Transitioning to Notre Dame

Author: Ellie Villaruz

A group of Notre Dame students pose in front of Main Building.

The night of August 18th, 2022, I couldn’t sleep a wink. In the Courtyard Marriott of South Bend, my mind wouldn’t stop racing with the uncertainties that were waiting for me the following day: What will my roommate be like? What is my dorm like? Did I pick the right major? Will I find my people at Notre Dame? How will I deal with homesickness? Is Notre Dame the right fit for me?

Instead of just laying awake and thinking about all of these questions, I decided to write all my thoughts down and get it all out. Motivated by a lack of paper and light, I whipped out my trusty “Notes” app and started typing. To quote myself on August 18, 2022: “As scary as the unknown is… the unknown is also what is exciting. I hope I love Notre Dame, I really do. Go Irish baby, you got this.”

Upon move-in, I met my roommate, Belle. I remember that there was so much excitement decorating our new room. Freshmen are thrown headfirst into the world of Notre Dame– everyone has their Welcome Weekend t-shirts on, they’re meeting the people in their dorm community, attending “meet your major” events, attending Mass with Fr. John Jenkins, and learning the words to the Alma Mater. Then everyone says goodbye. Everyone.

My goodbye was a little different. The fall of my senior year of high school, my father moved to Singapore to begin a new job position, and I got a sneak peek of college by living without him for a year. However, the rest of my family joined him in August except for my mother, who remained in the US with me to move me into Notre Dame. Saying goodbye to my mother as she was getting on a plane to fly across the world and knowing I wouldn’t see her for months was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Walking toward my dorm with tears streaming down my face was an indescribable feeling. It was almost like I was leaving my childhood behind, and walking toward my future.

After the chaos of Welcome Weekend ended and I finally caught up on sleep, I began to get into my groove at Notre Dame. I was pushed out of my comfort zone– forced to ask the girls in my dorm to get dinner, to ask the guy who sat next to me in my Accounting class to explain what “stockholder’s equity” meant, and to take showers with shoes on. Slowly but surely (and it was very slow, I assure you), I became more comfortable in my new environment. It was a feeling of belonging, a shared experience with all the freshmen on my floor. We were all going through the same thing. Finally one night, everything changed.

I was doing homework in the lounge on my floor, and I started talking to a girl in my section about Microeconomics, Emily. We figured out we were in the same class, so she ran back to her room to get her problem set and emerged with her homework and her roommate, Zhana. The 3 of us ended up working on homework in the lounge together for 3 hours. We were also soon joined by my roommate. But it was not about the homework we were getting done; it was the conversations we were having that made us friends. The 4 of us clicked; we were able to be ourselves despite only knowing each other for a week. As time passed, the nights doing homework in our dorm’s lounge lasted until 2 am, the dinners together became more frequent, and the giggles never ceased.

Despite this newfound friend group, I couldn’t shake the feeling of homesickness. Having to call my parents either in the morning or night because of the 12 hour time difference took its toll, my classes were increasing in difficulty, and for the first time ever– I had to learn how to study to do well in my classes. I was overwhelmed. The transition from high school to college was an experience I never expected to be so difficult. But then Notre Dame played their first home football game on September 10, 2022. The Friday before, my friends and other Pyros gathered in the PE lobby to deck ourselves out in everything red. We attended the Rockne Rally, cheered for our dorm, and celebrated after with dinner at the local Mexican restaurant.

Gameday began with music blasting as girls rushed in and out of each other’s rooms, exchanging products and compliments. For the second time in 24 hours, I had really felt the dorm community. I braided 3 different girl’s hair, and was overjoyed with the energy buzzing around campus. Everyone was incredibly eager and excited to watch Notre Dame Football return. The whole game day was amazing, even when we lost. After that day, I felt as though I had found home.

It is not as if the hard days have ended. It is not as if I never struggle in school (in fact, I’m struggling more often than not), or I never have fights with my friends (I argued with my roommate last night), or Notre Dame Football wins every game (they clearly don’t, but we still love them). But these struggles are completely normal. My feelings of homesickness have subsided and my feelings of belonging have intensified. Instead of retreating into myself when I am struggling, I can lean on my friends just as they lean on me. The first month at Notre Dame was not easy, but change never is. It was certainly made easier by my environment. I am at the University of Notre Dame, a place where no one is left behind and everyone cares about each other.