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Q&A for Teens: College-Bound
Q&A for Teens

Q&A for Teens: College-Bound

I’m going to college and I don’t know anyone there. How will I find my place?


Dear Lauren,

I’m going to college in a couple of weeks and I’m pretty nervous. I don’t know anyone there, and I know college is different than high school; lots of people from lots of places, etc. I’m kind of afraid I’m going to feel lost. Do you have any advice for me?

Lauren Roth's Answer

Our very close family friend once brought Rabbi Daniel Lapin to Memphis, Tennessee, to speak at Rhodes College. He began his speech by asking the (predominantly non-Jewish) audience: “Why is it that Jews are so successful? Is it because they’re smarter than other people? Is it because they work harder than other people do? Is it because they’re just better than other people?”

Our friend relates that he was in the audience, cringing and biting his nails off, mortified and terrified, thinking, “What in the world is this guy gonna say?!”

And then Rabbi Lapin answered his own question. “Why is it that Jews are so successful? I’ll tell you why: it’s because they have the power of community. If a Jewish person needs a lawyer, another Jewish person recommends a good Jewish lawyer that she knows. If a Jewish person needs a doctor, then another Jewish person recommends a good Jewish doctor that he knows. If a Jewish person needs a job, another Jewish person knows another Jewish person who has an opening in her business. Jews have an automatic, built-in network, and it’s called a ‘community.’ And I suggest you acquire a community for yourselves, too, if you want to be successful.”

Needless to say, our friend relaxed (after wiping his brow!).

I'm certainly not saying that non-Jews are not kind, caring, and bonded. I’m just saying that Jews have a special, immensely strong, incredibly rationality-defying bond with each other that you can use to find your place in your new school. Go to the Hillel House. Go to the Jewish fraternities or sororities if your college has them. Go to Sabbath services. Go to Shabbat meals. Check out if there is a Maimonides program on your campus. You’ll find a community there ready to welcome you with open arms. A community of your brothers and sisters!

Your Jewish brothers and sisters will take care of you. Seek them out, and you’ll find a friendly place.

The other day, I was invited to a local newspaper, along with other Jewish people from my town. They wanted to do some stories on our community and wanted our input. I was a few minutes late to the meeting, because, as I explained to the (not Jewish) reporters and editors in attendance, I had to finish making dinner for a family on my block, because they had just had a new baby. Honestly, they were amazed. Because random people in America don’t have that kind of connection with the people they live with or go to school with.

That’s the treasure you are privy to. That’s your birthright. And it can help you find a comfortable place in a foreign situation.

Speaking of foreign situations: as I wrote about last week, I was in Japan earlier this summer. For Shabbat, we went to Hong Kong. As I was walking to my hotel on Friday afternoon to get ready for the Sabbath, I heard someone talking on his cell phone, in English (how exciting!!)...and then he said “Ok, honey, have a good Shabbos.” I whirled around—I couldn’t believe it! It was like encountering my brother, all the way across the world, in China! It turns out he was the brother-in-law of my neighbor! That’s finding a comfortable, familiar place in a foreign situation. That’s your birthright. That can help you find your niche in college.

At that same meeting at the newspaper, a reporter whose beat is my town told the group that she had written a story about a Jewish woman and her children. Their house had been demolished by a fire. And she said, “I felt so good, because normally these tragedies leave the victims out in the cold, struggling to survive, fallen on hard times. But I knew this woman and her children would be taken care of by the community. I had no doubt she would be given everything she needed, and more.”

Your Jewish brothers and sisters will take care of you. Seek them out, and you’ll find a friendly place.

I keep nice messages on my answering machine. I love going back and listening to all the comments from friends and missives from family and all the funny messages that have punctuated my life and the life of my family over the past few months. (Every few months I transfer them all to my computer and actually have some space on the machine for new messages!) Message #52 is the one left just after Hurricane Sandy last year: “Lights are out all over town! If you have no power, come to Bais Faiga and we will provide you with free dinner, free entertainment for your kids, and a warm, lit space to spend the evening. Bring your cell phones and cell phone chargers so you can recharge. Anyone without power is welcome!” How incredible is that?

