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I was seventeen, I was naive, and I was enraptured by the beauty, glamor, and romance that is New York City.  When it came time to decide whether or not to commit to a university that boasted an impressive reputation, and enter into a program that would most likely put me on the fast track to success in my desired field at the time, there was only one answer.  But  there was more than one catch.  First, I had to move 3,000 miles away from home.  And the debt, there would be debt — a lot of debt.  But you can’t really fathom debt when you are seventeen, staring up at the Empire State Building and thinking, ‘I wonder how close I’m going to live to the Empire State Building?’  And for that matter, having never lived that far away from home for an extended period of time, a seventeen-year-old me couldn’t really fathom the strain that 3,000 miles could inflict.  It was just a six-hour plane ride.  Nothing a couple of movies and some unfinished homework couldn’t get me through.

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So I did it.  Without more than a few questions, without shedding more than a few tears, with all of my parents’ love, hard work, and support, I moved to New York City and began my life as a college student.  I sunk my teeth deep into the steak of knowledge and took advantage of every opportunity my school and the city presented me.  For about a year and a half, I dove into my new life with the candor and gusto of a seagull into fish-laden water, or in this case, an eighteen-year-old suburban transplant living in one of the biggest cities in the world.  I plowed through my freshman year, seldom looking back on the life I left behind in California.  I was fearless, I was effortless, I was brash.  I was becoming everything I had ever aspired to be.  Except I was losing touch with my foundation.  In order to fit the mold of my surroundings, I began to let the city, its energy, and the people I surrounded myself with blur the lines between my basic upbringing and personality, and the girl I wanted to become.  I needed a wake-up call, and it came full-force halfway through my sophomore year.

Like any wake-up call, it did not simply manifest on its own; several changes acted as its catalyst.  The first was the transition into classes for my major.  Until the summer after my freshman year I’d only taken classes to fulfill general credits.  The first class I took toward my major was absolutely invigorating.  But by the end of the six-week course I found myself thinking, ‘Okay, I’m glad that’s over.  I hope I never have to do anything like that again.’ Except of course I would, that is just about all I would be doing for the remaining three years of my education.  This problem could be easily solved by changing majors, but at my time of crisis I was already halfway through my sophomore year and had no clue what alternate major I might want to pursue.  This transition alone would have required me to take a breath, remove myself from the stifling pace, and decide what major my school offered that would best benefit me in post-collegiate endeavors.  However, this was not the most outwardly notable change.  The most outwardly notable, and understandably controversial, change was the addition of a boyfriend.  A boyfriend who I met back home in California.

I’m not the type of girl who lacks conviction.  I won’t alter my path to conform to another’s — I hold firm to that statement, especially in a romantic relationship.  But this past semester, the second semester of my sophomore year, I have doubted and questioned and lacked in just about every area and aspect of my life, further straining this divergence of paths between my partner and me.  All of my uncertainty came to a head with the final, and perhaps most trying, change — when I contracted mono this past January.  The deterioration of my physical health tested the limits of my mental health, as well as the connections that I thought I had made on this side of the country.  Frivolous friendships promptly weeded me out as soon as I was no longer deemed a ‘good time’ or a viable outlet for others’ negative emotions.  As soon as I harbored negative emotions of my own, I was of no use to the majority of friends I had made.  This made the depression I was spiraling into from my body’s malfunction even more difficult to bear.  As my dad put it during a particularly teary and grueling phone conversation, I was a shadow of my former self.  In a matter of weeks I had gone from Kaitlyn, the shoulder to cry on, to Kaitlyn, the girl who just can’t stop crying.

It was this series of events that prompted me to take a leave of absence during the Fall 2016 semester.

I did not and do not wallow in the challenges that I faced this past year.  In fact, looking back on it almost five months after that first trip to the ER, I’m more grateful for this past year than I am in any way resentful of it.  Although my motivation was at an all-time low, I managed to maintain a GPA that landed me on the Dean’s List, I continued to get out and explore my vibrant host city with or without the company of friends, and most importantly, I didn’t take this test for granted.  These past two years I’ve learned invaluable lessons through human experience and formal education that I simply would not have been exposed to had I chosen a different route.

You have a number of options when you discover that the path you so carefully paved for yourself may no longer be the path you want to pursue.

I am seriously looking forward to this change.  It is by no means the easy way out.  Although I will at least be temporarily back in the warmth of my family and my partner and the Golden State, many tough decisions still lie ahead.  Next semester I may work in retail and gain the invaluable experience that making my own living has to offer.  Maybe I’ll intern on a film set or in an office — who knows?  At this point the uncertainty excites me more than it frightens me.

Would I go back and make a different decision given the chance?  Would I tell that seventeen-year-old girl to refrain from the risk and excitement in place of a more prudent path?  Did I waste my time and my parents’ money for two years?  Absolutely not.  I have given an excessive amount of thought to this question and after many months of pondering, I have come to this answer:  I would not be who I am today without those two years.  Now, had I taken that time for granted and come out playing the victim of circumstance, scrambling to pick up the pieces, I would have likely concluded a different answer.  I would have likely not come to an answer at all.

You have a number of options when you discover that the path you so carefully paved for yourself may no longer be the path you want to pursue.  My advice would be seek advice from those who have already traveled a road similar to the one you are currently navigating and, even more importantly, look inward.  Don’t flounder in the wake of lost order.  Instead, figure out how to reignite the fire in your belly.  Dig deep, then dig deeper.  Look to the experiences you’ve undergone and opportunities you’ve been given.  Get out your hammer and mallet, begin to carve a new path, and get ready to grow, grow, grow.

 

Kaitlyn is a rising junior at New York University studying Film & Television and Business. Her main passions include women’s empowerment and social justice. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, eating her way through cities, and scouting parks for pettable pups.

 

 

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