Hey, amis 🙂 It’s been entirely too long since my last post. Now that school is almost over, I’ll hopefully be posting on a much more regular basis in the coming months, with scheduled times for personal essays, recs, and more. I did actually have another post in the works for earlier this month, but it’s taking a bit longer to untangle in my head than I originally planned. So hopefully that one will be the post after this~
Speaking of school…. school is not just almost over for the semester for me It’s, like, over over (?!?!) Yep. I’m graduating. [cue Wilhelm scream]. Which brings me to the topic of today’s post: seven pieces of advice for anyone starting college in the near-ish future (or even just embarking on any new kind of adventure in their lives). We’re gonna veer into some pretty cliché territory today, but I’m just going to go with it. Hopefully you guys will join me 🙂 So without further ado…
(1) Know how big your new school (and/or city) is before you get there.
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s something I definitely underestimated as a high school junior looking at different schools. My school is a BIG state university. Like, the-size-of-a-small-city-big. For reference, I’m a pretty quiet person. I’m not fantastically social, and I can get easily overwhelmed by big places. In my enthusiasm for the school’s other qualities, I told people who brought up my school’s size that I wasn’t going there « to make friends with everyone.” (Which sounded less ridiculous in person, I promise). I did end up being overwhelmed my first few weeks, but I grew into it, and had known before I got there at least a little bit of what I was getting myself into.
As someone who’s comfortable with quieter surroundings, I didn’t want to go to school in a big bustling city, so I chose a school that although huge, is next to a small town. It’s balanced out well. It’s more than okay to force yourself into a new environment if that’s what you want to do. I could have totally gone the opposite way and went to school in a place like Philly or New York City. That would have been even more of an adventure. But just check before you commit, so you can make that decision knowingly.
(2) Be your own advocate.
When you go to a school that’s big like mine, it can feel a lot like you’re a little house pet goldfish that suddenly got dumped in the ocean. You learn quickly that you have to be the one to advocate for yourself, which is something that is valuable to learn in any situation, anywhere. You have to find the information you need. You make your own phone calls, schedule your own advising meetings to make sure you get the classes you need for your requirements, and find fun events on and off campus for the weekends. All the resources are there for you, which is wonderful, but you must seek them out. This skill is just part of growing up, and even though it might have been scary at times, I’m glad my school forced me to jump in feet-first, and learn it quickly.
(3) Health(y)(ier) eating.
I will be the first to admit that I do not always eat very heathily. I have been known to polish off a pint of ice cream in one sitting. I will always love Dr. Pepper, which is essentially perfumed and carbonated floor polish. But I do know that the times when I do carve out space in my schedule to eat healthier are when I feel the best-equipped to take on all of my tasks and responsibilites. First semester freshman year, I had problems with disordered eating. I missed home like crazy, and being sad and overwhelmed sometimes translated into not wanting to leave my room to eat. I’m not going to go into much more detail about that, since I don’t have anything well-planned to say about it. It never got more serious for me, but if you do find yourself in a mental health crisis or emergency, please reach out to family or friends, contact your doctor or mental health care provider, campus mental health services, your local crisis center, or your nearest emergency room/call 911.
I only bring this up to stress the importance of keeping yourself fed to the best of your abilities. If you can, and if you have one, try to keep your fridge or mini-fridge stocked with some basics – stuff for sandwiches, and some snacks like hummus and crackers, fruit, yoghurt, or veggie sticks. These can help you during the times you need to eat on the go, or want to study without leaving to go to the dining hall. However, blocking out time to go get food and taking time to sit and eat is also a really good way of breaking up study time and giving you a chance to clear your head. I say this from experience – go to the dining hall, or go out and buy food. You have to force yourself to do it. If you want/don’t already have company, text a friend or friends and ask them to come with you. And stay hydrated – carry around a refillable water bottle, use water fountains, the dining hall, or vending machines. However you do it, drinking water helps keep you up and running, and can help ward off headaches too.
(4) Get into a routine.
