Finding Your Community


By Emma Bergman, SCS Advising Leader 

A few weeks ago, I served on a panel at a Grainger Engineering admitted student event. During the question and answer session, a worried sounding parent asked how we navigated the transition to a giant institution like Illinois. This simple question transported me back to the weeks leading up to my first move to college. I was filled with so much anxiety and even dread about losing everyone I was close to and having to start fresh. Everyone assured me that I would quickly assimilate, find my group, and start having fun. While their confidence certainly alleviated some of my worries, I still came into the college experience with lots of doubt.

Looking back, I think that nervousness was completely fair and there were definitely difficult times at the beginning of my first year. Before meaningful connections are formed, it can feel lonely. Unfortunately, this is a process that simply takes time. Patience is a virtue that we can all benefit from practicing, even when we crave the consistency and ease of a best friend from home.

Today, I will be sharing a bit more about my adjustment to college and the best things that I believe I did to help me find my own community within our ginormous institution.

Embracing Residence Halls

I was lucky enough to find fantastic friends on my floor at Florida Avenue Residence Hall. Three of them are my current roommates! While I am enjoying the space and amenities of my apartment, I can’t help but occasionally miss the dorm lifestyle. Having so many people, and eventually friends, in such close proximity was such a fun experience. Of course, not every person you meet will become more than an acquaintance, but there is huge potential to connect with those in a similar living situation as yourself. I had feared that choosing a random roommate would wreck my freshman year experience, but my roommate and I ended up being perfectly compatible and excellent living partners despite not being ‘friends’. Overall, I just implore you to lean into the residence hall lifestyle as much as possible and enjoy the chaos, business, and social possibilities while you can. The dorm you live in is already a community in and of itself, so embracing that aspect helped me feel more at home.

Joining Extracurriculars

My biggest tip for finding your community here at Illinois is signing up for a club. I know you have heard this a million times, but seriously, the Cross Country and Track Clubs have given me some of my closest friends here at school. I also got elected for an executive board position for next fall which will allow me to have an impact on the club that has had such an amazing effect on me! At first, it was hard to adjust to a new running club environment because I had spent all four years of high school running with the same people and the same coach. This made me uncomfortable and hesitant at first, but the kindness and openness of the older team members completely transformed my mindset. Similarly to the residence halls, real connections take time. The best thing a person can do is be open to the development of friendships and allow them to naturally deepen. Clubs are a perfect way to do this because meetings and events generally occur weekly or even daily, allowing you to stay consistently involved and in communication with your fellow members. Additionally, the other people in the club have at least one thing in common with you! I have found this to be extremely beneficial in fostering conversation and planning hangouts.

Shifting the Mindset

I will wrap this up by commenting on the importance of mindset. Everyone wants to feel like they belong, We all seek love and comfort from those around us. Keeping this in mind has helped me realize that others are looking for the same qualities out of me as I seek in them. We are all walking the same campus and navigating the same struggles. Your community is out there for you, but some leg work must be done to access it. This is a difficult, yet beautiful, part of the college experience. One last thing to remember is that your friends and family at home are still there. I almost expected that all of my friendships from high school would disintegrate once I left for school, but all of my closest friends and I are still in touch and involved with each other’s lives. Even if separated by distance, your foundation and support system are still there for you.