What I Learned During My First Semester of College

I printed out my fight confirmation email and set it on my desk in my dorm room, under the shelves lined with a rainbow of book spines alphabetized from Aristophanes to Thucydides. From behind me, the dominating-yet-warm glow of sunset over the Hudson streamed in through my partially-opened dormer window, the only source of light except the dozen decorative, pink hipster bulbs command-hooked to my wall. As I shivered while a breath of winter air blew in and wrapped itself around me, it occurred to me that it was December and soon I would be leaving New York, this time for a while.

My first semester of college passed in a kind of time warp that seemed to go by in the span of a few weeks and at the same time was so distant from my previous high school life that it felt like it was the only world I’d ever known. It was during this time that I grew accustomed to walking through groves of skyscrapers instead of forests, of looking up at night and not being able to see the stars I took for granted before I moved, of talking to my family via phone rather than in person. And when I looked at the confirmation email dictating that I would leave in two weeks, I was overwhelmed by how far I came in a single semester.

I learned that goodbyes are hardest when you don’t know when you’re coming back. I realized how lonely it can feel to be 1400 miles from home. But I learned that I can survive on my own and that the girl who grew up on eighty acres with room to run can handle being confined to one-hundred-twenty-nine square feet of her own space. I discovered I like Greek literature and that Lit Hum is the best class I’ve ever taken because it is teaching me how to really understand literature from an analytical and intellectual perspective. I annotate all my books now, which I didn’t do formerly because I didn’t want to ruin the perfection of the page, and it takes a long time. But it’s worth it.

I realized I did not show up in August academically-equipped to go to this school like most of the other kids around me, and that meant I had to work really hard to catch up. I learned I did not know how to write an academic essay. It was not an even playing-field like I thought it would be, but I wasn’t the only one who was disadvantaged in that area, and I never found a lack of people who were willing to help me. And by learning where my weaknesses were, I was able to start rectifying them. When this semester ends, I will have read eighteen books, seen the New York City Ballet three times, been to all five boroughs, and spent countless hours writing papers.

I celebrated my birthday for the first time without my family, in a new place with new people who I love beyond words. I am so grateful to call them my friends and my floormates. I learned that it is possible to build a family, and that I was incredibly lucky to have been assigned to live in this particular building on this particular floor. I learned that the best excursions and study breaks are the spontaneous ones you share with the people who are important to you, and that eventually we’ll always end up at the fiftieth-street station. I discovered I like bubble tea and that I’m really bad at ice-skating.

This semester was uncontestably the best one of my life, and I learned that sometimes you have to leave what’s comfortable in order to find where you’re supposed to be. I learned I like tall buildings and subways and having access to every kind of food and entertainment known to man. When I looked at the airline confirmation email, I realized coming here was the best decision I ever made.

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