Worried about the start of school? You’re not alone.
Gwen Mugodi was too. A student from Zimbabwe studying at Brown University, Gwen had her own reservations about studying in the US, living up to expectations, and confronting challenges.
In our first student-submitted post on the new VOA Student Union blog, Gwen talks about preparing for – and facing – the first few weeks of college, and gives advice on what you too will face:
I remember applying to college as if it were yesterday.
The frantic panic to get all the supplements to the Common Application “perfect” before the January 1 due date: “Why our school? What can you add to the campus?” The efforts to make my seemingly mundane life into an original rendition of the “Life of Pi.”
Then the financial aid applications, and the long wait to hear back.
The nicely worded regrets that assure you, “It’s not you, it’s us”.
Then, finally, the acceptance. The joy that accompanies it. And for those who need it, hopefully the nice financial aid package that accompanies it.
The next months are a flurry of preparation: Immunizations. I20’s. Visas. Packing. Then, suddenly, you’re at the airport, and it’s at that moment when everything sinks in. All that application stress was all for this. You’re finally leaving home. Freedom!
But then sneaks in the doubt “What am I doing? This is crazy. Let’s just all go back home and pretend I ever thought of this.”
It’s been almost a month since I had my little “This is crazy” moment. In freshman-college years, a month is a really long time. Such a long time that, even after a month, I now feel old enough to be dishing out advice to “pre-froshies” (freshmen to be) and fellow college students in this blog post.
My first piece of advice: you won’t be ready.
No matter how great you are at planning, you simply won’t be ready. Take me for example. I took a gap year after high school. I got to spend a lot of time with my family, strengthening bonds that would be tested by long distances and expensive phone calls. I also gained a lot of invaluable work experience and I would like to think a great deal of maturity. But when it came down to that departure moment, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. All the same, teary-eyed and all, I got on the plane. And just like that, I was all on my own.
And that’s really what’s so different about college from anything you will probably have experienced. You start to make your own decisions. From the small –“Am I going to have three meals in a day to ensure I don’t wither into nothingness?” – to the bigger ones – “Is it really necessary that I party from Wednesday through to Saturday? Would I miss too much if I only partied Fridays and/or Saturdays?”
I also wasn’t ready to be a minority. I come from a predominantly black country – heck, a predominantly black continent. I never had to deal with being the “only African/black person” in a class. And initially, that was a lot to deal with. Questions of identity snuck into my head. “Do I represent Africa by virtue of coming from an African country? Does my not knowing the answer to ‘How many languages are spoken in Africa?’ make me ignorant? A disgrace?”
I wasn’t ready to have professors who treat me as equals, who are not offended when I challenge their ideas; professors who in fact encourage it.
See, I was told to expect this. In fact, as an intern at EducationUSA, I lauded the US education system for these same qualities, its diversity in the broadest definition of the word, its liberal learning and teaching methods. I was told there would be culture shock. And that feeling of being lost. I still wasn’t ready.
I guess the point of my post is this: you won’t be ready. But you’re not supposed to be ready. And once you embrace this, college transition goes a lot smoother.
And the best thing I’ve found about being a freshman is, you can bet you’re not the only one who is feeling that way. We are all dealing with issues of transitioning and independence and making new friends and simultaneously trying hard to look cool.
So in that moment, when the application process comes to the end and you finally start college, remember this: you won’t be ready. And no one else will be ready, either.
But take it from me – after you get through those first few weeks, you will be.