By Amber Jones
When I tell the story of my first year in college, I feel like I surprise people with my commentary on it. Okay, maybe not surprise…but maybe “intrigue,” for lack of better words. When I tell friends that I made post-first year about how I got involved as soon as possible, how I maintained a GPA over a 3.8, etc., they nod their head like “Of course.” But when I tell them about how I went out almost every weekend my first semester, how I had personal issues up to the brim, and how I did not feel very positive about myself at all, they start to get that look on their face like, “…really?”
To be honest, my first year at the U was a prime example of: 1) moving away from home and not knowing how to act, 2) undergoing changes that I did not expect, 3) wrestling with the person I knew before leaving Chicago and the person I was becoming in Minnesota, and 4) allowing other people to control how I felt about myself. I was (and still am) a stellar student and a passionate & active emerging leader, but inside, I was crumbling slowly. My relationships from before I moved to Chicago were falling apart at the seams–relationships I thought would last forever. I started to question just how valuable I was to the people around me. I was confused who I should confide in; I lost most of the people I trusted from back home and I was just getting to know my friends in Minnesota, so there were many times where I cried alone in my room about my issues.
For me, the worst part was losing touch with my faith. I came from an environment and mindset that was very stable in my faith, and moving to a place where I had to rebuild my faith community in the midst of chaos was excruciatingly difficult. This was the first time I had to take responsibility for myself in all sectors of my life, and I failed miserably my first year.
I say all of this to say that my first year in college informs me greatly on the advice I would give women students entering their first year in college: stop acting like you will have it all together because there will be times where you will not. Let me elaborate:
- College is not just about figuring out the career you desire, but it also about figuring out the woman you want to become.
For 18 years more or less, you were largely living the life others desired for you to live. Yes, you may have rebelled, and yes, your family may be more liberal than others, but you were essentially still making decisions based on the parameters they set. Something simple as when you can get a ride home, when you can drive your parent’s car, is dependent on others. And it seeps down deep into your character as well. Your loved ones provide a framework for you to decide how to function. That doesn’t happen in college. You may have been the girl that was like me; I didn’t like to party. My first year, however, with that freedom, I balled out. And it’s the little decisions that build up into what your character becomes. Nowadays, you barely catch me wildin’ out because it doesn’t fit who I am and what I want to become. So be conscious of the decisions you make and how they lead up to the woman you are becoming.
- PLEASE do not keep your troubles within yourself.
There ARE people in college that are committed to your holistic success. Those people are faculty, staff, older students that make that aim visible, and even your friends in your year. Granted, you will have a large group of friends that will not last to graduation, but you will most likely have those few are down for the long haul. Utilize them and let them utilize you. This college thing cannot be completed on your own. You need people.
- Do what you need to go to get stable ASAP.Are you spiritual? Find your faith community. You exercise? Set your schedule up to make that happen. Hopefully, you know what calms you and centers you. Make sure you organize your life to make time for it. It is a top priority because it deals directly with your self-care. So make it happen, cap’n.
- Maintain your relationships from pre-college.
While the majority of U students are from Minnesota, there are a group of us that are not from the state, so this becomes especially difficult. The people in your life from before college know you in a way that will help you through the changes. Do not be afraid of them rejecting you. People change. It happens all the time. If you’re not changing, it’s a problem. But they will tell you if the changes are not beneficial for your trajectory. And this is the time where you will truly notice who is here for the long haul. Don’t let it fall apart.
Your personal life is just as important as your academic life. Without it in tact, it will spill into everything else. So make it a top priority, but realize that there is always someone around to help you. We aren’t built to do this life thang alone. 😉