Even though I haven’t always realized it, community has played a huge role in my life.
I grew up in a stereotypical small town—exactly the kind you hear about in country music songs. Everybody knew everybody. The kids you graduated with were the same kids you played with at recess in kindergarten, and it was not possible to walk in our local grocery store without seeing someone you knew.
By the time I got to high school and began my college search, I was so sick of my small hometown that I was using college applications as a one-way ticket out. It’s not that I hated where I grew up, but I definitely didn’t understand what a special thing growing up in my close-knit community was. I didn’t realize how much I depended on the community around me and my small, close group of high school friends who I still depend on today. This community was something I had always had, so I took it for granted. I was just ready to go somewhere new, meet new people, learn about different cultures and start fresh. I wanted to have a conversation with someone who didn’t already know my life story.
As I sat in my room that I’d lived in since I was a baby and applied to colleges, all at least 700 miles from home, I never realized that it would end up being the hardest, most terrifying, yet without a doubt most rewarding thing I’d ever done. After I made my somewhat random decision, I ended up here at UGA, where the student population is four times the population of my hometown.
After the first week of excitement, starting classes, trying not to get lost, meeting hall mates and awkwardly trying to sit with strangers at Bolton, I began to feel lonely, homesick, and out-of-place. It did help that I was one of the lucky ones who had a really great freshman year roommate who I instantly became friends with. She introduced me to some of her friends and without her I’m not sure I would’ve made it through the first few weeks here.
Still, I felt like everyone was always with their friends from home talking about high school or their new sorority or something else I couldn’t relate to. I found myself craving the sense of community that I had ran from. I wanted nothing more than to walk in to a grocery store or pull in to a gas station and run into a friend’s mom, my elementary school teacher, that old couple who lived down the street, or just any familiar face.
Once I left home, it didn’t take long for me to realize how important community was. In fact, leaving home was probably the only way I ever would have. I learned that we naturally desire the feeling that we belong to something, and it is so important to be surrounded with individuals who care for, appreciate, and encourage you while you do the same for them. It is human nature.
Although I felt pretty intimidated, I didn’t doubt that with time I would find my place on campus.
So I became that freshman. I went to every activity fair and club interest meeting, I collected countless flyers, I put my name on dozens of email lists (which I still regret everyday when I look at my inbox) and eventually I landed at two places on campus that would end up feeling like home to me.
The first one was Relay For Life. This was intriguing to me because I had participated in Relay for years so it felt familiar to me. I joined a committee last year and was lucky enough to be selected for the executive board this year. The community within this organization has amazed me. It doesn’t take long to feel like part of the Relay family. Relay is filled with so many selfless people who truly care about others and dedicate so much of themselves to this organization.
I recently saw this quote that reminded me of the Relay community:
We all push and encourage each other to be the best we can. We recognize that when we all come together as a community, we can accomplish amazing things.
The second place on campus that I have found community in is the Wesley Foundation. Wesley is a campus ministry that has an all-freshman branch called Freshley. I joined Freshley last year and am a part of Wesley this year. Through Freshley and Wesley I’ve had the opportunity to join small groups where I’ve built incredible relationships with some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.
The people I have met through Wesley have changed my life and helped me grow in ways I never would have thought possible. Of all the time I’ve spent studying during my first three and a half semesters, the most valuable thing I’ve learned is how important it is to build relationships and to spend time with others who will be there with you during all of life’s craziness. Life can be hard and at times probably unbearable if you don’t have people you can count on to have your back.
At this point in life, it is so easy to get caught up in school but at the end of the day, life really isn’t about your GPA, or your major, or what grad schools you can get into, it’s about the people we meet, friends we make, and the lives we touch along the way.