As I dropped haphazardly taped up boxes of school supplies on my floor and frantically gazed around the white cellar that I now had to call home, I wondered if I would ever feel welcome at the massive University of Central Florida. People were abuzz with joy during move-in day, but I felt on the outskirts of something great.
My first week of college felt like a vacation, competition, and an episode of Big Brother. I attended too many club meetings and had a copious number of awkward conversations that always included the following questions: “What’s your name? Major? Why UCF? Can we be best friends?” I scrambled to meet people with cars and baked a lot of chocolately treats. Oddly enough, I didn’t cry.
After the first two weeks life seemed to make more sense. I didn’t need a map to find my classes, and I pinpointed life-saving shortcuts to get from my dorm to across campus in 7 minutes. I discovered the unpredictability of on campus shuttles and nailed two committee interviews. I even made a few amazing friends. Often I questioned if I was socializing enough, even though I had already committed to too many activities and projects for others. So I kept running to meetings, studying, and scheduling.
Now I am in a comfortable “college rhythm.” A few days ago UCF had its largest homecoming event called “Spirit Splash.” At the event, thousands of UCF students run into the reflection pond and attempt to catch rubber ducks that volunteers hurl into the water. Often Spirit Splash can get violent, as the demand for rubber ducks is ample and the supply is lacking. That day I stood on the perimeter of the madness, awkwardly holding my phone to take video of the brawls, and wondering if I made the right choice in coming to UCF. I stayed close to home and made friends, but I still felt like I was chasing dreams too slowly. Suddenly, rubber ducks started being thrown into the crowd of eager students in the water, and surprisingly, to us, the misfits on the outskirts of the party. Hundreds of hands flew up in the air to catch a duck that apparently had wings and flew toward all of us. I spotted the duck and knew it was going to be mine, and I watched it land right onto my shoulder. Later that day I ran into the middle of the reflection pond, empowered by being wrapped into a tradition. I stopped hesitating. Instead of saying “maybe next year,” I thought, “why not go right now?”
With that anecdote, I will list of some items to consider if you are trying to find yourself at college or a new workplace.
- Take too many risks.
- Have an overriding reason to wake up every morning. For me, it’s the idea of working in New York and living among the magic of a big city. When I want to give up on an assignment, I just remember the vague outline of a potent dream and how I can reach it one day.
- Talk to people. In lines. At shows. In class.
- Make meaningful friends. Having a friend in class to remind you of a deadline or exam will be vital to your success.
- Remember that you can’t do college alone.
- Allow yourself to break down.
- Be vulnerable with a few people.
- Work on one big self project in your free time, such as writing a story or painting a mural.
- Be nice to everyone.
- Wake up earlier and use your mornings to write to-do lists.
- Speak louder than usual when you are nervous.
- Volunteer to do things you feel you are under qualified for.
- Relish the time you are challenged, because you will grow even if you don’t succeed with something.
- Join a lot of things and then evaluate what you enjoy most. Then drop.
- Don’t make promises or appointments you can’t keep.
- Be early.
- Do homework the day it is assigned, if possible.
- Take one entire day off every week.
- Don’t let anyone talk you out of your beliefs.
- Don’t let anyone try to define you.
- Avoid talking politics.
- Be wary of people in competitive environments.
- Dress up on exam day.
- Try something, fail, and remember why you wanted to try in the first place.
College is tricky. It can feel lonely even if you try to get involved quickly. All you can do is work hard and let people come to you. Chase your passions and everything else falls into place. Take classes for yourself and take care of your health. Life is long, and this is just a blip on the screen, so don’t worry about making all of your memories during these four years. This isn’t the highlight of your life; it’s just a moment. Learn from the experience and cherish it. You’ll find your place now and again later as you grow. Be an emotional nomad; life is more fun that way.