By Hannah Tjoflat, Youth Frontiers Lead Retreat Facilitator
Imagine. It’s the first day of school. Your outfit is strategically picked out. Your backpack is packed. You’re about to leave your house and… you’re brand new to the school.
So many of us have been in this situation; we’ve moved to a new city, or our parent got a new job, and we find ourselves in the role of “the new kid.” This situation brings up many unknowns. Who am I going to sit by? Where is my locker? What should I wear? Will this be like my old school? Will people like me?
Every day, I meet students on retreat who are new to their schools. Some of them are experiencing their first day, others their first year and some still identify as the new kid even years after they’ve moved to their school community. Being new is both exciting and difficult for so many different reasons.
We all hunger to feel seen, and at the same time, we just want to blend in. There’s this hope that someone will notice us and ask us, at the very least, who we are or what our name is. Yet, we don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. I think in the “adult world” we forget that there are a lot of new kids around us all of the time. When you’re a student new to a school, many times it’s obvious because, well, you weren’t there before, and now you are. When we’re in the adult world, we’re really good at looking like we have it together, so it’s harder to notice who is new. In the end, we all want to belong.
This past summer, my grandpa moved from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he lived for 22 years, to Boulder, Colorado. He is 82 and he is a “new kid” in a new city. It’s been a big deal for us as a family to watch him move. There was a lot of anticipation and a bit of worry that it wouldn’t be the right thing for him.
A few weeks ago, I called my grandpa, and he said to me, “Hannah, I’ve never been in a city that feels so alive.” He went on to tell me about all of the opportunities he has had to see live music (he’s a musician) and how kind everyone has been. And it’s true. I’ve visited him since, and there’s this wonderful energy in the building he lives in. People hold their heads high and say “hello” to whomever walks by. When eating meals, people invite others to sit with them. They share stories of where they lived before, who their family is and what they’re learning. I’ve realized from observing my grandpa’s new community that being the new kid – no matter how old – can be a great adventure when those around us make an effort to help us feel welcome.
I’m so glad my grandpa has found his community, and I know that we can be that kind of community for the new kids around us. We can start by keeping our heads up, approaching others with wonder and staying present in each moment. When we choose to ask questions and to empathize with each other, we begin to see each other more completely. And when we all feel seen, we find that belongingness we’re all looking for, whether we’re a new kid, old kid or something in between.