There are a lot of expectations that precede your first year of college. I had visions of myself sitting in lecture halls, never nervous or unsure. I thought I would step foot on campus and magically do everything right.
As with most things, reality turned out to be a little rockier than my daydreams.
If I could tell myself one thing freshman year, I would say become OK with making mistakes. There is no right path through college — no club that is going to work for everyone, no event that is a must-attend or study plan that fits everyone’s needs. The only constant in college, and in life, is that you are, at some point, going to get it wrong. And that’s OK.
My freshman year of college I tried too hard on some things and didn’t try hard enough on others. Aced a test and didn’t study hard enough on the next one. I remembered to practice for my exam but went to the wrong building on finals day and had to run across campus to breathlessly recite my Italian final ten minutes late. At the time, I was pretty sure my life was over. Now, I laugh about it and know to double check my exam locations.
I spent so long fretting over my mistakes freshman year that I overlooked everything I had done right to focus on the one thing I had gotten wrong. You have to learn to take it all in stride; roll with the punches. When I started taking what I did wrong as a learning opportunity, things became a little less apocalyptic when I messed up. I stopped the mantra of “that was wrong” to ask instead, “What happened? What do I need to do next time so that it goes the way I want?”
Mistakes themselves are not character defining events, but how you handle them are. It’s OK to answer a question wrong in class, but don’t let any embarrassment over the mistake stop you from raising your hand again. Take a deep breath, try again. It’s going to be OK.
Life is funny in that as children, we’re in such a rush to grow up. But as I enter my senior year, I can’t help but reminisce about my early years in college and ponder the opportunities I’ve missed and the mistakes I’ve made. So for prospective and incoming freshmen, here’s some solid advice for a great time in college.
DO join clubs and attend social events. I remember feeling overwhelmed when I first came to UCSB due to the sheer number of people and clubs to join. I wanted to simultaneously try everything and hide away in my dorm room. In retrospect, I do regret not breaking out of my shell earlier on. You’re only in college for a few years. The experiences to be had are plentiful and will last you a lifetime. Take advantage of that.
DON’T take yourself too seriously. I’m not saying it’s bad to be focused, but I took myself way too seriously in my freshman year. I was a perfectionist and sought to get top scores in all of my classes until I burned out. The hard part is over. You got in. Explore some fun classes and go to the beach with friends. It’ll benefit your mental health.
Be patient with yourself. You WILL find your passion in college, I promise. And when you do, aspire to be excellent at it. It took me nearly two years to find my passion, and as soon as I did, I switched my major and took advantage of all the opportunities available to me. Your passion will be something worth pouring your heart and soul into.
More than anything, be yourself. Be authentic, nerd out on your hobbies, engage in new topics and explore new places on your own. It makes you more attractive, and people will feel that.
There’s definitely more to be said, but those are my top four pieces of advice. College can feel daunting, but it truly is an amazing place where we find ourselves. I definitely have.
If leaving your friends behind, adjusting to a foreign way of learning and confronting your newfound fears did not already account for a challenging freshman experience, then moving countries and having to adjust to an entirely new culture does not make it any easier. But the thrill of getting to start afresh in a different country with some novel independence certainly does soften the blow.
Being an international student can be a double-edged sword. While you enjoy the privilege of moving to an entirely alien country and exploring its culture, the homesickness, internalized complexes of most natives from supposed third-world countries and the constant pressure of keeping up with your parent’s expectations kick in.
Though it’s fine to be confused and feel out of place, don’t start getting comfortable with it. Push yourself to talk to more people, explore the beaches of Goleta, challenge yourself to try new things and let the surroundings change you for the better.
On days that you are extremely homesick, treat yourself to an overpriced meal from your native cuisine at a restaurant downtown and on those when you’re being weighed down by your parents’ inadvertent nagging, remind yourself that even the people who love you might not get your struggles and that is alright. The only thing that is not alright is you not being kind and patient with yourself on such days.
Oftentimes you would be humbled by your thick native accent not being understood in class or casual conversations, but remember that the intonation of your voice is not a confession of your merit.
Give these years the chance to be the best time of your life and just party hard, study harder and cut yourself some slack. The rest will automatically fall into place.