Leaving home for the first time is never easy, but it’s particularly difficult when you’re lugging a futon across state lines and saying goodbye to your parents till Christmas. I grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, and went to school in New York City, two cities that are as far apart culturally as they are geographically—and I’m here to tell you that if I can do it, you can do it too.
First things first: it was overwhelming. I spent my first semester hiding in my room when I wasn’t in class or at work. After all, I’d just moved from a borough with 6 people per square mile to one with 60,000. I was experiencing major culture shock, coupled with the FOMO that comes from hunkering down while everyone else seems to be out enjoying the city. My first few weeks were very stressful. I was jealous of friends who could visit their parents on the weekends, because I missed my family and my dogs intensely, and I was mad at myself for not taking advantage of all that New York had to offer.
But also, it was incredible. Slowly but surely, I got used to the size and energy of New York City, and I started branching out. I tried different things, like participating in Escape the Room (basically a real-life video game) and watching comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade. On campus, I broke out of my bubble by joining a literary society, a volunteer tutoring agency, an online publication, and a gardening club. I realized that most of the other first-year students wanted to make friends just as much as I did, so I was able to get to know a lot of cool people once I worked up the nerve to smile and introduce myself.
It made me appreciate my hometown more. At times when I was a teenager, it seemed like my entire hometown was just a Walmart and a few decommissioned goldmines. I couldn’t wait to get out and broaden my horizons, because I thought there was nothing of interest in Fairbanks. It seemed like New York was the place where things were happening.
Hearing “What’s it like being from Alaska?” again and again, however, made me realize that a lot of the details I took for granted are actually interesting and beautiful. Not everyone got to grow up near natural hot springs and a reindeer farm with the northern lights overhead. I’ve even begun to value the time I spent as a child and teen with absolutely nothing to do. That boredom pushed me to read more and to come up with other ways to keep myself entertained, like telling jokes and making up stories.
I learned a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I learned about other people and places by meeting peers from all around the world. I learned about myself, too—like the fact that I could push past my shyness and persevere.
I also learned that it’s okay not to “fit in” anywhere. I grew up thinking I wasn’t laid-back enough for Alaska, and that I’d fit in better on the East Coast. Once I went away to college, I figured I’d find people who were more like me. What I actually found was even better: a bunch of friends whose personalities and life stories were very different from mine, who supported my every endeavor 100%. Moving 3,000 miles away for college was difficult and terrifying, but I’ve never regretted it—not even for one second.
Besides, now that I’ve lived in both the far-flung land of Fairbanks, Alaska and the sprawling metropolis of New York City, I can say with confidence that I can handle pretty much anything life throws my way.