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Growing Up Doesn't Always Mean Growing Apart

"We'll keep in touch, I promise! It'll always be the same between us," one of my friends exclaimed as the four of us hugged goodbye one August. Our close-knit gang had been through everything, or so we thought.

We had grown up together, seen each other through those heartbreaking firsts everyone must unfortunately experience. We felt like we knew everything about each other: The time Kristen had tripped in front of the football team, Jess' very public breakup with her cheating boyfriend, Steph's obsession with cows, and my packed lunch that had never changed throughout the years. Those memories and more are what made our childhood years so special. Leaving each other meant traveling outside our comfort zone, alone.

But I felt ready for college. I was prepared to say goodbye, to leave everything I had been accustomed to for the past 18 years. Who would miss boring old Yardley, PA -- which the townspeople referred to as "the most uneventful place on earth?" Leaving was a no-brainer, wasn't it? I would not only begin my new life, but love it from the second I arrived. At least that's what I had hoped.

The first few weeks at Penn State (University Park, PA) were difficult; although I met many new people, I didn't feel I really clicked with anyone. My roommate and I immediately began hanging around our next-door neighbors, hoping they would become our lifelong friends. But in my heart, I knew I didn't feel a connection on any friendship level. Instead of being my normally happy, smiling self, I realized I simply wasn't comfortable around these strangers who were supposed to be my "new friends." I missed my high school buddies.

For the first month of school, I counted down the days until I could travel back to my boring old town and see my old friends. I began hanging around people who had gone to my high school, reliving the old times with them. The new life I had been waiting so long for wasn't turning out the way I had imagined.

Finally, the day came when I got the chance to return for our high school's homecoming. As my old friends and I reunited, I was overcome with a sense of comfort. At first we took a stroll down memory lane, reliving instances from our past. But then the conversation took an unexpected turn. Each one of my pals began talking about the new friends they had met in college. They spoke of how great they were, how they loved all their classes, and how fun college was. When they asked how my experience was panning out thus far, all I could manage was a small smile and a big lie.

I said I was having the time of my life and wouldn't change anything about it. They laughed and expressed how happy they were that all four of us were having such great experiences.Going back to school after that weekend created a different outlook for me -- a new way of approaching my college career. I soon realized I hadn't exactly given meeting new people a chance. I began opening up more in my classes, and seeking out people who shared the same interests.

A couple of days after my homebound weekend, I met Gillian and Emily. They introduced me to their friends, and I realized that I got along with all of them pretty well. Sporadic dinners turned into daily events followed by long talks and exciting nights out. I began spending most of my time with the people who would later turn into my new best friends -- for real, this time!

Unlike my first trip home, Thanksgiving break came too quickly. I was excited to return home, but also sad that I'd be leaving my new friends behind. What a change from the girl who had packed her bags nights ahead of time in anticipation of her first trip home! It was strange going back to my old life and old friends, strange bringing along new memories I had made without them. I was concerned our friendships would drift apart, seeing as we had all made new, separate lives from one another.

The four of us met at the mall the afternoon we arrived home. As I saw the familiar faces of my past, the fears I had held about drifting apart instantly faded away. Later in the day, one of my other friends hesitantly shared her concerns, expressing how nervous she was that one day we would just lose contact with one another. We all let out sighs of relief as we each voiced similar concerns we had been holding inside. For the first three months away, we had felt the need to talk to each other at least once a day, explaining that day's events. We had felt overwhelmed with a sense of guilt if we had too much fun with our new friends, feeling like we were showing disloyalty to our old ones. We had been afraid to grow up.

Starting a new life doesn't mean getting rid of the old one. Painfully, you begin to distinguish between your true, lifelong friends and those who will remain in your past. It's when you finally realize that there's room in your heart for the old and new memories that the meaning of college is fully understood. It's funny how things work out sometimes. Some things don't turn out the way you thought they would... they turn out even better.


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