Schedules that vary from day to day can be tough for trying to develop a routine. However, having some consistent markers throughout the day can give a comforting and helpful structure – maybe you get up and go to breakfast before your 10am class, or head to the library and study between classes. It can also be a really good thing to have a ‘lights off’ time with your roommates. Last semester my roommates and I all had very demanding schedules, so we decided that 11 o’clock would be lights out time, and we would all try and be quiet for those who decided to go to sleep. Before that, I lived alone and often found myself staying up much later than I probably should have. Having that quiet time meant that my body started easing into bedtime earlier, and I had less of a hard time falling asleep. Now, this current semester, I’m trying to put my phone away at least a half-hour before bed, so that my brain isn’t woken up by the bright light of the screen. It’s been hard, I won’t lie, but it’s really one of the most basic things you can and should be doing for the quality of your night’s sleep.
Routines can also apply to self-care, a vital part of keeping centered in what can seem like the busiest times of your life. These are ways that you take care of yourself and keep a pulse on your own mental state as you navigate all the fun things like homework, lectures, and exams. Maybe it’s a favorite tea that you make before starting your reading, or a favorite TV show, or writing in a journal. Keeping your grades up is important, but not at the price of your mental health. Check in with yourself. Treat yourself like you would your best friend. Every once in a while, splurge on that fancy shampoo, or organic chai, or a new book that isn’t a required text. Make “ordinary” days special, just because you want them to be.
Keep your eyes wide open to the world around you. Read, read, read. Stay informed. Write down new books you hear about and maybe check them out of the library. Take advantage of the access to materials and resources that having a college or university library gives you. Seek out new music. As much as your schedule and program allow, take classes just because the description interests or intrigues you. Although they get a bad rap, gen-eds can sometimes be the catalyst for this. The classes that aren’t a part of your actual major can prove to be rich in inspiration, as well as information. I’m a history major, but I’ve taken classes in literature, statistics, astronomy, film, translation, and languages, all of which have actually deepened my skills and knowledge as a history major, learning how to absorb, synthesize, and analyze information.
I’ll make my case here too, although I’ll try and keep it brief, that everyone, no matter what their major, should take a class on translation, and/or on a language that’s totally unfamiliar to them. These classes can illuminate aspects of communication and human interaction that we often take for granted, opening our eyes and forcing us to reevaluate biases. Speaking in a foreign language forces you to break your thoughts down to their most basic forms, a dose of humility that’s sorely needed among many today. This is also another great reason to study abroad, if you’re able. I could make a whole post on that alone (and probably will), but I’ll save my enthusiasm/preachiness on that for later 🙂
(6) Create a record.
Maybe it’s just the history major in me talking, but I am all about documentation. Take pictures. Keep a journal. Don’t worry if it’s perfect. Fight against the perfection gremlins as hard as you can. I’m 100% in support of capturing the little moments, and sharing them if you want to. Basically, don’t be ashamed to use your Instagram! Or whatever tools you use. There can be so many sweet moments of connection. Forget the people who say that no one cares about your plate of fruit or your afternoon walk or your new shoes. Even if it’s just your morning coffee, if taking a picture of it for your friends makes you happy, then do it. You’re not being selfish.
(7) Speak up.
When you look back on your years in college, you’re probably going to have some regrets. I wish I’d gone to more campus events, and talked with my professors more. The goal is to have as few regrets as possible. Say yes to things. Speak up. It sounds cheesy, but speak up. I know from experience how much harder that is to do than to say, believe me, but try to speak up if you can. Volunteer an answer or opinion in class. It doesn’t have to just be with your voice. Find causes you’re passionate about and give what you have to them. Know when to pass the mic. Give someone a compliment. Remind the people you’re closest to that you love them. If you’re feeling really brave, tell someone how you feel about them. You’ll never know what’ll happen if you don’t try. Life will always, always, always surprise you. Be open to those surprises. Don’t tell yourself that something will never happen just because there’s a little voice in the back of your head telling you it won’t. Plant your feet in the present. Be there with an open heart.
“We will never be the same again. But here’s a little secret for you – no one is ever the same thing again after anything. You are never the same twice, and much of your unhappiness comes from trying to pretend that you are. Accept that you are different each day, and do so joyfully, recognizing it for the gift it is. Work within the desires and goals of the person you are currently, until you aren’t that person anymore, and everything changes once again.” Cecil, Welcome to Night Vale, Episode 75