October 19, 2018

Pockets of moments

Siddhi Shah ’19

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In my final semester at Mount Holyoke (I’m graduating in December), I’m hit with waves of nostalgia as I see the places and people that have become important parts of my journey — that from a naive, timid first-year student to a pretty bold senior. But if you had asked 17-year-old me if I would get to this point of nostalgia, or even get through these four years, I’m pretty sure I would have scoffed. Loudly. That’s how unfathomable the idea once seemed.

Orientation 2018, by the Community Center and Dining CommonsOrientation 2018, by the Community Center and Dining Commons

7,000 miles from home

In starting my new chapter, I left behind everything and everyone I knew. Among the sea of students at Mount Holyoke, I felt completely overwhelmed. Especially since it seemed as if everyone had found their place in the community, made connections and forged best friendships — all in one day.

I remember looking around those first few weeks, seeing people laughing and connecting, and feeling more alone than I ever had before. I thought I was the only one, until I spoke to students from my orientation groups and classes and was surprised to find we shared a very common ground: feeling lost.

Students taking part in Orientation 2017
Students taking part in Orientation 2017

As I can say with certainty now, everyone, no matter where they come from, feels lost when they start a whole new life at college. I wasn’t sure how to deal with that feeling, so I did the only thing I knew how to: I embraced it. I went to those org meetings on my own. (One minute I was entering a room, hoping to join the Debate Society. The next moment, I was at Brandeis University for my first college-level debate tournament.) I embraced the feeling of sitting alone on Skinner Green to read. I went for walks around upper and lower lakes by myself, listening to music.

In time, I learned the important difference between being alone and feeling lonely. And by allowing myself to not drown out that fear of being lonely, I learned to feel more self-assured in my own company than I ever had before.

Kendall Sports and Dance Complex, framed by upper lake
Kendall Sports and Dance Complex, framed by upper lake

“I have no idea what I’m doing, either!”

Slowly, I started seeing people from my orgs and classes more often. I bonded with one of my now closest friends, Katie Prince ’19, during elementary French class: She asked me what to do for a French exercise and I laughed and said, “I have no idea what I’m doing, either!” A few days later, I bumped into her at an orientation meeting for our new jobs as community advisors, and we bonded again through the process. Those moments led to a friendship that is now more like a sisterhood.

I also found support from professors who had at first seemed intimidating. I had been taking classes with Professor Catherine LeGouis in the French department for a couple of semesters when, one day after class, I asked for her opinion on recent news about the French presidential elections. We walked around campus, talking for over an hour. This led to an independent study with Professor LeGouis that spanned three semesters: meeting up to regularly to discuss French news.    

Professor and student on campus
Professor and student on campus

Working and writing, whims and films

Throughout my following years, I joined the Mount Holyoke News, started working as a research assistant for the religion department and nurtured some of my creative interests in the film studies department. I wrote a paper for my film class that my professor encouraged me to submit to film conferences. To my surprise, it was accepted to the regional Five College Film Studies conference and to the international film conference of Film and Media Studies.

I also explored my love for creating films: On a whim, I auditioned and then acted in an independent student film. Later, with the guidance of my French professor, over the summer of 2018 I carried out an independent research project on French New Wave cinema.

I still continued to enjoy my solitude — at my favorite spot, by upper lake — but I also knew that if I grew tired of solitude, I could go to the Eliot House or watch a play at Rooke Theatre or watch a dance concert at Kendall Sports and Dance Complex.

Students gathered in the Great Room, Community Center
Students gathered in the Great Room, Community Center

Wait for it: pockets of moments

If I could say one thing to first-year students, or really to anyone who is feeling a little lost, it is this: Don’t be afraid of how you’re feeling. Embrace it. Know that there won’t be a day when suddenly everything changes, because change will happen slowly. There will be pockets of moments when you realize that you’ve been a part of the community for longer than you thought, and you’ll be surrounded by friends, laughing about that final paper for literature class that none of you has yet to start.

Or like me, now as a senior, you may find yourself showing up at your favorite professor’s office every week, just to chat about David Lynch’s strange “Blue Velvet.” Or researching transactivity in pedagogic robots in the computer science department. Or art directing two thesis films.

I don’t know how or when it happens, but one day, you’ll look around this amazing campus full of exceptional students and maybe tear up at the thought of leaving, just like me. You’ll realize that Mount Holyoke was, and always will be, MoHome.

Find yourself here. Visit us!

Photo at top: detail of the Copper Beech tree, planted near Dwight Hall in 1904

Siddhi Shah ’19 was born in India and raised in Dubai. A double major in French and English, Shah considers herself an honorary film studies major because of her love for films and the department. She has been involved in various publications on campus and now works with LITS and as a research assistant for the Department of Computer Science on a project that focuses on transactivity in pedagogic robots. Her ultimate goal is to always keep learning.
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