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Letting go of my first year FOMO

How I found my place at the University by saying “yes” — and “no”

<p>Mai Hukuoka is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at</p>

Mai Hukuoka is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at

As I write this, I am in utter disbelief that my first year is coming to an end. These last eight months flew by. Coming to Charlottesville from Pennsylvania, a five-hour drive away, was a huge culture shock — much more so than I imagined it would be. In an attempt to transition to University life, I found myself saying “yes” to way too many things, which left me feeling detached from my surroundings rather than at home on Grounds. When I eventually learned to say “no,” I found myself embracing the everyday aspects of college life, which allowed me to truly feel comfortable in my own skin at the University.

I came into college wide-eyed and exuberant, giddy about being independent for the first time — I’d no longer have to ask if I could go out, and I’d be in full control of each aspect of my life. I could reinvent myself — maybe adopt a whole new personality or even a British accent. However, following the initial rush of Wahoo Welcome, Convocation and block party, I found myself at a standstill.

I had never seen so many new faces or engaged in so much small talk, but I felt out of place. My in-state classmates — who make up 68 percent of my class — had already established friend groups from their high schools. Unlike my new friends, I couldn’t drive back home on the weekends for a quick getaway. I even had to stay on Grounds over fall break.

I became homesick. Though I loved the people I met, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy every time my new friends knew the lore of a random passerby or had connections to groups and jokes that I had yet to know. I missed that feeling of comfort and stability — of being in the loop — that I had back home.

These insecurities snowballed into a series of bad decisions. I found myself forcing overcompensation — going out every weekend and putting on a facade to avoid FOMO. I felt like I had to stay out late in order to have fun and make friends. This inevitably burnt me out, and I suffered the consequences of sluggish mornings, a messy room and ever-building shame about who I was making myself be.

Finally returning home for Thanksgiving break, I lamented to my friends about my decision to come to Charlottesville. I missed my childhood friends terribly, and the University felt too far away from everything I knew. I even talked about transferring. I will admit that I am a chronic complainer, and I wallowed in self-pity for a while.

However, I am also a realist — I knew that transferring would bring me more trouble than not. I knew that I didn’t actually want to transfer — I just craved a sense of belonging. I couldn’t just wish for a sense of familiarity and comfort. Instead, I had to do my part to make the University smaller — to make this school my new home.

It sounds contradictory, but I realized that in order to find my place here, I had to hone my ability to say “no” — which is harder said than done. My instincts as a longtime victim of FOMO and the urge to be “that girl,” — with a bountiful social life and the social media presence to prove it — took a while to tame.

It was difficult to turn people down, especially the people that I wanted to accept me. However, failing to set healthy boundaries took a tremendous toll on my health, and I lost control of my own decisions and priorities. I realized that when I gave myself the option to say “no,” I made myself open to independence in a different way than I first envisioned.

The word “no” often carries a negative connotation, akin to closing doors, but I found saying “no” to open them. I found myself with more time to focus on what I truly wanted and more time to establish a stable routine — time for doing elaborate skincare, studying for classes and engaging in hobbies. Refusal became a form of self-care. I found myself less stressed and more willing to engage in the social activities I said “yes” to.

I will admit — I made great memories as a result of succumbing to my FOMO, from the flashing lights of frat parties to the grease of a 1 a.m. Gus Burger. Reflecting on these past eight months, I know that I wouldn’t have the love that I do for this community without having embraced every social opportunity available to me.

But what has truly made me feel like I belonged at the University has been living here day-to-day. It has not been the crazy weekend nights, but the mundane microwave cooking, sharing deep conversations with my roommate late into the night and redecorating my dorm room in accordance with the seasons — all the simple, but essential, first-year things.

I can now walk about Grounds, see a familiar face, smile and wave. I’m not envious of my in-state peers, but rather I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to experience new things and meet new people — on my terms, of course. There is a beauty to entering a new place with an unfamiliar culture and having to immerse yourself in it, but only if you give yourself time, space and grace to do so.

I am grateful to the University, though my time has just begun. I am grateful for the mediocre dining hall food I bonded with my friends over and for the postage stamp of a dorm that I live in. If you asked me whether I would go through this all again — all the ups and downs — I know that I would answer in a heartbeat, “yes.”

Mai Hukuoka is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at


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