trustees and a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Comments may be sent to [email protected]. Trustee Viewpoint runs every other Thursday this semester.