I don’t say it often and I don’t think I will ever say it again, but I really love my school. As I finish the last of my finals and say goodbye to my hall and watch my senior friends graduate, I want to scream it at the top of my lungs over and over again: I love my school.
I’ve mentioned it before, but here’s a background on my undergrad college story thus far. I was really bitter coming into my first year because I didn’t get into my first choice, which was something along the lines of UCLA. When it’s your senior year of high school and you’re constantly suffocating in competition, it’s nearly impossible to choose a college without thinking about how you look to others. The ranking, the prestige, the small percentage of applicants they take per year, etc. Everything about looking good and competent is taken into account. Yet – almost none of that stuff actually matters when you start your first year of college. I know it sounds like a cliche cop out for justifying all those rejections, but hear me out.
First of all, the concern with school ranking kind of dissipates as soon as your realize that college can be really freaking hard, and even more freaking expensive. Whether it’s an ivy league, a liberal arts school, a public state school, or community college, education is education, no matter where you get it from. Really.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Fall quarter was a rocky start. Unbelievably rocky. I was in the honors program, which has its perks, but I think joining it was just a way to grasp onto a superior title that validated me. Like I said, the desire for looking good to other people dictated all my decisions. This was one of them. That whole quarter was sort of a blur. I just remember a lot of nights spent crying and wondering if this was the right program for me (spoiler alert: it wasn’t).
The one thing that helped me get through my first quarter was a Filipino-Catholic club. I was so surprised by how well I got along with the people there – not only who they were but what they collectively believed in. It was so surprising for me, in fact, that I would often doubt whether my elated feeling coming home from each weekly meeting was healthy. Like you know that feeling you get when everything’s too good and that there must be something horrible waiting to happen in order to balance everything out? That was me in this club. I’m still waiting for that horrible thing to ensue, but for now, I’ve been sticking with the club ever since. I think this is an important factor in college though, trying out new clubs and seeing if they fit you. I have tried out other organizations – only as much as my timid self would let me step out of my comfort zone – and most of them never really made me stay as much as this church club did. I’m not saying you have to join some sort of religious organization to help you cope with college, but you should be open to trying out different programs, whether they’re sports, greek life, cultural clubs, religious communities, academic programs, dance teams, acapella groups, etc. Having a support system away from home works wonders when you’re trying to adjust! (Even when you think you’re an antisocial introvert, like me. Introverts need friends too.)
I ended up leaving the honors program after fall quarter. Now, I bet a lot of high school students who are used to getting straight A’s, graduating Summa Cum Laude, and in the top 10% of their class are already alternating their perception of me because of this decision. I don’t blame them; that’s what I would have done too! I most definitely fit the description of a giver-upper who can’t keep up with the smart kids, but I think I also had to let go of this superiority complex I had. College is different for a lot of people, but one thing that we have in common is that it’s definitely a “humbling experience” (a loose euphemism that actually refers to the constant shit show we go through, yet would not be anywhere without). For one, getting hit with waves of bad grades was/is something I’m still trying to cope with. Getting an A in high school is probably going to be a lot different that getting an A in college. We learn how to study smarter, not longer. We learn how to utilize office hours, even though the thought of it is terrifying. We learn how to be content with a B or a C, because it’s still passing. (And yes, C’s DO GET DEGREES DAMMIT). Most of all, our attitude tweaks little by little. Gratefulness is suddenly embedded into our daily routine: “I’m grateful I even get to go to school”, “Thank God I don’t have an 8AM”, “I’m so glad I get to come home and visit family this weekend”, etc. We realize that somebody else’s path may not be yours to take. (Hence, the fact that half of my friends are still in the honors program and half of us aren’t). Each small setback no longer knocks us off our feet. We’re bummed for a day, then we move on, because that’s all we could have done. And I think that sums up my first year of college so far: I tried my best, and that’s all I could have done.
I want to tell you how much I regret not putting myself out there more, how much I want to go back and do everything differently, how unaccomplished I feel by the end of the year, but I’m really tired of not giving myself credit for just going through it, you know? In retrospect, I learned to love my school: the professors (tip: take Beauchamp if you have HumCore), my hall, my dear hallmates, the CAMPUS. I really do love the quietness of the campus; all the nature pictures that I add at the end of every post is from somewhere around school. I’ve actually been quite spoiled as freshman. Getting unlimited food, no job, being babied by everyone (although I don’t really like the term “babied” because it implies that we haven’t been growing this whole time. I mean it in a way that everyone is more nice and considerate because they know we’re experiencing all these things for the first time). I can feel the doom approaching again, but that will be something that 2nd-year me has to deal with when the time comes.
If I could give myself one last tip as an incoming freshman, I would say just enjoy the moment, even when it doesn’t seem possible. Take lots of pictures, start a journal, vlog your days, capture memories that will pass in the blink of an eye. The smallest things, whether it’s walking to your class in the morning, or attending a basketball game, or locking yourself in the library overnight to finish a paper, or going to the beach, or going to a party, ALL OF IT are worth remembering. Also, cherish and thank everyone. Thank your professors, your friends, your RA, the workers at the dining hall, God (!!!), your parents, etc. You never know when you’re going to get another chance to do so.
To anyone attending college this fall, I wholeheartedly wish you the best of luck and hope you have a great first year. No matter what anyone says, it’s what you make of it.
[Disclaimer: Even though I learned a lot this year, I still have a lot A LOT A LOT more to learn. Take the tips that you want, leave those that you don’t. By all means, I will gladly admit that I still have no idea what the heck I’m doing, but thank you for reading anyway!]