Pinal-Alfaro: Suggestions for a better semester

As the fleeting days of break gave way to the inevitable return to campus, I became increasingly anxious about returning to school. I was excited to meet up with friends and enjoy the second semester of my freshman year. However, I was wary of the increased coursework, inevitable late nights and the brisk Cleveland weather (alien compared to my native California sunshine).
However comfortable I was at home, though, I was still optimistic about returning back to campus.
Reconnecting with family and friends over winter break reminded me of the importance of being present for, and of genuinely caring for, one another. Back home, I was around my family on weekday evenings. I may have been around my friends during the school day and on the weekends.
At college my friends are around me all the time, so much so that the friends that I build the strongest ties with and spend the most time with become a new family. It this environment of constant contact, which we have never had before, that distinguishes our college experience. We have a responsibility to ourselves to build relationships with our friends to be meaningful through genuine care and respect for each other.
Now, I am by no means an expert on how to build relationships or keep friendships thriving; far from it. However, I do have three suggestions that I have found to be helpful in my one semester of college that I will share with you.
The first, and in my opinion the most important suggestion that I have, is to be present to others. Hanging out with friends? Good. Pulling out your phone in the midst of your hangout and ignoring your friend because you are messaging other people that are not even there? Not so much. Like many of us, I will admit that I have fallen into this trap multiple times. Unless we begin to attempt to resist the urge to reach for our phones every time we receive a notification, we will not be giving our best selves to the people that we are physically around, hindering our ability to form more than superficial relationships. Put the phone away and try talking to your friends face to face.
The second suggestion that I have is to be more relaxed. Yes, we go to Case Western Reserve University. Yes, we have copious amounts of work to complete. And yes, we are undoubtedly busy people. However, worrying often makes our situations worse and serves no benefit to us. By choosing to remain calm and relaxed in stressful times through breathing deeply and seeking help from our friends or colleagues, we can live more peaceful and successful lives.
The final suggestion that I have for you is to be courageous. Obviously, this suggestion is open to interpretation. This may mean joining a club that you are interested in, talking to someone new at lunch, or deciding to go out instead of staying in.
Ultimately, life is what you make of it, and so is college. So go out there and live your best life with the intention of being present to others, remaining relaxed in stressful situations and choosing to be courageous enough to make your life what you desire it to be.

Yoshmar Pinal-Alfaro is a first-year biomedical engineering student. When not procrastinating on his SAGES homework, he can be found running in very short shorts.