A Beginner’s Guide to Freshman Year at Bryn Mawr

Bryn Mawr Freshman

By Emily Feenstra
03/04/2015
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By Emily Feenstra
Unigo Campus Rep at Bryn Mawr

Step 1: Pick a college.   
Step 2: Move in.      
Step 3: Make friends.        
Step 4: Go to class.

I had steps 1, 2, and 4 checked off my list.  But step 3 was proving harder than the others.  I had the same group of friends all throughout high school and middle school.  We were extremely close, and while new friendships came in and out of the picture, rarely was I required to don my extrovert mask and actively seek new friends.  Customs week, a week of orientation for incoming freshmen before the start of classes, required exactly that.  And it was exhausting.

Overwhelmed, I clung to my roommate and another roommate duo from the same dorm.  That was my biggest mistake of the year.  I was too relieved to have people to sit with at dinner to realize how different we were.  Other than Bryn Mawr, I had virtually nothing in common with my roommate or the other two girls; they liked Stargate and Anime, I liked Gilmore Girls and the wide world of outdoor sports.  With the gradual realization of our differences came greater and greater friction, and soon my security blanket became the very cause of my anxieties.  I began avoiding them by spending all my time outside my room—in the library, at the gym, in all the many random rooms on campus where one can read.  And while I did discover some beautiful lesser known corners of campus and get a lot of work done, I was uncomfortable with my living situation and unhappy with my friendships.  No amount of French homework could distract me from this fact.

As it turned out, without even realizing, I had already discovered the solution to my problem, and the best decision of the year.  Quite simply, I became involved on campus.  I had joined the Scottish Country Dancing Club at the beginning of the semester without knowing what it was, but kept going back because of the sense of community it provided.  We danced in a style à la Pride and Prejudice, but with a bit more bounce and a lot less guys, and afterwards we talked and had tea.  I joined the Irish Dance Club (now would be a good time to mention that I’ve never considered myself a dancer) and, in the spring, joined the Track team.  What had begun as a method of avoidance quickly became simply doing what I liked with friends I enjoyed.  I had friends to wave to as I walked to class, friends to run with, friends to eat with…in short, I had true friends, not just filler friends, and it was because I had become involved.  What is more, I felt like a part of the Bryn Mawr community.

Three years later, as a senior, I see the freshmen sitting at lunch with the other girls on their hall and can’t help but wonder how many will still be friends three months from now.  I see frosh bravely coming independently to some of the clubs I’m now in, an array much different from three years ago, and feel a little proud of them for venturing out into the Great Unknown.  My advice?  Be open to everything, but if the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t force it.  With a student body as diverse as Bryn Mawr’s, if you’re willing to look, you’re sure to come across some wonderful friendships.  Perhaps when you least expect it.

Here’s what other Mawrters, ironically all names Sarah, recall about their freshman year:

Sara Nathan ’09 says, “The best decision I made my freshman year was to invite someone to Thanksgiving with me. I invited a girl I didn't know very well, we had a class together and kept running into each-other at clubs and various events on campus. We were both from the West Coast, and I was going to stay with family friends I'd only met a handful of times. To say the least Thanksgiving weekend was successful. Not only did we have a great time staying with my family friends, eating wonderful Thanksgiving foods, but we had a great time exploring Washington D.C. together, and I now call her one of my closest friends. Last year she was abroad and I had to go without her, although I enjoyed my time it wasn't quite the same for any of us involved (let's just say I'm not very helpful in the kitchen). I can't wait for Thanksgiving this year and I know everyone else involved is looking forward to it as well. My advice, invite that person home or wherever you are going with you. Not only will they be glad they don't have to spend one of the biggest holidays in an empty dorm eating easy mac, but you get to know them as well, potentially making a lifelong friend.”

Sarah Alibabaie ’09 says, “I began my freshman year at Bryn Mawr before most people did, because I participated in a week-long program that ended before the regular Customs orientation schedule.  The program was called the Tri-College Institute, and it involved about 80 incoming students of Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges and each day we did large and small group activities and discussions around different aspects of diversity such as race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, class, etc.  It really impacted the way that I became involved on my campus at large and how I interacted with people--in short, I felt ready to throw myself out there, try as many things as possible, not take or offer answers just because they were easy...and to see what would happen from this all. 

I think that it worked out very well for me.  I went to many different activities and felt connected to my campus.  Early on I joined in with a team to revitalize our Women's Center on campus.  I thought that because I was just a freshman I would have limited impact early on, but in fact at Bryn Mawr there are countless opportunities to not just get involved but to LEAD.  In general, the trajectory of student life and academics here means the majority of people who head clubs on this campus are sophomores.” 

Sarah Capasso  ’11 says, “My first year of college at Bryn Mawr was one of the most awakening and eye-opening experiences of my life. I guess it was not only the exposure to diversity but also the day in and day out living with people from places and races that I always craved but never had the privilege of living with before. I even differed for a year after high school seeking this very thing. I feel like Bryn Mawr attracts women with a certain quirk to them- as my time here accumulates I see it more- I certain eclectic edge to them that not many that I have encountered can call their own. This quirk is drawn out through the traditions and the type of inclusive demeanor of those around you.

This isn't to say that there is no challenge in coming to Bryn Mawr and finding a spot in the community. Because many have strong identities of who and what makes them, it is easy to question yourself and wonder what really defines you. However, this inner struggle, in my opinion, is worth the effort. I feel that it only strengthens your sense of self and your ability to explore and then define by what lines you wish. This experimentation is crucial in the transformation from child to adulthood. Bryn Mawr knocks you down to build you up higher than you've been before.”

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