Unraveling the college first-year experience

On my greatest learnings and revelations
Unraveling the college first-year experience

Ah, that first-year college experience. It’s all too familiar from the movies: dads in flannels and baseball caps carrying your brown storage boxes into a musty dorm room while cracking bad jokes, that awkward first encounter with a guy or girl in line behind you at the dining hall and “getting lost and being late” on your first day of classes.

With my first year at Case Western Reserve University coming to a close, it’s time for some much-needed reflection. At times, I found myself living amidst one of those cheesy “self-discovery,” “new-chapter-of-your-life” college movies, but more often than not, my first year was a treasure trove of experiences—deep friendships, long dining hall conversations, late night cram sessions, university events and frat parties, too. College has changed me as a person and, in retrospect, there is nothing I would have done differently.

It began with Discover Week, reminiscent of summer camp, as our orientation leaders herded us from place to place during a jam-packed week of activities. Overwhelmed by a tight schedule and the repetitive “What’s your name, major and where are you from?” question, my anticipation for the start of classes was unleashed. Shy and nervous to approach people, I found comfort in the realization that everyone around me was likely feeling the same way, and it is this unspoken awkwardness that formed the basis of our introductions.

As the awkwardness began to wear off and friend groups conglomerated, Leutner Commons morphed from a mere dining hall into a social hangout spot. It’s here I’ve had some of my best, sometimes two-hour long, conversations with my closest friends or people I met mere seconds ago while waiting in line for food. Small talk doesn’t have to be weird. If you go in with the approach of keeping conversation light-hearted and fun, more often than not, you and the person sitting across from you will find each other cracking jokes, laughing and having a good time. One of the best pieces of advice is this: When you meet a person, have the goal of learning something unique about them. In no time, you will find yourself listening to parts of their family history, their quirky passion or their hometown neighborhood. I realized then that you don’t have to attempt to solve the world’s greatest societal issues for a deep talk with somebody—learning about their values, motivations or upbringing unfurls an intriguing conversational adventure.

Building a life outside of academics has by far been the most rewarding part of my first-year experience. Attending classes naturally forms the cornerstone of my college life, but I’ve learned that non-stop studying isn’t always necessary to achieve successful results. Nor is a low test grade or missed points on a homework assignment the “end-all-be-all.” Instead, I’ve started to prioritize spontaneity: a bike ride down to Lake Eerie with a friend or a concert at Severance Hall—reassuring myself with the knowledge that whatever homework still awaits me will get done. That spur-of-the-moment attitude has led me to the most memorable experiences here at CWRU. But we don’t even need to go beyond campus to have a good time. Campus events are seemingly infinite, and there is likely a club for whatever passion you may want to pursue. For me, club soccer has not only become a way to balance schoolwork, but to meet upper-class students, connections that may prove beneficial throughout my college journey.

What’s more, it’s here at college that I’ve formed my deepest friendships, people I enjoy spending time with, from those light-hearted, quirky moments at the dining hall to deep evening dorm room chats. Never is there a dull moment, and something in my gut tells me that these are the friendships that will persist long beyond my college years. If there’s something else I’ve learned, it’s that those gut feelings aren’t deceiving.

Yet in all the hustle and bustle of campus life, I’ve realized there is nothing wrong with being alone at times either. In fact, we all need those lazy, “staying-in” weekends to recharge our social battery—being around people all the time can be draining.

Ultimately, as I ruminate on my experiences this past year, I believe the biggest thing I’ve learned is that your college experience is what you make it: the people you choose to surround yourself with, the activities you choose to engage in, the attitude you choose to approach every day with. College is your blank canvas, and it’s up to you to create, splash some color on and breathe life into it. If you get up every day looking forward to something, no matter how small—dinner with friends, a fun event, meeting somebody new—you will have a more exciting experience. We are the captains of our own ships, and the possibilities of where we can take our journey are near-endless. To the years to come.

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