As I reach the end of freshman year, I can't help but reflect on all that's happened this year: what's gone wrong, what's gone right, how I've changed, and what I want to tell others about my experiences. Although I still have a month left of school, I feel that I have learned a plethora lessons from my move-in day in August and I wish to pass them on to incoming freshmen everywhere. The biggest thing to remember is that moving to college is a big step, so give yourself time to learn the lessons below on your own and remember that, above all, this is your journey and not anyone else's.
1. Get excited, but not too excited.
How many times have you listened to your parents ramble on about you doing your homework, or you being home for dinner? How many times have you thought to yourself, I can't wait to move out and be on my own? The summer before my freshman year it was like I had already moved out. I spent a lot of that summer out with my friends, home for dinner only two or three times a week, already high on my newfound independent spirit. I wish I would have slowed down a little and remembered that I would always be surrounded by friends but for the next year, I would be seeing my family only in short increments when I was home for breaks. I've learned that it's important to be happy where you are and who you're with and to never rush growing up. Your parents don't want you to leave any sooner than you have to, so make sure you take time to be truly present with them before you move out. This can be your way of thanking them for the 18 years of love and support they've given you up until this moment.
2. Talk--a lot.
I've always been an extremely shy person, since kindergarten all the way to 12th grade. Talking was never my specialty until it had to be. When I moved into my dorm room, my roommate and I (upon her suggestion) decided to walk around the fourth floor and introduce ourselves to the girls in neighboring rooms. Two rooms over from mine I introduced myself to the girl I now call my best friend. Although some of it is crap, one thing people tell you about moving to college that is true is that you should leave your door open the first few days of moving in. For this, invest in a doorstop. I found myself being very open to the new people I met who stopped in my room. You may go into college thinking you have always been shy and that you won't make any friends because of this, but know that that's simply not true. Everyone is new and is in the same position as you; once you realize this it will be easier for you to break down those barriers and be yourself.
3. Take your time.
Although you'll find it easier to make friends in college that you anticipated, you should remember that the first ones you meet may not necessarily be your forever friends. You should follow your gut and pay attention to how you feel around certain people. How easy is it for you to open up to them? Do you laugh when you're with them? How do you feel after hanging out with them: refreshed and light, or drained and maybe even a little annoyed? When you meet someone you get along well with, make sure to get their number and follow up on getting together with them. Don't let a blossoming friendship go unwatered. The best way to see who is right for you is to simply be yourself and pursue interests and the lifestyle you wish to lead. The rest will fall into place.
4. Get knocked down, but get back up again.
College -especially freshman year- is the time to explore interests you may not have pursued in high school. Be sure to attend club fairs (which usually occur at the start of fall and spring semesters) and sign up for organizations that both align with and contradict your past interests. You will be surprised how many different things will spark your interest—this year I participated in things ranging from writing for the newspaper to participating in Latin Dance Club. Don't get discouraged if you don't make tryouts for a certain team or group or if you have little interest in what you first start getting involved with. The best thing to do is simply follow where your heart leads you, and know that in your freshman year nothing will make or break you. It's ok to not be as involved as all those seniors who are leading these club meetings. Remember to give yourself time to find your true passions and get involved based on these.
5. Don't forget your roots.
I remember that the first day I didn't talk to my family since being at school felt particularly strange. It was the first time in my whole life, actually, that I hadn't spoken to my mother for the whole day, or joked around with my brother, or asked my father how work was. Now late into my freshman year, I have several of those days a week, but I never really get used to them. For that reason, I try to text my family members things that remind me of them, like the Starbucks tea my mother and I always drank in the summer, or my success in riding the subway which my father always tried to make me understand. It's important that you call home every so often to tell everyone what is going on and how you are doing. Remember, up until this point in y have seen you as you leave for and come back from school. They've watched your sports games, baked for your bake sales, and given you flowers after your plays or concerts. They deserve to know what is happening with you and if you are doing okay. Talking to them will make you feel at home, even at a place far from it.
6. Find a study space and schedule.
The first time you are at college, it will be difficult to find structure in your day. Freshman year is the first time in your life you are going to have so much freedom and free time. With that liberty, however, also comes responsibility. I found that in my freshman year, I was most productive when I blocked out time for specific things: going to the gym, participating in extracurriculars, seeing my friends, and doing my homework. When you give yourself a finite amount of time to finish the work you have to get done that day, day, keeping in mind all the other responsibilities you will also have to attend to that day, you will find yourself really buckling down to complete your assignments knowing that you don't have all the time in the world to complete them. It's okay to combine a few of your priorities, such as doing your homework with your friends, but make sure you pay attention to how productive you are. If you work best alone in the library, do work that way. If you do better surrounded by others in a study commons, do work that way. It's all about finding how you work best and sticking to it.
7. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Freshman year is also the first time your mother won't be hovering around you, making sure you're eating enough fruits and vegetables. Although it is sometimes hard to find healthy dining options on campus, and even harder to stick with them once you've found them, try to at least eat one fruit and one vegetable a day. Whether that be a strawberry smoothie or a Caesar salad, make sure you're getting you greens in. It isn't only bout maintaining your physical health; also be sure that your mental health is intact. Take a few moments each day to sit quietly somewhere--under a tree, or in the back of your campus's church--where you can just be by yourself for a little while. You may find it helpful to keep a journal to write your feelings or record big events. If you find you are having a hard time mentally or emotionally, be sure to seek a counseling service on campus or talk to a friend or trusted adult.
8. Keep your head up.
You will most likely encounter plenty of troubles and tribulations throughout your first year at college. Remember that these are normal, and that they may seem magnified because you are not at home and it is the first time your family and friends aren't there to comfort you. Finding new friends, adjusting to a harder workload, dealing with illness, managing relationship struggles, and participating in extracurriculars is extremely difficult the first time you are on your own. It's important to be patient with yourself and push forward despite the number of setbacks you may have encountered. There have been times this year where I have felt that I was at my ultimate low, but it was my friends who helped pick me up and set me straight. Above all, know that even though you are on your own, there are still people surrounding you that will help you up and dust you off.
9. You'll learn so much more.
These reflections are just a few things I've learned this year, but you'll learn so much more and you'll learn it in your own way. Overall, it's best to have an open mind, push yourself to meet new people and try new things, and never forget where you came from. You may not feel as if you have "found" yourself by the end of freshman year-I definitely don't-but that, too takes time. Simply remember to have fun, take care of yourself, and live each day in the present.