The First Year: a reflection on my freshman year at NYU
May 2, 2023
By: David Huang
It’s already May.
I sit at my desk, the glow from my laptop bathing my face in a sea of white.
It’s already May.
The rain patters onto the windowsill. Outside lies a gloomy, grey New York City afternoon. A car honks outside. My neighbor shuffles down the hall, his footsteps echoing off the linoleum tiles and brick walls.
It’s already May.
The sun sets on the school year. Courtesy of David Huang
It’s hard to believe I’ve been at New York University for an entire school year. It felt like it was just yesterday when I was staring in awe at the towering skyscrapers and hustle-bustle of this city. Coming here, I didn’t know anybody. I was a blank slate, a small drop in an ocean of strangers.
But only ten short months later, I’m sitting here, those first few days a million years in the past. Slowly, I met new people and discovered my interests. I had moments of joy and disappointment, small blips in the grand perspective of my life but cherished memories, nevertheless.
Even Rubin Hall, the dorm I live in, the dorm that I absolutely hated when I first arrived holds a feeling of nostalgia. The pictures and memorabilia that I slowly built up over time, the desk I’d sat at for endless hours studying, the view of faceless buildings that stand out in sharp contrast to the sky, all that reminds me of who I was last September.
Was this what I expected college to be when I was younger? The truth is, I don’t know. I knew I would have to study, and I’d have to make new friends all over again. But my only knowledge of college would’ve been based on my experiences growing up, and it would’ve been improbable that a new chapter of my life would be measured by the ruler of the past.
But the one experience that does seem to be a universal constant blind to time or context is how events end. The last day of freshman year for me will be pretty uninteresting, if not dull. I’ll finish my last final, spend time with my friends, and, after a few days, return home. And that’s the story most of us will follow. There is no real grand celebration at the end of the tunnel, no event that will ultimately come to define my freshman year experience.
I remember the last day of high school, too. It wasn’t boring by any means, but the fruits of four years of commitment and long nights ended just like that. The bell rang, and my friends and I walked out those open doors, no longer high schoolers, and instead, soon-to-be college students.
And most things in life end like that. Friendships disappear over time. The party dies down and you go home (unless you pass out). Your grades come in the mail, and you glance at them before going back to what you were doing earlier.
These moments separate our days and lives into sections and memories, yet rarely are they significant or note-worthy. It’s easy to believe that when a major part of our lives ends or we reach an important milestone, something climatic and outstanding will occur, some sort of unfathomable relief or immense celebration. But in the end, it slowly fizzles out, like a candle that’s burnt for too long.
It's good to look to the future and make decisions in the long run. But if we always consider what will happen and who we’ll eventually become, it’s easy to ignore what’s happening right now. Ignore the class and you’ll let the days pass you by. Look forward to the weekend and you’ll miss making memories during the week. Cruise through the school year to graduation, and you might not get to experience being a college student.
And the long sought-after class bell or Friday night or end of the school year, it won’t be as incredible as you’ll expect. It’ll just be another day in your long life.
You’ll blink, and before you know it, it’ll be over.
There's no time to cry, happy, happy... Put it in your heart where tomorrow shines. Courtesy of David Huang
Reflecting on my own year, I resolved to ask others I knew about their experiences. I determined these questions to best gauge others’ thoughts and beliefs:
How would you say your freshman year went?
Was it how you expected?
What are you looking forward to in the coming years?
The responses weren’t incredibly interesting. Rather, they were quite dull, although perhaps a bit wry. One individual said–
1. How would you say your freshman year went?
“Overall, I’d say my freshman year was good. Although I definitely had to settle in and adjust to living in the city and had to make new friends due to not knowing anyone, things felt pretty natural after a few weeks. There were definitely a few drawbacks, namely the dorming experience (I live in Rubin) and the dining halls, there were a lot of positives as well. I met a lot of like-minded people who have become very close friends over a relatively short amount of time. Being able to live and go to school in New York is also a plus; exploring the city will never get old.”
