How to Find Your Place in College, Jewishly and Otherwise

January 11, 2017Shir Attias

When you go off to college, especially if you’re going far from home, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of unsolicited advice from just about everyone: Try new things. Eat the healthy options in the dining halls. Take your classes seriously. Stay safe. The list never ends.

Aside from the constant reminders related to safety, the piece of advice I heard most was to branch out. As a competitive dancer who was very involved in my Jewish community during high school, I felt pressure not to get stuck in my ways. I loved everything about my high school life, but as I set off for college, I felt like I should hold back from my passions. Little did I realize that, as my Hillel director Bailey says, pursuing in college what you loved in high school simply means finding new ways to pursue your passions and new communities with which to do so, rendering college communities rich with the potential of being “the same but entirely different.”

I couldn’t have been more excited to start my time at the University of Southern California. Before everyone arrived on campus, Hillel hosted a two-day retreat called Freshfest for incoming Jewish students. Four days later, I was immersed in the adventure of sorority recruitment, and a week after that, I auditioned for student-led dance companies and joined Trojans for Israel, a pro-Israel group. When football season started, I got to experience the magic of school spirit for the first time, something my high school graduating class of just 84 students had lacked.

Within my first three weeks of my freshman year, I had done and joined everything I wanted to, and I was certainly happy. Once the big pieces were in place, though, I found it was the small details that made me feel invested in them and transformed them into communities and homes I was proud to be a part of.

I found the little moments in a Shabbat dinner with a group of upperclassmen girls, baking challah, ordering take-out, and hearing stories of their time at college so far.

I found the little moments in spontaneous lunches at my sorority house, when walking 15 minutes to Greek Row for food and just watching Netflix with my sisters after class proved more meaningful and homey than the dining hall.

I found the little moments in dragging friends to sit in the courtyard of Hillel to do homework, and in meeting up with my teammates outside of practice to dance in whatever free room we could find.

I quickly learned that in college, especially as a freshman, no one will come chasing after you to tell you to not sleep all afternoon or to nag you about being antisocial. There’s no punishment for missing club meetings, and you don’t get kicked out of your sorority if you skip the occasional sisterhood event. But every little moment comes from that extra time you invest in the big things – without being told to do so.

Restructuring my routine away from my quiet dorm turned my extracurriculars into communities I was truly invested in. Hillel became a place where I could wander in and chat with peers and staffers; my initially daunting sorority house became my home base on campus, always there to greet me with smiling faces and coffee. I soon realized that pursuing leadership in these organizations was not holding on to high school; it was another way of investing myself in these communities and making them my own – communities that share the values and beliefs I’m rooted in.

As it turns out, the home I treasure at college is “the same but entirely different” from my high school experiences, and that’s precisely what’s so special about college.

As I finish my first semester of college, I’m still a dancer involved in the Jewish world – but more importantly, I’m surrounded by communities that allow me to explore my passions, new and old, in a completely different sense. Looking forward to my second semester, I’m excited to serve in the educational department of my sorority, to help grow Trojans for Israel and the campus Israeli-American cultural group, and to contribute to Hillel through our new leadership cohort. I know that my time at college will continue to transform, as will my passions.

Six months later, if I could be on the giving end of that unsolicited advice, I would still say Eat healthy and Try new things, but more importantly, I would say this: Don’t be afraid to pursue your passions and be open to finding new ones. What seems certain in the first three weeks can be totally different a month later. And let yourself enjoy the little moments that will ultimately make your school your home.

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