After The First Semester: A Few Lessons Learned

By: Meret Pavlina

Before arriving at Southwestern for the fall semester of my first year, I dealt with massive anxiety about what awaited me in college. Would I be able to succeed in classes? Would I make friends with ease, or would I just set a precedent for four years of being on my own? I harbored a whole lot of preconceptions, fears, and hopes about the nature of being in college and, I’m happy to tell you, I was almost completely wrong. About almost everything.

I have a long way to go before I can call myself a functional adult, but I’m proud to say I’m on the road to at least being a functional college student, and that’s a start. So here are a few lessons I learned over the course of the last semester.

  1. Don’t believe everything you hear. Our school is often called “Mouthwestern” for a reason and, admittedly, some of the rumors circulating around campus are true, but many are totally warped or downright fictitious. Obviously, it’s a good idea to be somewhat cautious when dealing with people you don’t know, but if I had believe every piece of gossip I heard over the course of my first semester, I would never have given a chance to some people I am very glad to have met.
  2. Take more notes than you think you need. Even if it’s boring, or the professor has covered it before. You won’t remember it on your own, so don’t lie to yourself, and write it down.
  3. Always remember it’s not high school. In my experience, the high school social structure pressures individuals to blend into groups with concrete identities. These categorizations kept us from realizing the value of our own singularity. One of the things that originally attracted me to Southwestern was its encouragement of individuality, and the resulting rich texture of personalities and viewpoints.
  4. Don’t underestimate doing laundry. It doesn’t have to be doing laundry, it could be making your bed or cleaning out your desk. Sometimes just introducing order to small aspects of your life can make you feel more in control of your life as a whole.
  5. You don’t have to date. Let me repeat that, you don’t have to date. It somewhat surprised me that I didn’t need to date to maintain my social standing. Over the first few weeks of the semester, it seemed–  at least to me—that many of my fellow students were pairing off, making the SU campus resemble some kind of young adult Noah’s Arc. I remember walking to the library and feeling self-conscious about the fact that I was walking with friends, rather than with someone whose hand I could hold. Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to realize a very freeing fact: nobody will think less of you if you’re single.
  6. Professors are people. Your professor-student relationships don’t have to be the hostile, prisoner-jailer dynamic which is too common in public school. They’re on our side, not out to get us. I started out this semester tip-toeing around my professors, praying to the homework-gods, and by Winter Break I was regularly sending my Anthropology professor memes about Karl Marx.
  7. Sleep is your most valuable resource. Don’t get me wrong, the library and the Debbie Ellis Writing Center are extremely helpful when you’re desperate or drowning in research paper citations. If you don’t ever get sleep, you won’t get the grade you pulled those all-nighters for.