Coming Back to Barnard

by Soyini Driskell

When I moved into Brooks at the start of my freshman year I had just turned 17 years old: I knew nothing and weighed even less. I didn’t come to college with a concrete, or even hazy idea of what I wanted to study. I vaguely wanted to be a foreign correspondent, like Christiane Amanpour, or a fashion critic, like Robin Givhan. All I knew for certain was that I wanted to write, I loved clothes, and I was ready to be a “grownup.” That’s what college is about, right?

If you left, would you come back?

But I didn’t know what I was doing. It was all the little things that got me, like waking up on time, eating regularly, setting aside time for studying, maintaining focus—all of the things that fall under the umbrella of self-responsibility. Was I only able to do well when my parents were taking care of me? More than that, I began to seriously consider that the admissions office had made a mistake: maybe I didn’t belong here. I feared the intellect of my classmates, I was certain that my paper topics were thin, even borderline dumb, and I did not understand why I was no longer grasping concepts with the same ease I did in high school. I tried to hide from my friends how much I was struggling but my difficulties were spilling into every part of my day. I became very unhappy and started to miss classes. It became clear that I needed to take some time to reassess what I was doing and whether this was the right place for me, so I took a leave of absence.

“It’s still pretty lonely from time to time, which is hard for someone as chatty and social as myself. I question the decision to come back all the time.”

I started working at a friend’s boutique and I assisted a stylist who let me follow him around while he did amazing shoots for magazines like GQ and Vogue. I had a few amazingly blurry fashion weeks where I helped set up the run of show with my boss for the fashion shows he was styling. We had to get all of the models dressed and out in each look in the right order at the right pace: 32 looks in 12 minutes, go! And it was a great time: what did I need school for?

But I couldn’t stop thinking about Robin Givhan, and Christiane Amanpour, or my high school journalism teacher who thought I was witty (ha!) and smart. Or myself when I was so excited to start school and become a Professional Writer. I felt like I was selling myself short. I didn’t like how it reflected on myself that when something became difficult or required more effort, I punked out. So, after a lot of thought, I signed up for classes at Hunter College, here in Manhattan on the Upper East Side, and I started the process to re-enroll in the Barnard-Columbia experience. One year later, I moved back into Plimpton.

No matter what, you can find a home here.

It is a bit weird for me now: all of the friends that once made this place feel like home are gone and so Barnard is simultaneously intimately familiar and utterly brand new. In my first few weeks back on campus, if I wasn’t speaking up in class, then I wasn’t really speaking during the day. I was on the phone with my mom and my friends all the time; I was driving my boyfriend crazy! It’s still pretty lonely from time to time, which is hard for someone as chatty and social as myself. I question the decision to come back all the time. Yet, when I have a great moment in class or when I turn in something I’m particularly proud of, there are moments when I know it is worth it. There are some really great professors here that make me laugh, and I have the coolest adviser in the English department (shout out to Professor Schor-Haim!) and she makes it worth it as well. Most days, I’m happy and proud to be here, but if I’ve learned anything from my experience it’s the importance of taking this place one day at a time.

On the first day of my freshman year, one of the groundskeepers, Ray, saw me struggling with my stuff and helped me get to where I needed to go. He looked out for me all year. This January, during my first week back on campus, I’m running through the tunnels and I bump into someone. I look up and it’s Ray, smiling: “It’s so great to see you! Wow, I’m so glad you’re back!” Definitely worth it.

Soyini Driskell is a sophomore at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of Orientation and Activities at Barnard College and The Architectural League of New York.

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