In the course of my odd school career, I attended three years of community college before moving to a large four-year university where I spent another three years. In total, it took me six years to get my bachelor's degree. But I usually think of my undergrad years as those three years in university, as that was more the "classic" college experience.
My third (senior year for me) year in undergraduate school was my favorite year socially. It struck me the other day that I am coming up on my third year in grad school, and I feel a very similar way.
My first year in a new place is always awkward - it takes me a long time to make friends. In undergrad I didn't feel like I had anybody closer than acquaintance status until the end of my first year. My second year I spent getting to know those people better, expanding my circle of friends, becoming comfortable. But by my third year, I got to step back and finally enjoy and relax into those relationships I had built. When I walked into any class on the first day of a new semester, I knew most of the people, and it was easy to form project groups and study groups. On the weekend, I didn't hesitate to call people up and have them over for dinner, or suggest a night on the town. I was often invited to join in social activities, and I accepted when I could. It was so comforting to know I had people there for me - and I happily helped out my friends in return.
It's been similar in grad school. My first year was a little lonely - it was discouraging to start from square one again in making friends. But I am fortunate to be surrounded by incredible people, and in World's Best School the population is used to social awkwardness, so I wasn't much out of place. :) This past year (my second in grad school) I did the same thing I did in undergrad - I worked to grow the relationships with people I knew.
It's the close personal friends that take the longest for me. The ones that you can call at midnight and you know they'll pick up. You don't call your math class partner when you need three eggs for cookies, and you don't send an email to your research group when you need to vent. You call your personal friends. I wrote about this, that I felt lonely without this last category.
But I think, now beginning my third year here, I am finally where I was my third year of undergrad - I finally have those kind of friends. For example, I recently stepped out a limb and with some trepidation invited a bunch of girls out to a girl's night - and you know what? They were all thrilled to come, and we had a fabulous time! Or take last week, when I attended an incoming graduate student welcome event. As I wandered about, first somebody would stop me to chat, then someone else would pull me into their circle of conversation, then someone else would invite me over to talk. It felt really good to be welcomed on sight by the current grad students, many of whom I am good friends with. Not only do they know who I am, they LIKE me. Who'd have thought?
But do you know what truly blew my socks off, and assured me that next year is going to be awesome socially?
Friday morning is traditionally a coffee hour, a very popular event for the MechE department. I arrived last Friday morning for the first one of the semester at 8am - it's an early event - and when I walked through the door, heads looked up and smiled, and a few people actually cheered. I got FIST PUMPS, people. How much of an ego boost is THAT?
This next year is going to rock.
To friends - cheers!