Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
Last fall I moved all the way across the world from India to the U.S. to begin a new phase in my life, my yearlong graduate student life at the world-renowned Harvard University. The transition, although celebrated and supported by all my loved ones, turned out to be one of the most critical phases in the journey of my mental health. The narratives of life associated with this university can be very intimidating and the subtle and loud messages of stress, burnout, competition, and F.O.M.O. being passed around all the campus, can be hard to embrace, especially as an international student just transitioning into this culture.
As I prepare to graduate next month and take a few moments of quiet reflection, I can see that amongst all of the right and wrong strategies that I took during my time here, the one that helped me the most have been building authentic “human connections.” Relationships are the heart of all human experiences in this world and reaching out to people, being vulnerable to them about my problems and seeking help, even when my inner critic was rambling out loud helped me gain deeper and meaningful perspectives.
In my past few months here I have learnt that unpredictability is the one of the most prominent constants in life, and failure to build your “resilience” muscles in coping with this unpredictability can be nerve wrenching and anxiety-provoking. Life will demand resilience from us at every single step and we will have to show up to all of its tests, and not just show up with anger and bitterness, but with all our love and kindness.
So how did “human connection” help me in this journey? Reaching to different people who made my human network here, whether they were my professors, program administrators, teaching fellows, my residential life advisors, officials serving the office of student affairs in my school, and most importantly reaching out to my friends and family back home in India as well as in the U.S. helped me slowly and steadily build this muscle of resilience. Opening up to these people about the various difficulties and emotional roadblocks that appeared or continue to appear in my way helped them in helping me find perspectives. It might sound so simple, but opening up about my difficulties to all these people has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done. However, very soon I realized that opening up about my struggles rather than assuming, bottling, or brooding along with extending genuine trust in the listening offered by these people, that helped me survive and thrive in my transition to Harvard.
It is only through reaching out to other people that I realized the power of connection, vulnerability, and trust. It made me realize how our common human suffering is real and how each individual has their own set of unique struggles that must never be undermined by their fellow beings. However, authentic connection will continue to the most powerful strategy in overcoming hardships in life and that the narratives of our personal and professional identity in a place like Harvard though overwhelming, can be life shifting if we choose to open our hearts and minds to the power of human connection.
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