Alone But Not Lonely: Week One of Grad School

The first two days of being in London have been… weird.

Not a bad weird. Please don’t think that. I love this city and I love getting ready for my programme to start and I LOVE how there’s already an autumn chill in the air. There is so much about this place to love, and I’ve only seen a microscopic sliver of it.

But let’s be honest, your first few days at university are always strange. As an undergrad, you quickly link up with as many other overwhelmed freshmen as you can, getting little to no sleep and making so many temporary bffs that you’re lucky if you can keep all their names straight. During my first weekend of college, I even went to a frat party, and if you know me at all you know how ridiculous a notion that is.

Going to grad school is different. Being abroad, the postgraduates are lumped in with the study abroad students for most aspects of our orientation, so we’re surrounded by the clingy and hyper-social puppies while trying to temper our excitement. We aren’t exactly antisocial, but we’re also quick to recognize that the “friends” we make now probably won’t be our friends in a few weeks. Instead of forcing social circles, we’re preparing for classes, jobs, and internships: the places where we know our real friends await us. The campus is currently occupied only by international and study abroad students; the rest don’t get here until Monday, and even then a lot of postgraduate students — especially those from the UK — will stay away from campus until classes start a week later.

Enter Emma.

Emma is a bouncy little ball of freshman energy. She is completing her entire undergraduate degree here, so while she is even younger than most of the study abroad students, she is placed with the international students for all separate activities. So imagine this tiny little thing from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who looks like she could be sixteen, but instead she’s left her entire community behind to study at a school across an ocean in a city she had never been to before Wednesday.

You would think that Emma would be entirely out of her depth. And, honestly, I think she might be, at least for now. But boy can Emma swim.

You see, Emma is a master at talking to anyone. We met at the airport on Wednesday, and she sat next to me on the bus. She overwhelmed me to the point of absolute exhaustion with her questions, her predictions, and her general gabbing, but she was really sweet, so I didn’t completely shut her out. We parted ways once we got to the school, and I didn’t see her again until last night, when she asked if I wanted to grab dinner. I told her I had bought some groceries that I wanted to utilize, but she was welcome to some ravioli, so she followed me back to my dorm.

Another thing I should mention about Emma is that she takes pictures constantly. If there was a moment when that girl didn’t have the camera app open on her phone, then I missed it. She even wanted to take pictures of my dorm room so that she could show her mom how different it was. When I showed her my bedroom, she proceeded to slip off her shoes, get up on my bed, and start bouncing, saying that she thought it was the most important way to christen a new dwelling. If she hadn’t been approximately the size of a peanut, I would have been more worried, but instead I just sat down and let her jump on my bed, play with my light switches, and attempt to open the door to my balcony. (To be fair, the balcony door is quite tricky.) Honestly, I think it was all the babysitting I’ve done that prepared me for Emma.

Emma snapped this one while bouncing on my bed. Excuse the fact that my room is still bare and somehow already messy.
Emma snapped this one while bouncing on my bed and had emailed me three before I even knew she had taken them.

The thing is, I at first thought there was something wrong with me. I wondered why I wasn’t connecting as quickly with people; why I wasn’t the one showing up with my new friends to every meeting and event. But, watching Emma, I realized that tempered excitement and slower engagement is just part of growing up for most people. Maybe Emma will always be this way, and that will serve her well in life.

But for most of us, the need to fling ourselves headfirst into the deep end goes away with age and life experience. I’m not less excited about this opportunity because I prefer to get in the pool one toe at a time. We’ll all be swimming around together soon enough. I’m just different than I used to be, and I’m glad to be in a place where it seems that my classmates (the other postgraduates) are feeling the same way that I am. I’m sort of alone so far, but I’m not at all lonely, because I know the connections will come in time, and that’s more comfortable for me.

All of that to say that there’s not much to report from the past couple of days. No best friends; no grand adventures. Just a lot of informational and administrative preparation for the months ahead. And, of course, minding bouncy freshmen.

PS: In all the hubbub, and despite the fact that I’m sure she has about a thousand pictures of me so far, I have no pictures of Emma. But the next time I see her, assuming she hasn’t bounced all the way to the moon, I will snap one, so look out for her on Instagram!

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