There is only a month of my sophomore year left. And oh boy, didn’t it go by fast? It honestly feels like just yesterday that I came back from Pakistan to start a new year here at Mount Holyoke. And now, I am already a “rising junior,” all set to empty my present dorm room and look ahead to a new school year in four short months.
Sophomore year taught me a lot more than freshman year. It literally transformed me from a timid, scared freshman to a more social, outgoing and spontaneous 20-year-old.
I was finding my place in my freshman year. I had just come to a new country, a new culture and new set of norms and values after spending 18 years in a starkly different society. Freshman year was all about accepting this new culture.
By the time I reached sophomore year, I realized that there was so much that I wanted to do that had been impossible in Pakistan: things which allowed me to grow up while keeping the child within me alive. And who I am now is a difficult question: the way I have pushed my boundaries and grown up to become so independent and confident, I am now someone new, yes. But that person always existed inside me. College just allowed me to discover where it was hiding all along.
This has been a year of learning new skills and developing new habits. And these are some of the most important lessons I’ve picked up.
1. Persistence: a virtue, not a flaw:
I was never a persistent person. For me persistence means annoying someone and being a pain. However, my quest for internships here in the U.S. for the summer changed my outlook completely.
In the U.S. persistence is seen as an asset, not an annoying habit. Whether it was e-mailing people to get information about internships, or resorting to calling or texting, I learned how to become persistent without being an inconvenience – wording my emails correctly and ending on the right note, keeping my calm if someone sounds irritated and generally being polite but insistent.
For example, when one of my contacts at a firm did not reply to my e-mail after quite a number of days, I e-mailed her again saying that I was waiting and how sorry I was for being so pushy. You know what she said? She said that my persistence is nothing to be sorry about. She told me it is a good trait, which I should hold onto for the rest of my life.
2. The best memories came from spontaneity:
Amid tough academics and challenging work, this year for me was about learning to let it all go and be impulsive. “Don’t think twice, and just do what your naïve college heart wants” is what I told myself. Whenever I had thought about living alone as an independent teenager, taking impulsive day and night trips had always popped up in my head since I love travelling and seeing new places. And that is just what I did.
For example, the first Saturday after classes started, my friends and I hopped on a bus to New York City.
I just wanted to see the city and my stubborn self wanted to see it that very weekend. We got to New York at around 10pm and our bus back was 12pm the next day. Any normal person would arrange for a place to stay for these 14 hours, because how long can one stay awake after all? But we made Times Square our place to crash, walking around as many streets as possible before resorting to the tiny, red chairs in the middle of Times Square until 5am. Sunrise meant heading over to Central Park where we walked around some more before finally heading over to our bus stop. It was the least planning I’ve ever done for a trip, and I can say with assertion: that trip was DEFINITELY the best I have ever undertaken.
New York City was just the beginning. December marked a weekend trip to Boston, getting our tickets just the night before (yes, we had a place to stay this time round!). February brought another last minute decision: seeing Tiesto in concert, once again buying the tickets just a night before.
These impulsive decisions that I made during sophomore year are the ones I am going to remember the most vividly from my college experience. As an international student who comes from a pretty unsafe and conservative country, it was previously impossible for me to make impulsive decisions like these. But sophomore year taught me how to make full use of the experience I have at my fingertips right now. And trust me, I did.
3. There are stories in the most unlikely places…even libraries:
I am one of those who had never ever studied in the library until quite recently. I prefer studying in my room, because there I can play the music I like and work in my own rhythm. However, during the spring semester of sophomore year, I was left with no choice but to go and study in the library in a group study session for my Economics class. Not once, but four separate times. And, it was really not that bad!
My highlight of my library experience, however, is not going to be the ambience. It is going to be that one night at 2am. Yes, 2am.
Here at Mount Holyoke the library shuts at 2am, after which Campus Police comes and escorts the adamant, stubborn students out. I am typically not adamant, nor am I stubborn. At least not as a student. But my first night at the library, I refused to leave and did not let my friends leave either, because I wanted to see a Campus Police officer do what he does with the stubborn students. After my insistence on hanging around, unfortunately (or fortunately?) the officer who gave us a visit was a very calm lady, and the experience was not at all the dramatic scene I’d imagined it to be.
But, I can still say that this semester not only did I discover how to work in the library, but I also witnessed a “police operation” (yes, I will use that phrase just because it sounds so legit!). I hadn’t even thought that studying in the library would give me this experience but I guess that is one thing that I took out of this sophomore year too: you can find cool stories in the most unlikely places!
4. Self-interest that led to personal growth:
Here in America, there is a huge role given to students who are hired to work as Resident Advisors or RAs (called Community Advisors here at Mount Holyoke). They become leader figures in their college community and are looked to for help and assistance by the other students.
They are also given their own personal single dorm rooms, along with other added lifestyle perks, and this was one the main reason I decided to apply for a Community Advisor job this year. But I got to be part of an amazing experience that taught me so many important skills for the real world.
As a freshman I never thought that I could help people deal with conflicts, or that I could assume a leadership position in any society. But this year I found myself dealing with grieving and angry residents, teaching freshmen how to feel like they are home and how to be amiable enough to make new friends, and solving roommate conflicts and policy violations. All developing skills that I would not have been able to learn otherwise. It definitely made my sophomore year a memorable one, and I am continuing next year too! But now my primary motivation is the job itself, not just the single room.
5. Make someone else’s traditions your own:
When I came back to school from Pakistan this past summer, I knew that I would not be going to home for quite a while. This year I was staying in the U.S. for all the major school vacations. While at some levels, it was scary, it also meant that I would get a chance to experience traditions I had never seen before. I have very close family who I live with in Virginia during school breaks, and they made sure that I was immersed in all the traditional American celebrations.
It started off with Thanksgiving, where I not only had the traditional turkey and gravy dinner but also a grand eggs benedict breakfast. Christmas and the New Year were soon to follow, where we continued a family tradition by having breakfast together in the morning and then closing New Year’s Eve with apple cider and watching the ball drop on TV (since we were being safe, you know).
There was also one festival of mine, Eid al-Adha, celebrating the annual pilgrimage in Islam, which I had to observe on campus, since it happened right between exams. But even though I was away from family, spending the whole day in traditional clothes with the family I have here on campus made me value my peers and other fellow international students more.
So yes, sophomore year was a festive one too.
Festive, impulsive, persistent, different and amazing. These are the words I would use to characterize my sophomore year here in America.
I had never blogged before either but this year I learned how to do that too, a skill I would want to keep with me for the rest of my journalism career (fingers crossed!).
Yes, there were some times of undue stress and a lot of academic work, but well, if that does not exist, how would college be college? Overall, when I sit and look back at the past two semesters, which have flown by, I can’t believe how much I have learned this year. Three more semesters left to go: let’s see what more is in store for me!