2. Favorite experiences?
“My favorite experiences would definitely be meeting new people and going to the US Open during orientation, collaborating on various case competitions such as the Marketing Society Annual Case Competition, and even just chilling with friends. Being able to spend time with other people, even if it means messing around in one of the classrooms at Paulson, is definitely a refresher from the mundane tasks of schoolwork and career-related pursuits. I also enjoyed exploring various parts of the city with my friends and my girlfriend, trying different restaurants, and going to the occasional Broadway show.”
3. Worst experiences? “My worst experience would definitely have to be the first couple days upon moving in. First of all, my [expletive] ass dorm has no AC, so I remember my roommate and I waking up at two in the morning to cool down at the lounge. I also missed my family and friends back home, and especially my girlfriend. I did eventually get used to it though, and the temperature is nowhere near as bad anymore (although it’s probably going to warm up soon). Aside from the occasional all-nighter before an exam, life is pretty good.”
4. Was it how you expected? “What do you want me to say? I mean it was definitely unexpected to an extent, but I’d like to think it was somewhat similar to what I imagined.”
5. What are you looking forward to in the coming years? “I’m looking forward to making new friends and strengthening my current relationships. I’m also looking forward to learning new skills and finding more hobbies that I’m passionate about. As sophomore year rolls around, I’m also stoked to network more and make strides toward my career path of interest. Finally, I’m excited to explore more of what NYU and NYC have to offer, and make the most out of the next few years.”
Another student said– 1. How would you say your freshman year went? “I really enjoyed my first year at Stern! I absolutely love being in New York City with such a diverse and welcoming community, and it is a unique privilege to have so many fantastic resources to support our academic, personal, and life goals! While there definitely both highs and lows as we adjusted to the optimal work-life balance and the hustle and bustle of the city, I definitely enjoyed the roller coaster ride while being cheered on by the most supportive friends, family, professors, advisors, and administrators! I’m excited for what’s yet to come in the next few years as we Sternies learn to utilize business as a tool to drive social change!”
One of my friends stated this, albeit over text message–
Freshman year was fun, college experience was nice
Favorite experience: making new friends at clubs
Worst experience: oversleeping and missing classes
Was it how I expected: not really, college at first seemed really daunting like a repeat of high school but all the freedom from it was a nice change
Looking forward to the coming years: learning more and getting closer to my friends
Courtesy of David Huang
Their responses are pretty similar to what I would’ve said, almost as if we lived through the same experiences. It sounds like for most of us, we had happy and sad moments, and we’re looking forward to growing up and finding new experiences.
The first month of school felt like it lasted a lifetime. I met so many new people and began to learn more about myself. But my responsibilities grew, and I fell into a mundane routine. Time went by faster. I started to look forward to breaks, to weekends. And soon, it was May.
Courtesy of David Huang
What matters most, in my opinion, is that we strike a balance between what occurs now and what occurs in the future. There’s nothing wrong in wanting a boring lecture to end or a rough week to pass, but what makes our lives interesting is not the ending goal that we attain or challenge we overcome but the process we take to get there. Once you do get there, it’ll soon be forgotten and become another part of your memory.
It's like what Billy Joel sings about in Vienna:
“Slow down you're doing fine You can't be everything you want to be before your time Although it's so romantic on the borderline tonight (tonight)”
There’s some truth in those lyrics. We don’t always have to look to the future or speed through what we’re going through right now. Don’t get blinded by nostalgia and our past, but there’s a time and moment for everything, and it isn’t always now, no matter how tempting it is to reach the future in the present.
Enjoy the moment now, when you’re sitting here reading this post. There won’t be an infinite number of days where you can do that right now. And whether you’re stressed-out procrastinating for finals or just passing time before the train comes, remember this moment. Exist in it. There won’t be many like it.
After all, it’s already May.
David Huang is a freshman studying finance and management at NYU Stern with a minor in computer science. In his free time, he loves to explore new places, make films, and follow world events.