1. How important it is to take some time to be alone…and also how difficult it can be. Occasionally I went nearly all the way to my mental breaking point before I realized how much nonstop time I had been spending with other people. But when you’re living in such a compact space with a high density of residents, it’s almost impossible. Other people come and go as the please in your bathroom, your bedroom, your lounge and your kitchen and your gym and your study space. You grow to love many of these other people and enjoy spending time with them, but being around people is tiring. Solo night walks became a relaxing pastime for me to clear my thoughts and steal a few moments of quiet. (They’re especially good when a run would be too tiring or stimulating.) When I was particularly stressed, I walked to Clemens Hall and climbed all 10 flights of stairs. Talk about releasing built-up energy. By the time I got to the top floor, I would be so tired that all my worries would seem tiny and far away…and I’d be rewarded with a gorgeous view of the city lights.
2. How nice it feels to be able to make choices. Choices that have actual impacts. On your actual life. From little things such as “what will I do to exercise today?” and “will I do laundry or re-wear this outfit?” (not that I’ve ever done that before…) to the bigger deals like “what classes do I want to take next semester?” and even “what is my plan for life?” It’s totally up to you. Sometimes, the effects of those choices don’t feel very nice (“maybe I should’ve spent more time studying for this quiz” or “maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that” or “maybe I shouldn’t have stayed up so late watching Grey’s Anatomy last night”) but the feeling of independence and control over what you make of your time is rewarding.
3. How to plan. For my seminar this past semester, we had a ten-page research paper for our final project, and it wasn’t like the kind of research paper that the teacher (or professor) would walk you through, saying when you should have each tiny step of the paper done by. We were given a few checkpoints that we had to have our articles chosen and our abstract sent in by, but that was really not much to go on. I was actually proud of how well I planned out the steps of the reading and writing process for myself because I’ve never been made to do that on my own before. It can be things like that, planning projects, or maybe setting up a class schedule that you know will work best for you (something that just barely worked out for me when I tried to set up my fall semester classes). Sometimes, just planning how I’ll get through the end of the week was a struggle, but I learned.
4. Who is important in your life, and the kind of people you want to be surrounded by. At the beginning of the year, I’m pretty sure I mentioned a few times how everyone put on their best self to meet new people and begin to make friends. I’m not going to say that there was any massive drama or back-stabbing going on in my world, but after a while, people get tired of showing off the most perfect version of their personality and you can see other traits. Some that are endearing or make you feel closer to them or make that person more real, but other traits that you might feel like aren’t very constructive for your lifestyle or simply aren’t that enjoyable. You learn who you’re going to avoid, who you’re going to deal with, and who you’re going to embrace as your second family. They say that dating, if for nothing else, makes you aware of the qualities you want or need in a marriage partner, as well as those that will be dealbreakers in your relationships. I would like to add to this that dorm living will also make you aware of which characteristics will end up on the hypothetical “make or break the spouse” list.
5. That my “What You Need To Know To Survive College (Or At Least The First Two Weeks)” list of last August is actually pretty accurate. (Find that one here.) I think that last summer, I was expecting some trick that I’d have to figure out to be able to make it through college “the right way.” But there isn’t really a right way to experience college as long as you do you and you get whatever it is that you want (education, experience, friends, grades, relationships, fun, and whatever else) out of the time you spend there.