Freshman Year: On Growing and Learning to "Adult"
“If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience...I will dispense this advice now…” —Baz Luhrmann
College (and I can’t stress this enough), will be difficult no matter where you go—and it will be more challenging than you expect. We all believe the age-old tale from our high schools that they were “so challenging that our students breezed through college,” but this is simply not the case. Don’t get me wrong, my high school put me far beyond my classmates in terms of actual academic work—like studying, general knowledge/depth of history, and writing skills—among other things. But what no high school can prepare you for: the abruptness of adulthood after you leave the nest. I’ve considered myself to be independent all my life, but the naivety that blinds us in youth leads us to believe that being independent in high school translates into real life.
Although I’ve only spent a year away from home, I can assure you that even though you may feel independent, you aren’t—yet. It was a jarring transition, to say the least, but I don’t regret any of my decisions either. I traveled to the other side of the country, and there is no family to support me on the East Coast. This is not to be taken the wrong way; obviously, my family still supports me, but there is no way they can be hands-on from the other side of the country. That’s another thing, we don’t know how lucky we are to have parents who supported us in unspeakable ways in high school. Things like laundry, grocery and toiletry shopping, and the notorious cleaning of your bedroom (which is now your room, living space, kitchen, and office—so even more important for it to be tidy). It’s a very different kind of independence to have to be completely responsible for yourself and keeping your life in order.
Freshman year, I made an innumerable amount of mistakes, but I have also learned a lot of priceless lessons. Personally, I think my experiences at school were probably noticeably different from my peers because I chose to attend NYU. More so than any other school, I would say that this experience has definitely prepared me for the adult world because of its lack of insulation; I am not on a campus enclosed by iron gates and separate from the rest of the world—I am in the hustle and bustle of a relentless, urban city, but that makes it even better. As the infamous Holly Golightly says, “I love New York, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because I belong to it.” I love the constant variety of life in New York; you never know what to expect, but you certainly won’t be disappointed.
One important thing I learned was to trust my instincts more; usually, your first instinct about something is right. Moreover, it helps you to put your life in your own hands because at the end of the day, you’re the only one responsible. This applies to social issues as well as school, as that intuition has helped me with both. Another thing: you may not have had to meet with your teachers in high school, but meet with your professors, period. First of all, if you need help, they have always clarified questions I had about the lectures, labs, or other coursework. Secondly, they are way more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt in the future in regard to work that you perhaps turn in late, or if your grade is on the brink. Once you distinguish yourself from the masses of a 200-person lecture, which I guarantee not many people do, a plethora of opportunities may come. I have gotten research opportunities, sponsorship to conduct research, extensions, and more; nothing bad (for the most part) can happen from meeting with either your TA or your professor.
Another thing I wish I had known was to be more outgoing because you never know who you’ll meet or who you’re likely to be friends with at the beginning. Maybe you become friends with the girl who sits next to you in lecture, or you strike a conversation in line at a dining hall, you never know. There were certain instances where I unintentionally isolated myself. For example, going everywhere with headphones on immediately makes you less approachable; I walk everywhere with my Beats on, and I even keep them on when I’m in school buildings. Something I would change is either taking them off altogether or at least having one side off when I’m in spaces with lots of people, especially at the beginning when everyone was getting adjusted.
Then, there is setting up your room. As far as that goes, I’m so glad I set it up the way I did. I only brought my clothes when I went left home to go to school and bought the other appliances/containers when I arrived. I promise you nothing is worth spending an abundance of money to ship, and you will not need that shower caddy or those drawers until you get there. I made so many amazing memories my freshman year, but the most important thing to remember is to find your happy medium. You have to learn to manage when you’re not doing enough work and when you’re doing too much. You should still be your top priority, and when I say that, I mean not only future decisions but present decisions as well. If you’re tired, sleep! If you’re hungry, eat! Those seem like things that don’t need to be said, but trust me, it will resonate with you at some point in the year. If you’re not in good health, the quality of your work will certainly reflect it. Staying up all night to finish a paper will most definitely result in points off for silly mistakes that you could’ve caught if the sun wasn’t peeking over the buildings into your room. I can guarantee you it’s been better for me to go to bed instead of staying up all night to finish something; even though I’m terrible at getting up in the morning, I’ll get up if I have something important due.
“Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing Bubblegum.” —Baz Luhrmann
Although I knew what I intended to major in and have stuck with it thus far, most people don’t know what they’re going to study yet. I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to minor in when I started, but after taking a couple classes, I had a much better idea. The best thing you can do for yourself is to take a class just because you’re interested in it because you might discover something new about yourself. I definitely would consider myself a risk taker, but more of the calculating sort. College is a place to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. In retrospect, I wish I had taken this advice earlier.
Taking risks has only offered me good things, and you also know yourself much better than you think you do if you take them as well. As I previously said, follow your gut, it will rarely fail you. Make smart choices about your classes, but the beginning is the best time to experiment. There’s no reason to worry about declaring a major or attending graduate school when you first arrive at college; I find myself doing this sometimes and still have to remind myself that there’s still time.
Another important thing about the future: talk to your advisors. If you’re honest with them about opportunities you’re interested in taking (i.e. studying abroad, maybe an ambitious class, etc.) and problems you’re having, they can help you a lot more. I set up an appointment with my advisor about an issue I was having in a class and by the conclusion of my 20-minute meeting, I had devised a plan of action. The future shouldn’t be something to worry about as long as you’re being responsible about it.
“Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth. But trust me on the sunscreen.” —Baz Luhrmann
The quotes from Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen” are thanks to my mother; she used to play us the song, but the words resonate infinitely more now than they did as a little girl. Most importantly, “don’t be so hard on yourself,”—another thing my mother likes to tell me. I have learned so much and grown exponentially in the past year, and we have to give ourselves credit. We can still hold ourselves accountable for our actions, but if you feel yourself growing and prospering,pat yourself on the back. It’s so often conflated with not acknowledging mistakes and even excusing them, but there’s a difference. We’re only human, and we’re going to make mistakes sometimes, but if you take every “oops” as an opportunity for growth, that’s when you know you’re truly starting to understand what it means to “adult.” Also, I have so many unforgettable memories and people from my freshman year—so don’t forget to enjoy it! You only get to be a freshman once, so make sure you do all the freshman things and that you explore the city you go to school in. I can’t tell you how many of my friends have never been to The Met or Soho when we live in a global hub of art and culture. The world is such a beautiful place, and it helps ease the pressure to stop and smell the roses sometimes. Go for a walk, visit a museum, or watch the sun set. As someone wise once told me, “don’t wish your life away.” I don’t wish to be any older or younger than I am now: on the cusp of adulthood and consistently on the brink of achieving my dreams—small and big.