Going off to college can be exciting and fun and scary and stressful all at the same time, especially if you are like me and went out of state for your first college experience. I was so fortunate to go to Columbia College Chicago for my undergraduate program. I say “fortunate” because I made lifelong friendships at college, and this can make such a difference in the overall college experience. I have now been in Chicago for almost ten years, and I treasure the experiences I had in this big city. This is the best time to bond with people because of your shared experiences. You are living in dorms for the first time, or living away from your family for the first time; some students are exploring a new country for the first time. These are the threads that connect us, and the friendships we make are the weaving together of these threads. I came to Chicago with one friend from back home, and that was great because on those first few days I had a familiar and friendly face. I made friends quickly and was enjoying meeting all of my classmates who loved theater (my BA is in theatre).
But then I got a really scary phone call that one of my good friends from back home had died. That is always a hard thing to handle, especially when you are hours from all of your other friends and family. This moment, though terrible, is poignant to me because it showed how strong my new friendships were. The old friend I had come with and one of my new friends, who ended up being one of my best friends in college, stayed with me that night. They let me cry myself to sleep with no judgement, no teasing or shying away from this tough situation. They were my glue that night. After having this experience I knew that no matter what happened I would be there for them, and they would be there for me.
As college progressed we took different classes and had different schedules, and we all moved off campus and got our own places and had jobs, but we always stayed friends. I made several friends the first year that truly enhanced and changed my college experience and I kept them through graduation. I finished my BA in 2015 and I have to admit that we have all sort of gone our separate ways as far as where we live, but we all stay in contact on Facebook and look forward to updates about each others’ lives. My mom has been best friends with her college roommate since 1970. They are still friends and her family has always been family to me. Believe in the power of these friendships you are making.
I feel incredibly fortunate that during my junior year I was selected to be a part of the Disney College Program, and I got to go live and work at Disney World. I made friends here quickly. We were all excited and living in the Disney Apartments. We worked in different parks and would go visit each other. I have many friends that I still am in contact with from back then. I had an absolutely life changing experience working at Disney. I had a random job that was totally unrelated to my major, but I didn’t care. I only got to go to Disney once as a child, so as a young adult, to live and work there was more than a dream come true.
I did an extended program there, and then I came back and finished my degree. This added a year to my schooling, but again, worth it! As soon as I graduated I applied for a job in my career field down at Disney. I got hired but was told I only had two weeks to move. We scrambled and made it happen. I lived and worked down there at Disney and Universal Studios in theater operations and entertainment for a year before returning here to be closer to family (I have family who cannot travel, I thought it was worth it to come back and be close to them). I miss Disney and Universal Studios every day, and I miss the amazing friends, memories, laughs, adventures and experiences that we shared together, but I am so thankful for social media so that we can stay a part of each others’ lives. I try to go down there once a year (2020 excluded) to visit the parks and see all of my friends. I cannot wait until I can go back there. I also met my partner while I was down there, and we are so happy to have met and worked together and to have those amazing memories and mutual friends. He is in the group picture below with me!
To bring this full circle, I am now in grad school and back here at Columbia College, but this time its a whole new experience. So far my program has been fully virtual and though many people believe this makes it harder to make lasting friendships, I feel the opposite. We are all living this insanity together, we are a small program which means we all have all of our classes together and when we get put into groups for projects, we get to have amazing small group discussions that bring us closer together. I am in a group for a class with two other girls and we have all of our meetings virtually, but for research we had to meet up and go to a location in the city. It was so exciting to meet your new friends in real life for the first time. You get that teenage excitement of “What do I wear?” “How do I look?” “Will we recognize each other?”, and I truly loved the experience. I know many of the friends I am making right now will be long lasting friendships that I can talk about in another blog someday. I cannot wait to finish my program with these amazing people and see what we all go on to do as Master artists out in the post-pandemic world. Going through this time in our country together has made these bonds even stronger. This is our thread and we are turning it into a masterpiece.