By Victoria Messina
I sunk into my chair in the back left corner of my first big college class — Bugs and People — as a waterfall of thoughts flooded my head.
Why on earth did I sign up for a class called Bugs and People? Oh my gosh, there are so many people in this classroom. This is so embarrassing… I have no friends to sit with. Okay, if I just pretend to text, maybe these people won’t think I’m a total loser. How does everyone know each other already? Oh crap, how do I get back to my dorm after class? Why are there so many buildings on this campus?
As someone who was accustomed to knowing the name and face of everyone in a classroom, these thoughts whirled in my head during my first semester at the University of Florida. I managed to experience two drastically different schooling environments in the span of four months, transitioning from a small private high school of 700 students to one of the largest public universities in the nation. It’s safe to say I was put way out of my comfort zone, and the transition wasn’t smooth as butter like I naively anticipated.
For the first few months, I felt like Nemo — lost in a sea of 50,000 unknown faces. Walking through campus was comparable to dodging tourists in Times Square, except my destinations were brick buildings instead of skyscrapers. But Dory was in the back of my head, reminding me to “just keep swimming.” So I did.
Soon enough, I grew to love that Times Square feeling I had while walking to class.
It took a little hidden confidence (and a lot of pep talks on the phone with my mom) to embrace my surroundings and learn to live outside of my former comfort zone. One defining factor that eased my transition was joining a sorority. After making it through the small talk and “girl flirting” of Panhellenic recruitment, I found a house full of girls who embraced my quirky self for who I am. Beyond sorority life, joining clubs pertaining to my journalism coursework helped me connect with my classmates and take advantage of opportunities for extracurricular writing experience. All of these organizations helped me expand my network of friends and acquaintances, which made the campus start to feel more like my second home.
Stepping out of my comfort zone and coming to UF was awkward at first. Heck, it was more of a leap off a mountain than a mere “step.” At times, all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry to my mom while eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. However, a wise (and anonymous) person once said, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” I can confidently say that attending UF, though scary and overwhelming at first, has helped me to grow into someone who is comfortable with making new friends, doesn’t take “no” for an answer and is prepared for the real world (hopefully). And for that, I’m forever thankful that I took that leap and never looked back.