HOFFMAN: To Vanderbilt, from the transfers

Madeline Hoffman is a junior in the College of Arts and Science. She can be reached at madeline.b.hoffman@vanderbilt.edu.

Madeline Hoffman is a junior in the College of Arts and Science. She can be reached at madeline.b.hoffman@vanderbilt.edu.

Josh Hamburger

If you’re feeling anything like I am, then you’re incredibly excited to be back with your people, sharing stories about the summer and pretending that two weeks into class, your professors won’t be giving what they’re somehow already calling midterms.

However, a year ago, I wasn’t excited — I was scared. Now you’re probably thinking, ‘Classic freshman, scared about her first year of college.’


Classic transfer.

I transferred to Vanderbilt from Skidmore College in upstate New York. I moved from a student body size of fewer than 2,000 people, situated on a campus spanning less than one square mile, to a full-on university with its own campus shuttle where I walk about five miles a day (according to le Fitbit). While the decision to transfer was definitely the right thing to do, the prospect of starting over was terrifying. Freshman year at Skidmore was difficult, but it came with cushions: seminar classes, summer meet-ups and the common desire to get to know people and belong somewhere once arriving on campus.

As transfer students at Vanderbilt, we spend our own orientation shuffling around as the clueless new kids after just having spent the whole previous year doing the same thing as genuine freshmen. Some amazing upperclassmen orientation leaders help ease the transition, but they’ll tell you too: This is rough. And then… it doesn’t get any easier.

In my case, I was assigned to live in Vanderbilt-Barnard hall — previously one of the oldest dorms on campus, currently a demolition project as of summer 2K16.  On the one hand, it was perfectly functional, but the mold in the bathrooms and my 8×6 square-foot single left much to be desired with Kissam sitting one hop, skip and a Cornelius Vanderbilt statue away. On the other hand, the mix of current students and transfers were the people I basically glued myself to. We were all in the same boat, eager to find some sense of normalcy in what was quickly becoming a second freshman year.

The first semester, as a girl, is rough. You can go to parties, except no one really knows who you are and everyone is very busy catching up with their friends after summer vacation. You can talk to people and try to mingle, but with rush a whole semester away, girls seem really hesitant to actually become your friend. Classes, for me, went well, but you’re immediately made aware of the fact that you’re the new kid. You don’t know anyone and you’ll be sitting there awkwardly hoping someone friendly sits down next to you.

So why rant? Of course things worked out and I can’t wait for this coming semester, but I would be remiss if I didn’t try to inform my community on how to help out the incoming transfer class. So, some simple tips:

If you’re in a sorority: I know things are complicated with rush rules, but I promise the girls who transferred are not looking to you for an automatic bid, they just want a friend. For me and many others coming from schools without Greek life, we don’t even know how the rush process works, and frankly, just really want to be able to wave at someone — anyone — on our way to class.

If you’re in class: If the person next to you looks kind of nervous, just say a quick hello. Maybe they’re a transfer, a freshman, a very nervous senior… whatever. This really simple act of just, well, being a human went a long way for me.

If you’re at a party: If you meet a transfer, introduce them to the friends you’re with. Engage them in conversation and don’t just leave it at a quick hi/bye. Even if the transfer you’re talking to isn’t your cup of tea, you’re literally doing such an awesome thing for them by basically doing nothing.

If you’re a human being: If you meet a transfer, invite them to lunch, request to meet up on campus, ask them to study or to go to a club meeting. Transfers stick together and we love each other, but we also want to meet new people. This means the world when someone wants us to really join the Vanderbilt community.

If you’re a transfer: Don’t worry. It gets better. And if you feel like it isn’t, you’ve got me by your side.

I promise transfers are great people. (Obama was a transfer and so was Mitt Romney — we play both sides of the aisle. Also Morgan Freeman; we have sick voices.) I also promise that if you take any of this into consideration you will actually have a profound impact on someone’s life. I know exactly who the people are who pulled me out of the transfer abyss, and I will never forget what that meant to me.