Second freshman year: UNC transfer students adjust to new expectations

By Jackie Sizing

Freshman year of college is one of the hardest transitions.

Most freshman are living on their own for the first time, away from their family and friends in an unfamiliar place.

Imagine doing it all twice.

Last fall semester, at 7:30 a.m., junior Mikayla Goss woke up for her first day of classes. Goss did her normal morning routine: take a shower, brush her teeth, pick out her outfit for the day and pack her backpack.

Regardless, Goss could not shake her nerves. It wasn’t her first time going to college classes, but as a transfer, it was her first day of classes ever at UNC-Chapel Hill.

For the past two years, Goss lived with her family in Newport, North Carolina, and went to Carteret Community College.

People warned her about “transfer shock,” and she didn’t believe them at first. But the campus was huge, and Goss didn’t know many people aside from her roommate.

“The first week of classes at UNC was one of the hardest weeks of my life,” Goss said. “I didn’t expect it to be that way.”

Junior Camille DiBenedetto, who transferred from Drexel University in Philadelphia, said she cried her first night at UNC because of homesickness.

“I was stressed at first,” DiBenedetto said. “But I think the process of transferring is scarier than being in a new place.”

Imposter syndrome

These experiences are common among many new UNC transfers.

Luke Fayard, counselor and transfer student coordinator, said in an email interview that imposter syndrome is common among new transfers.

“UNC demands much more of students than they expect, when they have done nothing but shine in every college class they’ve taken,” Fayard said. “They get here, see the assignments and think, ‘Admissions made a mistake. I don’t know that I belong here or if I can actually do this.’”

It took time for Goss to adjust to the rigorous and demanding UNC classes.

“A few tears were shed,” she said. “My stress about academics and my new surroundings were a bad combination.”

Fayard said this doubt is powerful and dangerous for overachievers because it’s new.

“The impostor syndrome, combined with the very incorrect outlook that everyone else here is doing great, makes it very hard for my transfer friends to feel at home,” Fayard said. “They feel as if they are on an island, and they are alone in their struggles.”

Junior Crystal Dezha, who transferred from Appalachian State University sophomore year, had a unique experience. While most transfers come fall semester, Dezha and a few others arrived in the spring, halfway through the year.

Dezha was excited to transfer to Carolina, but that excitement dimmed during the first few weeks.

Dezha felt she had less guidance than fall transfers, and that made the transition harder, taking a mental toll.

Fayard can’t tell you how often he meets a transfer student having a hard time with their mental health.

Personality traits such as perfectionism, anxiety over every detail and pressure from themselves or others get lots of students to UNC, but they can also lead to mental health struggles, Fayard said.

Dezha said she thinks this is true for transfer students but that there is a ton of encouragement to seek help.

“They do not want you to suffer in silence,” she said.

Dezha hesitated about going to therapy before coming to UNC. However, she went for the first time last semester and enjoyed it.

“I was in a bad place, and it really helped me with the things I was going through,” Dezha said.

Easing the transition

When it comes to resources for transfer students, Fayard thinks the university can always do better, but he is impressed with how many people on campus value transfer students and try to help him take care of them.

“I thought I might be swimming upstream here in Chapel Hill, but I have been pleasantly surprised,” Fayard said. “In speaking with prospective students’ parents, I’ve had numerous be blown away that my job even exists, because they have not seen anything like it elsewhere.”

Goss, Dezha and DiBenedetto are all happy with the number of resources for transfer students.

“I am always getting emails,” Goss said. “About transfer events, resources for classes I may be struggling in, career services events – it’s great to feel thought of, even if I can’t always go.”

Some transfer-specific programs include Personal Librarian, Transfer Student Ambassadors and Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program.

After about two weeks, DiBenedetto got into the groove of her classes and joined the UNC chapter of Best Buddies, an organization that pairs students with people who have developmental and intellectual disabilities. She is always meeting new people now.

“I felt right at home,” DiBenedetto said. “I’m happy to be here.”

Fayard wants transfer students to make UNC what they want it to be.

“You are not here for UNC, UNC is here for you,” Fayard said. “There are so many offices, opportunities, and resources around UNC to help you create the education that you want for yourself. There is no mold, make your own.”

Dezha advises new transfers to put themselves out there.

“And, again, look for help,” Dezha said. “There were plenty of times where I told myself I was going to figure it out later but didn’t.”

Fayard said transfers need to trust that they belong and not see being a transfer student as a weakness.

“Don’t waste time and energy on impostor syndrome,” he said. “Let’s say you got invited to the party on accident. So? You’re here! Take advantage of it.”


