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OC HIGH: STUDENT NEWS AND VIEWS : So Far, So Good : How I Survived My Freshman Year and Other Tales From the Dorm

August 12, 1994|ALISON ROSEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Alison Rosen, a 1993 graduate of Corona del Mar High School, will return as a sophomore this fall to Pomona College in Claremont

College couldn't have come at a worse time. The guy I had had a crush on for the past three years was beginning to show interest in me, and I had just gotten a job writing for a small music magazine.

I needed more time. Why hadn't I thought more about this before sending in my acceptance letter? Of course, it wasn't really a hasty decision. Wasn't I the one who read all the brochures, spent the night on dorm-room floors across the nation and got a full night of sleep before each interview?

But suddenly I felt like I was jumping headfirst into a situation that I had no way to predict. To make matters worse, my dad kept saying, "Just remember, it's ultimately your decision. You can back out and decide to stay home at any time, honey."

But my family was really big on college and all the ideals of a liberal arts education (refining your mind, discerning truth, etc.). What he really meant was that if I wanted to stay home and make the biggest mistake of my life, he wouldn't get in my way. Thanks.

So with two cars full of belongings, and a mind full of doubts, I began the trip to college.

Moving into the co-ed dormitory was hectic, to say the least. Parents flurried around, carrying suitcases and chatting about how excited they were that their children would be attending this liberal arts college.

All the kids had a slightly dazed look. I thought about my friends who were attending big universities that didn't start for another month. They were probably at the beach right now, or maybe watching soap operas.

After a whirlwind of hugs and kisses, my family was gone, and I was alone again. It was time to assess the room that my roommate, who hadn't arrived yet, and I would call home for the next year. Decent size. Two desks. Two beds. Two dressers. Nauseating smell of fresh paint. But turning the sterile surroundings into a bedroom would have to wait, because the schedule for the next few days left time for little more than sleeping.

*

Orientation was an odd mix of placement tests and "getting to know each other" activities. On the Spanish placement test, I mixed up the word for dormitory with the word for dwarf. I pinched myself, but I was still there.

I fared better in the activities. I had always thought of college as a serious place filled with adults doing mature things. Instead I was playing "The Name Game" with a group comprised of the 14 people who lived on my floor of the dorm. There was a shared feeling that went something like this: "Yes, I admit that these activities are cheesy. But no one from home is going to know about this, so I may as well take advantage of this chance to act like a complete dork." Gradually people let their guard down. I forgot that I spent the summer interviewing rock bands and threw all my passion into winning a fiercely competitive egg toss.

I came to feel as if I had known these people forever. I never would have believed it possible to make friendships so quickly.

I always felt like I could choose how I wanted to present myself in high school because I was there for a limited amount of time each day. In college I stopped caring about projecting any certain image. It's too hard when you are living with your peers around the clock. I knew that sooner or later these people would see me wearing retainers and my Mickey Mouse nightgown, and any image of "cool" would be blown anyway.

The self-importance that permeated high school had disappeared, and what was left were a bunch of people who just wanted to have a good time. There seemed to be a realization that after college is the "real world." This was our last time to joke around before facing responsibility.

I found myself in the middle of things I had given up a long time ago. We had pillow fights and food fights. We stood on chairs and sang '70s songs at the top of our lungs. We stayed up until early morning talking about everything from dream dates to capital punishment.

And, of course, we studied. Before college I couldn't conceive of how I would have enough time to do laundry, balance my checkbook, get sleep, write articles, have a social life and go to class. But it all fell into place. At times it was stressful. There was one day that three of my friends and I burst into tears, but no one is faulted for this. Going to college, especially a small one, is immersing yourself in an intense world. It's bound to be stifling at times.

*

As the year went by I kept in touch with friends from home. At first there was always a lot to talk about because we had been used to talking to each other on a day-to-day basis. Gradually there became less to talk about as we only mentioned the things that seemed important. Older students reassured me that this also happened to them their first year. True friendships can weather separation.

My relationship with my family changed also. I was no longer fighting my parents' authority for what I felt was my own independence. I finally had it.

Of course, there was a downside to being on my own. I was very close with my younger sister and felt like I was missing watching her grow up. But that's one of the things I learned about life. If you try to hang on to everything, you lose more. In looking back on it, I know that if I had stayed home, it would have hindered my own growing up.

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