Growing up, university has always been put in a rose-colored view for me. My parents always talk about what a great time I will have and how the four years there will be the most memorable experience I will have. And it wasn't until a month before move-in when my fantasy started to become mixed with anxiety. What if my expectations had been too high? It was then that I started to worry about messing things up, lest I ruin what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of my life.
And to some degree, some of my fears were true. I found myself overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time during the first week: overwhelmed by how different and demanding university seemed to be and underwhelmed because it didn't seem to be as eye-opening and filled with opportunities to make friends and have fun like my parents had advertised.
But now, a few weeks into the new semester, I feel hopeful. Many of my fears have turned out to be manageable and figuring things out along the way becomes part of my university experience as well. Perhaps this is the whole point of university: it may not be inherently enjoyable right from the start, but overcoming the initial difficulty and that feeling of accomplishment when we finally start getting the hang of it are what make us look back with fondness because we truly have grown and come such a long way.
Here is a list of fears I used to have, but have overcome:
1. Being alone from time to time.
Despite our many opportunities to make friends on such a large campus, there are actually many moments where we are by ourselves in contrast to our preconception of what social life in university is like. And it was difficult at first: eating by myself or walking to classes alone (even sitting in class alone) had seemed like such an intimidating and lonesome concept when everyone around me was in groups. But now I have started to genuinely appreciate snippets of alone time to reflect my day or just think about nothing and unwind. Being alone and being lonely are very different after all and it is safe to say that I feel a lot more comfortable with more time I will spend alone.
2. Getting lost on campus.
The first week of school was nerve-wracking not just because never had any experience with university classes before, but also because I was worried whether or not I could make it to classes on time on such an unfamiliar campus. But in this brand new semester, I no longer need to walk around with Google Maps in my hand and I have actually found many paths that a map cannot discover but that make walking a much better experience, be it a faster route that I can take when I'm running late, an underground tunnel that shields me from the wind or just a more aesthetically pleasing path in general. Now instead of worrying about getting lost, I actually wouldn't mind some more exploration in all the unknown corners in the future.
3. Flying across the country by myself.
Flying home is always something I look forward to because it means spending time with family. But with it comes the hassle of booking tickets, checking-in and trying to make the connection flight on time. Now after the first flying experience, I have definitely learned a lot about the entire process, such as the online check-in procedure that seemed intimidating at first but turned out to save so much time for me, and most importantly, to never book a flight with only an hour connection time. It may only be January, but I can't wait to fly home after exam season ends now that I know I can tackle every step of the process by myself.
4. Not being able to find "my people."
Making friends was definitely the one thing I was most preoccupied with before entering university. Back then, it had seemed to be the key factor to enjoying university life and I mistakenly thought that if I didn't make friends on the first day, I would not have a chance afterwards. But looking at my social circle right now, I realized that despite how my current friends and I didn't grow close until mid-October, it doesn't change how much fun we have together. Now in my new classes, not only am I more proactive in making small talk or discussing homework, I also know I don't have to put so much pressure on myself to form immediate friendships. They take time and that's okay.
5. Struggling in my classes.
It is no secret that high school classes are nothing compared to university classes and to say I was intimidated is an understatement. It didn't help that many high school teachers were telling us that our average typically drops by 10 to 15 percent once we enter university. Still, after a semester I have found where my marks typically fall, as well as a study strategy that is better than the one I had in high school. Most importantly, I have learned who and where to go for help, such as professor's office hours, peer support center and study groups. I know there will be many moments of confusion and perhaps helplessness to come, but I am positive that there are people who will not hesitate to help me, and just knowing that makes me feel much more confident with my classes.
6. Drifting apart from my old friends.
While I was excited to make friends, I also thought about what would become of the friend group I had in high school. There are many types of people and plenty of opportunities to make friends in university, after all − what if my old friends find someone better than me? But now I have found that rather than jealousy, what I felt was instead happiness and pride that my friends are doing so well at school and having a great time with their new friends. Hanging out with them over winter break further proved to me that maybe we didn't talk much during the semester, but we can still have the best time together - just like before. I definitely want to arrange more Skype sessions with my old friends, and while I look forward to that, I am also comforted my the knowledge that we will always find our way back to each other considering how much we went through together in high school.
7. An inability to deal with my homesickness.
University is the first time I ever had to live away from home for an extended period of time and I was immediately attacked by homesickness on the first weekend when the activities of orientation week had quieted down. Now that a semester has passed, I have learned many ways to deal with homesickness: distract myself with school work, relax and watch some videos, get off the campus once in a while and, of course, video chat with my family. Knowing these tricks definitely makes me less worried about other homesickness attacks that might come later this semester and I can even look forward to living with my friends in the upcoming year as well.
8. Putting myself first even if it means saying "no" to other people sometimes.
At first, I thought the only way to make friends was to go above and beyond whenever people ask me for help or simply to just hang out. While there's nothing wrong with going the extra mile for your friends, it can quickly become too exhausting if you start to sideline your own needs. I am still practicing how to balance being a good friend and taking care of myself, but after being upfront and honest about my own needs a few times, I believe I can fully enjoy this semester without completely overlooking myself and ending up feeling overwhelmed.
University was such an abstract concept before I entered and that definitely contributed to many fears and worries I had for my brand new life, and it wasn't easy to deal with them at first. But now that I have a semester worth of experience, people who are willing to help me and amazingly supportive friends and family, I have realized that these are things I can overcome, and if I ever need support, I know I definitely won't be alone. Now I can fully enjoy this semester without the fears that previously lived inside of me, and I couldn't be happier.
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