Building a New Home: A Guide for Transfer Students

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Whitney Larson
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As a student who transferred from my hometown community college of 2,000 students to a university of 33,000, I’ve had my fair share of culture shock and adjusting periods. No matter how well you prepare to transfer, the transition will be a little rocky. However, there are a few things you can do to ease the stress and make the best out of your time as a transfer student. The advice I have might not sound new to you… we’ve all heard the classic tips “get involved” and “make new friends.” Well guess what? Those tips actually WORK – if you go about it in the right way.

A comfortable network

I grew up in a small town in Arizona, near the border of Mexico. The community college I attended was extremely tiny, and every time I walked down campus I felt I knew at least half of the people I was passing by name. I loved it. Because the school was so small, it was easy to make friends, and I felt so at home. It was also easy to get involved, and I found myself taking lots of opportunities that allowed me to give back to the community I loved so much. The most rewarding of those was being student body president. I used my time in that office to help others feel at home on campus so they could succeed in their studies. By bonding with the people around me, I created a network that helped me feel needed and loved.

A tadpole in an ocean

Eventually I graduated with my Associates and the time came for me to move on to a university. I transferred to BYU (in Provo, Utah) where I was sure I would have no trouble feeling the same sense of belonging as I did in Arizona. Everyone at this school belonged to the same church as me, and I had worked in Provo over the summer, so I had a good amount of friends. “This will be the easiest move ever,” I thought. I was wrong.

The problem with transferring from a community college is that you go from feeling like a big fish in a small pond, to a tadpole in an ocean. An ocean where there are thousands of other people who seem smarter than you, prettier than you, and they are probably a concert pianist to top it off. After a couple months of feeling miserable, I realized that what I missed most about Arizona was the feeling of “home.” The campus didn’t feel like it was mine; I didn’t feel that I had a safety network of people who cared for me and who I could care for in return.

Taking a first step

The first thing I did to fix this problem is the most obvious – get involved. I found the closest thing that BYU had to a student government, walked into the office, and asked for a tour. I volunteered on a few small projects that allowed me to give back to the school. It’s nearly impossible to feel resentment for a campus that you are serving, and my time in the volunteer positions helped me connect to the people around me. At first it was difficult to watch the student body president and other directors over me and think “that used to be me, I should be doing that.” This leads me to the next point….

Avoid a food chain mindset

Do NOT compare your contributions to those of others. When I first got to BYU I realized that there were probably thousands of other previous student body presidents walking around on the campus. That made me feel that I wasn’t “special” anymore, and that I didn’t have anything that made me unique. Everytime that I thought I was good at something, I would turn around and see 100 other girls who were doing the same thing – but better. Here’s the problem: If you are constantly viewing yourself and others in a “food chain” mindset, you’re wasting your time. The reality is that no food chain exists. Instead of imagining a vertical line of positions and contributions where some rank higher than others, imagine a horizontal line. On this line, people are not better or lesser than others, but are equal. So yes, maybe I wasn’t known by as many people as before. Maybe I was no longer the smartest in my class. Maybe there are people out there who are better singers than me. But if you let that stop you from giving, you will never be able to create a home. As poet Henry Van Dyke wrote, “use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”

Begin by saying hello

The last piece of advice that I have is the most simple, but made the biggest difference. I decided that whenever I was walking to or from campus, I would just say hi to people. Instead of putting in my headphones and staring at the ground, I would try to be aware of who was walking next to me. If I was walking at the same pace as someone, I would just say hi and ask them how their day was. At first I felt a little awkward, and I think some people thought I was a freak, but I was astonished at how many people were willing to talk and get to know me. After meeting someone new on my walk home every single day, it started getting easier and easier to recognize people around campus. Now at a university of over 30,000, I see familiar faces every time I walk outside a building.

Transferring is hard, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. Consistently doing the little things each day to get your mindset in the right place, give back to the people around you, and be friendly will build a new home where you feel you can succeed.

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