“Finding your people,” in college or in any realm of life, is always daunting. How do you know who they are? And aren’t? How long will that take you to discover? When do you find them? And once you’ve got them, how long do your ties endure?
The unsatisfying, and probably expected answer, is that it’s hard to predict: there’s no one tonic for loneliness or guaranteed way of finding belonging, and if you’re like me, your sense of and experience of both will ebb and flow nonlinearly throughout school. Some of your people will change — and some you’ll have all four years.
Many of my people did shift during my time at Yale, but many, many more were with me the whole time — so here’s some reflections on how I found them (and how, I think, we all stayed together)! And also how, if you’re worried going into college, you might find your own besties, too.
Not all of my time at Yale has been like this, but almost all of the time I’ve spent with the communities that have meant the most to me — WORD, my coworkers from my student jobs, my friends who I made at Cultural Connections when I was a first-year — has been filled with some variation of this!
A lot of the groups of friends I’ve found have come from, simply, people I’ve seen regularly: WORD, my performance poetry group that meets every Wednesday night, my coworkers at the Admissions Office who I see during weekly shifts, my friends in the English major who I bump into in classes. But a number of them are also from one-off meetings, too — Cultural Connections (one of Yale’s pre-orientation programs for incoming first-years), friends of friends, people I sat next to at performances and other events. Remember: sometimes, they’ll find you! And you’ll never have just one home here, either!
But how I’ve found my most central, engulfing, enduring home has been through my fellow poets in WORD. Those are my slimes! And I’m not sure I can or could pick apart all the reasons why we work together (as a group of poets or as a group of friends), but the ones I can identify have helped me imagine how I’ll find and build communities after Yale, too.
In other words, here’s how I knew, and know, that I found my people!
1. Lots of common interests! We’re literally all poets!
2. Lots of varied interests! Everyone is a poet and also something else — photographers and geophysicists (yes, there is an actual geophysicist in WORD and they are so cool) and translators and playwrights and actors and musicians and aspiring doctors and teachers! Part of why we work so well, I think, is because we’re so incredibly different from each other, and yet have each gathered in appreciation of the same thing, too.
3. Extensions of trust! While it didn’t happen overnight, even when I first joined the group and didn’t know the other members very well, the climate of warmth was there from the first day. If WORD has taught me anything about being in a new space (or welcoming others into your own space), it’s that if you just pull up with a spirit of good faith, people will pick up on that. And remember that there are many of your attributes that people will notice (and appreciate) that will be invisible to you! I think part of why I’ve felt so comfortable in WORD is because when I joined, each member reached out to me with an immediate kindness that they had no real reason to offer so generously to a stranger. So extend a little love just because you can, and see what happens!
4. “You are here to risk your heart.” Which is one of my friend Anouk’s favorite quotes, from author Louise Erdrich. And while people come to college for a wide variety of reasons, I think that must be one of the most formative, and important ones. Naturally, you will not be friends with everyone you meet. Some friends will come in seasons and others will be perennial. But you will, amid this sea of other students just as uncertain as you, if you can allow yourself to set aside some of your worry, find people dear to you! So risk your heart! This isn’t to stir FOMO, but: I know I would’ve missed out on so many different kinds and experiences of belonging if I hadn’t risked mine with WORD, and with so many other groups of people here. All strong bonds are preceded by at least a little bit of bravery.
5. Being a little silly-goofy! I was incredibly intimidated when I first came to Yale, which at times led me to put up a serious veneer that was absolutely not representative of who I was. The friendships I’ve made in WORD exist, I think, because after a certain point of maintaining and then relinquishing each of our own hesitant exteriors, we realized that we are all deeply, deeply unserious people. One thing about us? It’s actually several things about us because we contain multitudes, but: we’re always giggling at something! More directly put: I knew my people were my people when I felt like I could exhale around them. And be a little foolish with them too!
POV: you and the homies are
about to collect all eight gym badges, defeat the Elite Four, and become champions of the Kanto League all assembled in New Haven lounging and playing music from somebody’s Bluetooth speaker outside!
Here are just a few snapshots of the people (yes, even Photoshopped in at times) who’ve made my time here so unforgettable!
The ice cream cake we got for out last meeting this year! For email sign-offs, and greetings, and farewells, we often say “WORDlove.”
At any given WORD meeting, we’ll write to a prompt together, sometimes with music pulsing from a speaker in the center of the room, sometimes with a few of us with headphones in listening to our playlists, and sometimes both. One of my favorite songs to write to with my other WORDies (and also, the song that has helped me reflect the most on found family) is The Main Ingredient’s “Let Me Prove My Love To You,” wherein they sing:
I know what to say
But I don’t know how
What else can I do?
I bet you don’t know I really feel
So let me prove my love to you
When I first came to Yale, I imagined that my close friendships would be characterized by an exponential kind of bonding that would, eventually, hit some kind of distinct, instantly identifiable point: like a shock, then and there we would know we were not just friends, but friends who would last.
In reality, it’s thankfully not so simple. WORD has been such a home to me for the very reason that I imagine many other groups here have been homes for other Yalies: because we are proving our love to each other every day, and each day over, again, with whatever means we can. So it’s always a continuous building. It does not plateau, it is not static, but rather, is filled with surprises of new ways I didn’t know a person could care for another.
And now that I’ve made you swim through this ocean of text and sappiness and musings: I think that’s how I knew. When, like the song, I realized that my appreciation for these people was outpacing my ability to express it to them. Your people, hopefully, will always be becoming more your people, and that’s how I hope you’ll know you’ve finally met them.
Quantifying and explaining all the spiraling hugs, the late night trips to Bulldog Hotdogs, and the hysterical fits of laughter that have ended in me literally sliding off of a couch and coiling on the floor, would be an infeasible task. And it’s true that I also could’ve found similar kinships in several other permutations of my alternate Yale lives: in other extracurriculars or in my res college or at the cultural centers or elsewhere. In each of those lives, though, I must’ve had to risk my heart — the same way you will have to soon, or are risking yours right now.
So as you forge ahead towards (or through) college, ask yourself some questions! Where do I feel nurtured? Where do I think I’ll feel nurtured? Who reminds me most of home? If I could build a home not from wood or stone, but people, who would I choose? Who is striving, in ways big and small, to prove their love to me, too?
And for whom do I want to risk my heart?