Rose, Thorn, Bud
Well, Christmas is over. As I lay in my bed, struck with food paralysis from too much honey-baked ham, I began to indulge myself in memories of the bumpy ride of my first semester at Vandy. I was also looking forward to a new and possibly smoother ride next semester, now that I’m starting to get the hang of things.
I recently participated in AWB, Alternative Winter Break, a week-long trip committed to service for the first week of winter break. Every night before we went to bed, we’d participate in a reflection exercise called, “Rose, Thorn, Bud.” It’s basically recalling your highs, lows, and future excitements of the day. Since some who read this want to know how life might be like at Vandy, I thought I’d take this approach as I reviewed my biggest points of my first semester here, both as an undergrad and as a transfer.
1. Rose (Highs)
- The mind-blowing academics. Mind you, this goes way beyond the “Top 20 school” cliche. I’ve always heard skeptics rant on about how there’s no proof that schools like Vanderbilt are actually more difficult academically. As someone who’s been in both a regional state school and Vandy, let me tell you: there’s a clear difference. Granted, I’m just one case, and I don’t doubt there are many many schools that aren’t as highly ranked as Vandy that might be just as hard, if not harder. I, however, was not ready for the rigor my first semester. The academics hit me harder than Thor giving me a back blow with his hammer. I was so used to not trying my absolute hardest to get good grades, and I paid the price. But I loved it. My mind is growing, thanks to the challenge. I feel the neurons being fired and warmed up every single day, and I feel alive.
- The people. Some made me laugh heartily at their witty jokes;others made me cry at their sheer vulnerability behind closed doors. Some made me see the world more clearly with ingenious simplicity; others blurred the lines with the world’s complexity. Some made me feel like a fellow genius; others made me feel like an idiot who questioned how I got accepted here. Every day I hear people talking about academics and the world at large, and what I hear inspires me. I sit back and let them unfold their minds right before me, and what I hear are brilliant minds and beautiful people, emotionally and physically (seriously. For a Top 20 school, the students here aren’t bad at all!).
- The community. Coming from a commuter school, the on-campus community is amazing. Most students live on campus, so I have access to my friends at any time of day (except after midnight. Then all I have access to are wolves who howl at me for waking them up). Not to mention most of the programs and club meetings take place at night on campus, and when we adjourn for the day, nobody strays too far off. Just knowing that I have my friends within arm’s length 14/7 (as opposed to 24/7) makes Vandy feel so much more intimate and cozier than my previous college.
2. Thorn (Lows)
- The difficulty. Don’t get me wrong; the academics are stimulating and my brain is exercising its behind off, but coming from a relatively easier school, the difficulty caught me off guard. I had to see grades I never saw before in my life — sometimes with extensive studying. I definitely questioned my intelligence and wondered if I really was a good student or if I would ever succeed in this place. I had to readjust my study habits over and over again until I found one technique that was right for me. I had to swallow my pride and confront professors during their office hours, admitting that I needed help at times.
- New friends. Vanderbilt’s very good at fostering close communities among freshmen, but we transfers are left to fend for ourselves without the comforts of Commons—like Katniss without her previous hunting skills. I missed my friends from my old college dearly. It took me months to forge those close ties, and I was looking to months of reforging ties with strangers. Transfers are exactly like freshmen, but we don’t have the benefit of having our hand held when it comes to making new friends. In fact, I was so anxious about making friends that I prioritized being a social butterfly for my first 2 weeks of school—at the cost of my grades. The biggest challenge is re-establishing that balance between work and friends, and I’ve been given a whole new scale.
3. Bud (Excitement in the Future)
- New friends. Once you have established those connections, however, everything falls into place. You can finally focus on balancing work and friends instead of shifting between them. I love the friends I’ve made, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store with my new peers.
- Academic Opportunities. Tis the season for summer internships and research positions. Tis the season for a new beginning and leaving this past semester behind with a fresh start. Now that I’ve gotten one semester under my belt, I can finally focus on balancing vs. shifting between friends and work. I’m nothing but optimistic about improving my grades, and I’m giddy about these opportunities of spending my summer productively for medical school.
- New classes. This past semester was mostly filled with pre-med coursework. Next semester, I’ll be spreading my wings in five different disciplines: Bio 2, Organic Chemistry 2, Art History, Theater, and Latin. I transferred from my STEM-heavy old school to have a much more well-rounded, liberal arts education, and that’s exactly what I’m going to get. I’ll make sure of it!