Edited by Liz Johnson


How some UNC students are making their dorms a home away from home

By Samaria Parker

As a birdie bounces indoors between badminton rackets, a group of college women laugh loudly on the sofa and ignore the “quiet hours” sign above them. Across the hall, two residents try to drown out the noise as they work on a paper due the next day. The sound of poker chips clinking against the table from a game underway down the hall adds to their distraction.

It’s a typical day on the second floor of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carmichael Residence Hall.

Each year, students are greeted by Carmichael’s fluorescent lights, cinder block walls and narrow hallways. Leaving behind their childhood bedrooms and family living rooms, they gain the four walls of a new room and a brightly decorated lounge area.

As they say goodbye to parents and siblings, they also say hello to 485 building mates, 40 hall mates and one roommate.

While this transition is overwhelming for some, student Jadyn Jones knows all about living with a lot of people. From a family of nine, her house always bustled with noise. Even the aggressively pink walls in her bedroom were loud; the three little sisters she shared them with were even louder. For Jones, the sounds of Carmichael pale in comparison to the giggles, cries and screams of her sisters – Justice, Jenae and Jessa – she’d grown accustomed to.

And in a nine-member home, it didn’t get much quieter outside of her bedroom. The idea of being alone is one she has never really gotten to know.

So, when she traded in the pink room she’d known for so long, for the dull-white cinder block walls of a dorm bedroom, gaining so many neighbors was an easier transition for her than most.

“Not that my house had a constant hum, but we’re all kids and we’re all family so there are constantly screaming matches or somebody doing something in the living room,” she said. “Someone’s exercising to The Biggest Loser or watching a really loud movie and you always say hello to the people you walk into the room with.”

Jones maintains that habit in her dorm. As she walks down the hall, she makes sure to greet everyone in the lounge with a big, “Hello;” stopping for a moment to inquire about each person’s day. For her, it mostly feels like just another day in the living room with her family.

‘Living on top of each other’

The transition to living in a dorm is not as seamless for everyone. Student Veronica Munn takes a more subtle approach to the dorm lounge space, often shuffling in and snuggling up in a corner chair before greeting others.

Her quiet approach matches what she’s known most of her life. The squishing sound as she plops down into her favorite oversized bean bag is about as loud it gets in her home. Between the two houses she has — one with her mom and one with her dad – home life for Munn tended to be pretty quiet.

Apart from the padding of her greyhound Faith’s feet on her dad’s hardwood floors and the occasional chatter with her mom and brother, life at home is pretty quiet. Nothing in comparison to the bustle of Carmichael dorm.

“At home, unless I go seeking out interaction,” she said. “I can usually avoid it. In the dorm there’s a whole lot more interaction.”

Across the hall, student Ray Starn is also not used to having so many people in his living space.

“There’s nothing similar about living in a dorm, at all,” he said. “Living in a dorm, you’re obviously living on top of each other.”

Home away from home

After his sister, Frances, left for college, Starn spent the last five years living with just his mom. With only two people, it was spacious – no “living on top of each other” – and unless there was company, the noise was kept to a minimum.

Now, living amongst so many suitemates and hall mates, reality couldn’t be more different. Rather than cozying up in his living room or hiding away in his bedroom, he joins his suitemates for weekly Saturday morning brunches, Friday night poker games and rounds of his favorite board game, Catan.

While it’s a lot crazier than his lifestyle at home, he sees the beauty in the chaos.

A few suites down, Aisha Siddiqui can relate.

Growing up in a home that teetered between crowded and quiet. Living in a dorm so different, yet somewhat the same. Her living room and kitchen were filled with the buzz of parents and her cousins, Amna and Mohammed, who visited frequently. But as an only child, Siddiqui spent a lot of time hidden away in her room doing homework while the murmurs of her parents and cousins fluttered softly in the background.

For her, not much has changed.

Between the preference for being cozied away in her room and balancing a busy schedule, she isn’t someone you’d necessarily find in the lounge. Sitting underneath the desk twinkle lights she brought from home, she smiles to herself.  The murmurs of her hall mates in the background as she does her homework catch her attention; for a moment, she’s reminded of home.

No matter the house one comes from, for many students, the cinder block walls, fluorescent lights and electric-blue lounge couches become as familiar as the 40 hall mates who start to feel more like family.

And for Jones, Starn, Munn and Siddiqui, the second floor of Carmichael Residence Hall is now a home away from home.

Edited by Hannah McClellan