In This Together
Riya Patel, ’21, College of Arts and Sciences
Growing up in a small rural town in Tennessee, I was never exposed to the multitude of backgrounds and experiences that exist across the world. I assumed that life was simply lived in one way in all corners of the world, that my experiences in my town were the same as everyone else’s experiences. Coming to Vanderbilt completely changed that. Every single day, I was meeting new people with amazing stories and skills to share. Within two hours of moving in, I met someone that had won a scholarship for his balloon artistry and discovered that my [now] best friend had written two books! I was shocked at the talent present on this campus and became ecstatic about the time I would spend at Vanderbilt University.
My first two months at Vanderbilt were a dream come true. I was constantly meeting and making new friends; each person seemed to have a new story, a new perspective to share. I quickly became accommodated in my house, spending the majority of my time in the lobby socializing with each person that walked through the door. I formed friendships that made my time at Vanderbilt even more valuable. Everywhere I turned, there were new opportunities to take advantage of, new organizations to join, and more chances to make an impact. There were cultural organizations to tie me back to home and service organizations that can make an impact outside of Vanderbilt. I found so many activities to participate in! Vanderbilt became my place of comfort, my home.
During my second round of midterms in my first semester here, I began struggling. I scored poorly on three exams in a row. Three bad grades were enough to snap me back into my reality. I knew my main goal at Vanderbilt was to succeed academically and that all social interactions placed further down on my list of priorities. At first, my goal was to study more in order to better my grades; however, my ambitions soon became obsessive and competitive. I began withdrawing from friends and locking myself into my room, claiming I had to study. I lost interest in organizations and limited the time I allocated to doing extracurricular activities or participating in campus events. Eventually, I was skipping meals or losing sleep to spend time studying. My happiness was determined by my GPA.
Even after spending the majority of my time with academics, my grades were not improving. After my third round of midterms, I panicked. I had spent an overwhelming amount of time studying and still my grades had not improved. Additionally, it seemed as if everyone around me was successful, both academically and socially. Each time I was in a social setting or simply talking to friends, I felt as if I had nothing to contribute. I seemed to have no interesting stories or daily experiences to talk about; meanwhile, everyone else was always laughing with each other, going to concerts, or celebrating. How was everyone else juggling everything at once? How were people receiving good grades, playing an active role on campus, and having fun? I started to feel as if I was not enough for Vanderbilt. I felt as if I did not fit in.
After struggling with my thoughts on my own for months, I decided to confide in a close friend. She assured me that I was not alone in feeling this way. A lot of students on this campus feel this way; however, many of those students do not feel comfortable enough to talk about these issues. There is an idea of a perfect Vanderbilt student; however, this idea is completely hypothetical. An actual perfect Vanderbilt student does not exist. Each student brings their own experiences, their own stories, their own talents, and their own skills to this campus. After vocalizing to my friends, I realized that I was not alone in the way I was feeling. I learned how to manage my time and divide it between extracurriculars, friends, and academics using the various resources that Vanderbilt provides. I realized that despite the obstacles I face at Vanderbilt, I would never be alone in facing them.