Ruby Wortis
September 07, 2015 11:10 am

I was en route to Philadelphia, where I was about to move into a dorm with all new people in an all new city to study in a way that I had never done before. I felt an excited calm, sure that I would be able to start a new and find myself, just like everybody said I would when I got to college. I was in my best move-in day clothes and was content to listen to Arctic Monkeys for the entire 2-hour drive. This was my time. Then, my mother said something that made my heart almost fall out my butt.

“Did you know that your school has thirty-eight thousand students?” Thirty-eight THOUSAND? 38,000?! I couldn’t even begin to comprehend a number that high. How was I going to make any friends? What if I made the wrong friends? What if my soulmate and future husband was out there, I just would never get to meet him because there were thirty-seven thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine people in the way?

Walking to class across campus on my first day, I felt like I was caught in a stampede of wild horses. It seemed as if everybody knew exactly where to go and who to wave at and what to wear. I had my backpack straps on tight and my campus map in hand, terrified of the enormous amount of people I saw before me.

I signed up to have a peer mentor because I had absolutely no idea how to go about this whole college thing. Where to start, what to do, who to meet.

We met one day on a bench in front of the university theater, and I immediately blurted out my insecurities about the overwhelming amount of bodies running around me at all times. She told me the best advice I had heard from anyone, which was to look at the student org list and try out three clubs. One that will compliment your major, one that catches your eye, and one that is totally random, I am a film major, so I decided to join a film club. Then I joined a sketch-comedy show as a stage hand because I had always loved Saturday Night Live, then I joined the power lifting club, because why not?

The power-lifting club I was able to scrap quickly because all I did for the one day I attended was squat with some eight-pound weights. But I learned something valuable, which was that no one there cared that I had come to see what they were about. I received a few head nods and one girl introduced herself to me, but no one asked if I was a freshman or if I had any prior experience or if I knew all the right people. No one cared about me, and that was surprisingly freeing. I snuck out early, and no one noticed.

The next day was a meeting for the film club, where we all sat in a circle and pitched ideas for short films. I didn’t say much, but it seemed professional and cool at least. The president added me to the Google Doc and that was that, welcome to the club. I had a few Facebook friend requests to end the night, proving once again that no one cared if I was qualified.

Then, I went to the sketch comedy show. I was shown around by the head of stage crew and taught how to set up and break down the backdrops. No one asked who I was, but I was invited to sit with a group of girls while rehearsal began. To put it simply, I have never laughed so hard in my life than I did that day. The material was so funny and no one was afraid to look stupid or mess up. There was an air of friendship between the actors, directors, producers, gaffers, and more. I decided that day that I was going to be a part of this circle, and I had found my friends. They just didn’t know it yet.

I showed up every week, and got right to work. I asked people their names and asked what their majors were, where they worked and what movies they liked. I joined conversations without introduction and slowly, I became a regular. I had heard from a lot of people that there were improv shows in the city, and I ran into them on my way there for the first time. We sat together at the show, and one of them suggested I audition for the next episode.

Slowly but surely, people began to know my name. More freshmen joined and assumed that I had been there for years. I made a point to learn people’s names, and follow up rehearsal with dinner or exchanged phone numbers. In just a year, I have made this sketch comedy show my world. My comedy friends and I formed an improv team and I learned how to write sketches myself. I now work at the improv theater in the city once a week and have found people from other Philly universities that are interested in the same thing. I wound up dating one of the actors I watched on that first day, and have made my best friends through sheer persistence and an unapologetic interest.

Now, as I walk through campus, I see people from the comedy world everywhere I go. It may be a big university, but it’s still a small world. I am now a member of the stampede and know where to go and who to wave at. Sometimes, I even see a member of the power lifting team waving to another member, and I feel comfort in knowing that they are in their own community as well.

So, my advice for starting at a big university is dipping your toes in three different pools, if that’s even a saying. One that will help your major, one that catches your eye, and one that is absolutely random. No one cares if you never come back, and that is the best feeling in the world. I am almost positive that you will find your small community in one of them, and the world will be small again.

[Image via Universal Pictures]

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