A four-year journey to feeling at home at U.Va.

I wanted to transfer, but I chose to stay

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Aly Lee is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Chandler Collins | Cavalier Daily

You might think — reading this column by a glamorous, fourth-year Cavalier Daily writer — that I have always been a proud Wahoo. In truth, I didn’t know the words to the “Good Ol’ Song” until this semester.

I have not always loved being at this school. 

When I was in middle school, my family and I moved from Northern Virginia to Kenya for six years. Despite living overseas for half my adolescent life, I fully expected to jump into American college life with barely a hiccup. But evidently Kenya had changed me, and nothing could have prepared me for the transition from my tiny international school to the enthralling, cosmopolitan, over 20,000-student historical institution that is the University of Virginia.

It didn’t take long for me to feel like I had made a wrong choice.

It started as regular first-year disquiet trying to find “my place” — getting lost on Grounds, sitting alone in dining halls and joining every CIO with surface-level zeal. As the weeks went on, however, I felt increasingly anonymous. I woke up each day with a gnawing question — will today be the day I find my friends and actually feel at home? And each day I went to bed jarringly disappointed. 

Assuredly, there were beautiful moments — midnight ukulele jam sessions in my hall, running to Cook Out at 3 a.m. But these moments seemed to be just moments — blips of hope in the drones of intense loneliness.

By Thanksgiving, I was convinced I had made a huge mistake in choosing the University. I went home to my parents laden with laundry, summer clothes and the shameful news that I wanted to transfer. I spent all of winter break composing my application to another school, trying to come up with substantive reasons for leaving other than, “I have no friends.” 

In the months waiting for a reply, things simultaneously got better and worse. I slowly grew more confident walking around Grounds and calling a few people “friend.” However, every day turned into a test. Any slightly mediocre day was proof that I should leave. I judged every interaction to assess whether it was worth staying for. And let me tell you, that is not a pleasant way to live.

So when I received my long-awaited acceptance, it was a bittersweet day. I had hoped that by the time the news came, I would be so happy at the University that transferring would be irrelevant. But instead, I was filled with hope — and that made me very sad. 

Well, obviously since I am still writing for The Cavalier Daily, you know the end to this story. On May 1, I rejected the offer to the other school and chose to stay.

It may seem illogical, but I did not stay because I felt at home. In fact, I had the gnawing feeling that I had just signed on to three more years of isolation. Yet deep down, I knew this was the decision I needed to make. 

As much as I wanted to run away, I knew I was running away because the University wasn’t “perfect.” I made the other school this hypothetical Eden where all my woes would be fixed. But in my heart, I saw that whatever insecurities I faced now would follow me, and a change in time zone would do little to change that.

I also began to see that though there were many signs that I had chosen wrong, there were equally as many that showed I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I happened to room with someone who also grew up in a different country. My hall happened to be the one hall in my building that became incredibly close. Despite the anxieties, I couldn’t deny that the signs were there — maybe I was just holding onto my idea of a “perfect” college too tightly.

So here I am four years later, giggling over how dramatic I had made things. I won’t tell you these past four years have been rosy. But I will say that time has proven that this is where I’m supposed to be. I still live with three of my first-year hallmates, and I couldn’t imagine life without them. As I have faced shocking health crises over these years, it has been the University community that has carried me and made me strong.

I want to say to anyone who is feeling like I did that while I chose to stay, but it is by no means the “right” thing to do. Deciding to transfer is not a failure. Sometimes things don’t fit. I am confident that if I had chosen to leave, I would have also found a new home.

And to anyone who is just not loving U.Va. right now for whatever reason — I know this place sucks sometimes, and that’s OK. I humbly ask you to look out for the “signs” that this is where you’re supposed to be. It can be hard to see the beautiful impact this place and these people have had until you really start to look — so, in tears or in laughter, “Let’s all join hands and give a yell for dear old U.Va.” 

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