Synchronized Reading: Fangirl Post #1: The Dining Hall Experience

By now you should know, readers, that BFF and fellow blogger Miss Print and I are in the midst of our Fangirl synchronized read. Yes, even though we technically finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s upcoming novel a few days ago, we still moving forward with our “read” and with all the posts we had planned.

This week Miss Print and I will be talking about our own college experiences in relations to Cath’s (Fangirl’s leading lady). So, readers, you should totally check out Miss Print’s blog after reading this.

If you’ve read Fangirl that you already know all about Cath and some of her quirky anxieties. If you haven’t than that last statement doesn’t reveal any kind of spoilers… really (just kidding)

One of those quirky anxieties was dealing with the dining hall.

For a brief moment in time I, like Cath, lived in a cramped dorm room with a roommate (two actually) that I wished, looking back, were more like Cath’s roommate Reagan. As an only child, I had to adjust to dorm life – sharing a room with a perfect stranger, using very public bathrooms where I was expected to, not only use the toilet, but also wait in line (literally) to shower each morning, and basically adjust to a life I wasn’t one hundred percent sure I was cut out for. Amongst the home-sickness, I adjusted eventually. But there was one thing, one aspect of college/dorm life that just … made me anxious. The Dining Hall.

I was a college freshman, in a strange state, where I knew absolutely no one. I also felt like I knew absolutely nothing (it took me weeks to figure out I had a school e-mail account, case and point of knowing nothing).  So the first time I went to the dining hall I was overwhelmed to say the least. Who are all of these people? Who am I going to sit with? Maybe, I’ll just sit by myself, but where would I sit? Can I just pop a squat at someone’s table, eavesdropping on conversations and people’s lives? Where were my people – you know the equally lost and overwhelmed freshman?

As I was reading Fangirl I identified immensely with Cath. I felt like I was transported back to that brief moment of my life, where I had to face the dining hall day in and day out. And like Cath, I had a lot of the same questions – about the unidentifiable food (I went to school down South so everything was smothered – literally smothered – in chunky white gravy…yuck!),  the social hierarchy of the dining hall, and if and when it’s appropriate to just sit at some random table with a ground of random people you may or may never see again in your whole college life!

High school was simple, for nearly four years I sat with the same group of girls (always girls, being that I went to an all girl school), at the same table – the one closest to the exit. I never had to worry about unidentifiable food, social hierarchies, or whether or not it was appropriate to just sit any old place. Why? Because I had my own place, my own circle of friends, my own table, and my own seat at the table.

Cath is one hundred percent right: change is hard. Hard to deal with, hard to implement. And I found out very quickly, at the time, I didn’t like nor did I appreciate change.

I avoided the dining hall like the plague that it was. I didn’t want to deal with … any of it. The food – which I found out I really didn’t like, even gravy-less, the hordes of unfamiliar faces. Instead I lived on apples and peanut butter (that is, during the week. Weekends I went to my grandparents house where I loaded up on what I considered “comfort”) The only time I ventured into the dining hall was if I was invited by any of my fellow residents, people I had become friendly with during my (brief) time at that specific college (I went to three different colleges … crazy I know), or during my weekly outing with my RA (resident advisor) and my floor of girls. At least then I knew who I was sitting with, and didn’t have to stress unnecessarily about social hierarchy.

The very times I did venture into the dining hall I did find people to sit with, either people I had a class with, someone from my freshman peer group, someone I lived in the dorm with. Even though I figured out what food was actually hiding underneath  the white chunky gravy, and I figured out that whole sitting/table situation I found out that communal eating amongst people I barely knew wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. It sure wasn’t as fun as Cath’s experience. At least she had Reagan to goof on people with.

Looking back,  I was young and not as comfortable in my skin, and stressed way too much on issues that I didn’t need to stress about. I wish I had a Reagan of my own to force me out of my shell, or at least to goof on people with. Someone like her would have made the dining hall a bit more bearable.

Now, with or without a friend like Reagan, I don’t think I would fear the dining hall as much as I did while I was in college. I’m a different person,  one who,like Cath, learned to not only accept and embrace change, but who also learned how to roll with the punches, taking the good with the bad.

Maybe one day, I’ll get the chance to pay a visit to a college dining hall, and this time I won’t be afraid.

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