Posted by Alisha Newton on Thursday, August 28, 2014
As the first couple of weeks of my sophomore year at Vanderbilt have progressed, I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences and similarities to my first year. For example, last year, the entire first week of classes was like navigating a maze with no cheese at the end, only the embarrassment and confusion of arriving late. Finding someone with whom to share a meal was like searching for the friendly needle in a stack of unfamiliar hay. Even the simplest things, like picking up mail or printing a document, could be challenging in this strange new world. I could keep going with the painful analogies, but I’m sure anyone who is or has ever been a college student can relate.
The most apt summary I can give is that I can see a lot of personal growth in myself since a year ago. The academic anxiety, the social anxiety––so much of it has faded away. By the end of the first semester, I had a dependable circle of friends, I’d developed a mental map of campus, and I could otherwise function like a normal human being.
Dear prospective students, I’m going to be honest with you: This isn’t just a Vanderbilt thing, even though you’re reading it on a Vanderbilt website. This transition to college is probably going to be tough, no matter which university you attend, and I’m here to tell you that it gets better.
So, how does it get better? Some of it is pure trial and error, but there are some things that I feel so fortunate to have stumbled across in my attempt to survive the first year of college. The short list: upperclassmen mentors, trusted professors, a therapist at the PCC, and the similar-minded people I met through student organizations like SPEAR and WilSkills. You’ll notice these are all people, and through interactions with these people, I gained excellent advice, confidence in myself, and places where I could feel that I belonged.
That is, of course, a simplified version of how things happened. Everyone has plenty of stories from their first year: it is a time of exploring new things, growing as a person and as a student, meeting dozens upon dozens of new people, and to be honest, making mistakes.
I expected an upward trend. Practically since the spring semester ended, I’ve been looking forward to this school year. Even the most basic thing, housing, was beyond exciting to me, since I’m living in Moore, one of the new College Halls. Months before school started, I was prepared with furnishings, wall art, and even floor plans with the room numbers of my fellow College Halls residents. I found joy in anticipating the smallest things: watering my succulents, sorting the recycling, drying clothes on a bamboo rack.
I also tried to prepare myself mentally and emotionally. I imagined scenes of what my friends and I would do this year, planning and scheduling and hoping. I thought about how to manage stress and maintain my GPA. I changed my schedule at least four times in trying to make the ideal schedule (which, for me, is keeping MWF classes to a minimum and balancing reading/writing/discussion-based classes with notes/exams/lecture-based classes). And by the time those classes started, I was ready to tackle everything––ready to have piles of books on my desk and notebooks covered in fresh ink.
So far, it has been practically a dream come true. First and foremost, there are friends. In fact, during the days leading up to the first day of classes, it was almost like Camp Vandy! I moved in six days early, so breakfast, lunch, and dinner were for catching up with friends. Every hour in between was for decorating my dorm room or making those last-minute school-supply purchases. It was perfect. When school started, schedules became tighter, of course, but still friends are there whenever I need them, and new friends are always to be found.
Second, I actually really love my classes this semester. It’s a mélange of cognitive studies and communication of science: EES 101. Dynamic Earth, PHIL 256. Philosophy of Mind, PSY 225. Cognitive Psychology, CSET 201. Introduction to Communication of Science, and ENG 274. James Joyce’s Ulysses (which is purely an elective). My professors are phenomenal, my classmates are attentive, and the homework is not bad (yet).
Third, I’m actually achieving my goal of balancing sleep, exercise, studying, extracurricular pursuits, and hanging out with friends. Is it even possible? I wondered in the past––I’m finding that maybe it is, with 15 credit hours in humanities classes. We’ll see if that changes as the semester’s activities heat up, but I’m holding on to hope.
Fourth, I can see Kirkland Hall’s iconic clock-tower from the window in the women’s bathroom on my hall! I mean, how cool is that. I think it’s pretty cool.
Of course, there are always challenges and difficulties, and I’m not claiming to have the perfect friends or classes or life. But I just wanted to share some of what things have been like since I drove from North Carolina to Nashville two weeks ago.
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