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The importance of peer support

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The college experience comes with its own special set of challenges. Life away from home can be stressful, lonely, and even frightening at times. Between schoolwork, parties, daily chores, and extracurricular activities, one may feel swept up in the dynamics of college. To add to this, being far away from the support of family and familiar faces can be difficult. Nevertheless, you are not expected to navigate college by yourself. Friends and peer support can help you weather even the toughest storms.

For me, I have always been the type of person who has trouble opening up to others. I have a strong sense of self-consciousness that can often impede my ability to make quick, close friends. Friendships for me are not magically created. Rather, they are developed over the course of years. Additionally, I can be somewhat irrationally emotional, which often feeds into my fear of burdening others with my personal issues. Because of this, in the past, I have often reached out most to family and one or two really close friends whenever I needed a little extra boost of confidence or support. Yet, being at college, I could not rely on my close network of family and hometown friends. It was terrifying to lose a support network that I had depended on for most of my life.

Thankfully, I quickly learned that my college was a very different atmosphere than what I was used to. Coming from a specialized public high school in the heart of New York City, I had grown used to intense competition that, at times, morphed into backstabbing to get ahead and overall paranoia of being not good enough. However, college presented itself to be a tiny, close-knitted community. Rather than being competitive, I found students more supportive. In college, with students spread out over a variety of majors with a wide range of different goals, I quickly learned that my biggest competition was myself. Additionally, living with other students, I also realized that — not to be particularly cheesy of anything — we are really all in this together.

Never in my life have I experienced so much support or genuine compassion from my peers and friends. Everyone takes care of each other. They truly seem to be able to sense how I feel, and their responses have helped me cope through the ups and downs of my first semester in a strange new world. To them, no problem is too big, too trivial, or too all-around ridiculous to be pushed aside. At the beginning of the school year, I bought a large, second-hand, stuffed penguin at a college tag sale, which I quickly became attached to. Unfortunately, my stuffed friend was stolen. Though it was a good-natured, immature prank (and my penguin eventually was returned), I was still devastated. I felt a bit silly when I reported my stolen penguin to security, but I was relieved that school officials were extremely supportive. They assured me that no stolen item was ever unimportant for them to look into. I also received plenty of kindness from two girls in my dorm. They understood that my penguin had been a security blanket for me and had helped me get through the stress of adjusting to a new school. Thus, they bought me a new smaller penguin with their own money, just to cheer me up.

Even in competitive extracurricular activities, there is a support group to be found. For me, being a part of a team was somewhat of a novelty. Having never competed on the college level, I found my teammates especially helpful. They guided me, and explained everything I needed to know. Some of the older students even took me under their wing. Their support truly shone through when I emotionally broke down during the competition and my team was there to comfort me, even in the ladies room (yes, even a guy decided to check in on me).

The college community itself is truly supportive. I have seen complete strangers offer to make someone’s day better. During finals, I spent a whole day at the library studying for exams. I had spent maybe five hours in the same spot and I was probably going a little bit nuts by then. Suddenly, a random student came over and offered me some cookies. I was shocked, half expecting the cookies to be drugged or poisoned or something. Seriously, I thought, no one is that nice, but I was wrong. Yes, he was actually offering freshly baked, gingerbread cookies to people studying in the library. When I asked why he was doing it, he shrugged as if it was commonplace and remarked that he thought it would brighten someone’s day. Well, he totally succeeded.

The support that I have seen during my time in college has been truly inspiring. It has taught me that just a little bit of my time, and keeping the needs of others in mind, can go a long way. I have grown to be part of this community of giving back to your peers. I am now quick to offer a friend a cold can of ginger ale or some warm chicken soup. I have brought back midnight snacks for dorm mates who were up late studying. I try to make time in my day to attend my friends’ art shows, recitals, and performances. I have learned that even the smallest gestures never go unappreciated in my college community.

It is funny, though, because the world tends to be so selfish. In the past, I have been told that I need to be more selfish and self-serving or else I will never be able to compete in the world. Yet, in my small college, there is something to be said about being compassionate. Everyone needs and appreciates support, especially in a competitive world. Giving one’s time and thought can make all the difference.

Aglaia Ho is a freshman at Williams College and a native New Yorker.

Updated 4:46 pm, July 9, 2018
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