I have no doubt that the Jewish communal gathering space at your college will be a place for you to recharge—in more ways than one.

Of course, college is a fantastic place to learn about the world and to meet people from all walks of life and to delve into the diversity of America. And the best way to do that is to find your brothers and sisters, find a strong, solid home base to operate out of, and to explore the diverse college atmosphere from there.

When I was in Princeton, I had that kind of home. It was called “Stevenson.” Stevenson was the name of the kosher eating hall where the synagogue was and where the Jewish activities were held. That was my real home at college. And I had a fantastic experience exploring the entire university from that home base.

Look for the Jewish gathering place at your university, and you’ll feel at home, too.

August 3, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 5

(4) Anonymous, August 7, 2013 5:27 PM

Not True

I live in Montreal and I must tell you think they take of each other but that is not true at least not here they take of those they do not know but if u approach some one u know they willrun asfast as they can from u .

Anonymous, August 8, 2013 5:32 AM

Is there maybe something you are doing to chase them away?

That experience sounds really painful. I wonder if you are unwittingly chasing people away from you? It's worth considering.

(3) David, August 7, 2013 3:17 PM

Seek out "adults" on campus

Ms. Roth provides some excellent advice. There is also much research evidence showing that one of the most important factors in determining a student's satisfaction with their college experience is the quality of their relationships with adult mentors. Seek out the Director of your Hillel (if you have one); find out if there is a Jewish faculty board and drop in on some of the professors who will likely be very happy to meet a new student and provide counseling and a sympathetic ear. Get to know the professors in your courses. Those of us who become professors do so (with a few exceptions of course) because we like working with college students. Keep in mind that a large fraction of the other new frosh will be sharing your concerns, so any time you can be the one to break the ice, you will be doing a mitzvah. Have fun! Avail yourself of all the wonderful learning experiences that college offers!

(2) lauren inker, August 5, 2013 3:13 PM

everyone else is just as scared as you are

put away your belongings, kiss your family goodbye, and walk down your dorm hallway. talk to people. hillel is a good place to start, but be open to whatever comes your way. keep in mind that the admissions committee picked you and your classmates because they knew that each of you had something to offer the others. trust their judgment, and start with the attitude that all of you are there to help each other.
Who is wise? he who learns from everyone.

have fun. best of luck

(1) scott, August 4, 2013 7:47 AM

Moving Day

I get what the guy is saying. If you're Jewish and dialed in to being Jewish, you're part of a family that will help you. I can tell a Jew-even a secular Jew with very Anglicized features-by the way they walk and talk and look at the world. It's just different from other people and it fits with other Jews. You should always maintain contact with your roots. It will help you and nourish your soul. And the food is great-so much better than the dining hall.

That being beginnings like college are an opportunity to discover yourself. In an environment where everyone starts on the same playing field-it's new for everyone, everyone is scared of not fitting in and finding their way-you can step out of childhood and start figuring out who you are. It's truly exciting.

I've moved six or seven times in my life. To the army after high school, then to college and after marriage to another state and then back to my parents town. I unfortunately divorced and then moved across the country again only to remarry several years later and make aliyah. Soon we're moving from Haifa to Tel Aviv.

Each time I move has been an opportunity to examine myself. Go back to my core values and see where I stand. Leave the things I didn't like about myself behind and create a new, better me. At times-try to atone for the mistakes in the part of life that's ending and say good bye. Kind of like a little elul preceding the Yom Kippur of moving day (it is always an extremely long day full of affliction followed by rebirth in a new world ) and the fresh start.

You are not special. Everyone is feeling the same way about moving off to college-whether or not they admit it. The question is whether or not you will use the experience to grow into a truly better you.

Most won't...

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