The College Myth

“How’s college? Do you like it?”, asks every person I talk to.

“Yeah I really like it.” Is my usual response.

A true response would take way longer than the time they have and be much more personal than they wanted to know. The true answer is that most of the time it is great. It finally feels normal and I really like my classes and professors. But 15% of the time it straight up sucks. But no one wants to hear that college sucks. And if you are an optimist(like me) or a mathematician( not like me) my off-handed response of “really good” is an accurate average of my time away at school.

It’s widely said that a lot of a person’s personal growth and development happens during their college years. I don’t disagree. In my four months up at school, I know I have grown as an individual immensely.  Just like those growing pains and growth spurts that you had as a kid, but instead these are emotional growth spurts, both of which sometimes hurt a lot.

People also say “Oh you will make lifelong friends in college.” Or my favorite, “The friends you make now will be your bridesmaids later!” No one tells you that for a while you will feel like you have fake friends and half friends. No one tells you that if you go to a place where you don’t know a soul, that sometimes it gets lonely. They never say, “You will start to wonder if you smell funny before you actually feel as though you have a couple solid friends.”

I think this provides many people with a false expectation for what college will be like. For example, fireworks will not go off in the background when you first meet your roommate and you will not be instant best friends. I know that I was not at all aware of the sub-clauses in those general comments everyone makes about college.  I went into college thinking I would totally have it all together by day 10. Be involved, check. Make friends, check. Ace your classes, check. Grow, check. And by grow I do not mean in your waistline from the freshman 15, just to clarify.

Reality check: man was I mistaken. I never realized how much growing hurt. Being away from everyone I knew for close to 70 days, when I can’t think of a single time that I had spent without the presence of a familiar face before going to college, it hurt.  I missed dinner with my family, doing homework and hearing my parents talk as they were preparing dinner, sharing a room with my sister, good morning hugs from my mom, I missed all of home.  I missed the community of my small group, as I doubted that there was actually a single other Christian on the entire campus. I craved having someone with whom a look could be interpreted to speak 1000 words.

In the midst of this pain though, God always appeared. When I needed to meet another Christian on campus just to be reassured that they actually existed, in a totally random moment, I sat down next to one in a lecture. When it turned out that my dad had to fight a fire and couldn’t come to visit, two of my church friends from home to plan a trip to come visit. When I missed the companionship of my home friends, there was a friend waiting for me – I just needed to open my eyes and look around. God was always there in the pain of growing, and with his help I have grown with leaps and bounds.

I was also vastly unprepared for just exactly how long it would take to feel like I had really good friends. Even though I knew I was going somewhere where I wouldn’t know a soul, I thought, “It’s okay. I have already done this once before in high school when I went back to public school after homeschooling” what I failed to realize is that in high school I already knew some people. And they knew some people. So their friends became mutual friends and my friend circle expanded. In college it’s different. There is only one of me. I can only meet so many people and I can only spend quality getting to know you time with an even smaller number of people. I constantly have to remind myself to have grace with myself. Making friends takes a long time. Making best friends, let alone bridesmaid worthy friends, takes even longer. And in that long time, sometimes it gets a little lonely. But it’s okay. Everyone feels like that.

Give yourself grace, is what I have to keep reminding myself. Do you even remember how you made your last best friend? I know I can’t. Actually other than being nice, how does one make friends? I feel like it just happens naturally. Is there a point in time that marks the transition from friends to good friends to best friends? I think it all just takes time. It takes time to create the shared memories and inside jokes that come with a great friendship. It’s okay, friends will come with time. Hang in there.

I wrote this after first semester, and hesitated to put it up because it seemed really pessimistic, and that wasn’t what I wanted to portray-I knew it would get better, it was just slow going. Looking back on what I wrote after a full year under my belt, I still agree with what I was feeling, but I know it also gets better.  Second semester I found my people-friends I knew were friends.  I joined a sorority (though I never dreamed that I would), track season started, I found a home church, a bible study, and I became better friends with the people whom I had met during first semester.  I knew how to juggle school, laundry, feeding myself, and having a social life way better.  After two months of summer, though I am loving home, I miss my friends at school so much I almost wish school would start already just so I could see all my friends again.  Wholeheartedly, I can say that school is great and I am really enjoying it.

Jumping for joy because life is good, school is over, and its finally summer.
Jumping for joy because life is good, school is over, and its finally summer.

In conclusion, a note to all the incoming college freshman-have grace with yourself.  Realize its a big adjustment, and set your expectations accordingly. Have fun, and know that everything gets better after first semester.  And a note to everyone who says, “College is the best time of your life!”-be careful, you might be creating false expectations in a nervous freshman’s mind.  You might not remember the trials of the first couple weeks, because the good times have washed out all of those memories, but more than likely they were there.

I’m not Going to Prepare you for College

old teacher

“I’m not going to prepare you for college.  Even though you are in an AP Senior English class, we will not be focusing on preparing for college” stated my teacher on the first day of school.  He went on to explain that for far too long, teachers have focused so much on the preparation for college that the students never accomplish anything except prepping for college.  We end up spending too much time planning for a future time instead of living in the present.   He talked about how many of his students have had parents pass away before they graduate high school and even the students he has taught who have died before graduation.  Those people are what motivates him to not teach us in preparation for another time in our lives.   We don’t know when it will be our turn to die, so he wants us accomplishing this year not prepping to accomplish.

His philosophy, originally, made me nervous.  I was afraid about being prepared to pass the AP test and being ready for college classes.  But then I stopped to really think about what he was saying and it all made sense.  I have at least seven friends whose parents have been deathly ill, whether by cancer or other means, just in high school.  The heartbreaking part is that more than half of my friend’s parents died.  I know two students who are battling sickness with their life on the line. I don’t want to be taught how to be prepared for college, I need to be taught about doing important things now and not waiting until I’m older.  Young people can do amazing things.  Just look at the sixteen year old girl who is speaking out about girl’s education in the Middle East even after the Taliban tried to assassinate her a year ago.  Malala Yousafzai, had been speaking out on the issue since she was eleven years old.  Can you imagine the courage it takes to speak with such an influence that the Taliban plots an assassination attempt on her?  And people listened!  No one speaks for that long without a big audience!  Young people can do big things, if they find a need that the are passionate about and decide to do something about it.  Probably the biggest thing that holds them back, is not having enough time.  What a shame to let passionate young people squander the time they would love to devote to their passion in busy work and pointless projects.

There has been a rise of twenty percent projects throughout schools in America.  Basically, the student is able to choose what they will do for their project, knowing that it has to be big enough to be worth twenty percent of their grade.  Most teachers don’t care if the project floats or sinks, as long as the student did everything they could to make it work, troubleshot, and learned lessons from it.

I am a huge fan of the twenty percent project.  It gave me the chance to resume work in the organization that I co-founded called Give a Smile Association.  I never thought I would have time to continue my efforts with it, until I was given the opportunity to do a twenty percent project. My friend and I founded the organization in fifth grade, after I went to see my grandpa in stroke rehab and saw the joy that my family indirectly brought to a woman in the stroke ward who seemed to have no one.  She would come into the visiting room every time we were there, and smile at our interactions with my grandpa.  She had been in the stroke center for longer, but my grandpa was doing better at his rehab.  I hypothesized that feeling loved and cared about leads to quicker recovery, shared my theory with my friend and thus Give a Smile was born.  We would spend the whole time at sleepovers making handmade cards that let patients know someone cared about them.  We went to my school and helped the younger kids make cards.  In all, we probably had delivered 300 cards.  For my twenty percent project, I made a goal of having 1,500 cards made in a month and a half.  I emailed all the teachers at my high school asking for their participation.  I got around 25 replies.  That may seem like a lot, but for a school with 200 teachers, I was a little disappointed.  Still, I persevered.  I ended up collecting just over 3,500 cards from those 25 teachers.  I was in awe of all the cards that had been made.  I was able to touch 3,500 lives for the better with a twenty percent project.

The twenty percent project’s goal wasn’t “preparing me for college”, but it did better than almost any other way I could imagine. It taught me communication, time management, organization, letter writing, and a host of other skills that are necessary not only for college but for life in general.  So long live classes that teach life skills with college readiness on the side.  They are the class of the future, for sure.