December 25, 2014 Amherst, MA, USA

Transitions: What I Learned from My First Semester of College

Peacoat, Sears | Sweater, Kohl's | Scarf, China | Skirt, thrifted Express | Oxfords, Forever 21

I thought shooting an outfit would be a good way to de-stress after getting a midterm back...until I saw my obvious "I'm so done" expression in some of these photos.

Recently though, I've been smiling plenty--I've tackled finals, flown home, overcome a bout of winter viruses, visited my high school, started working at Nordstrom again, spent quality time with friends--it's begun to sink in that I've actually made it out of first semester alive.

So, here, a quasi-recap and some tidbits of wisdom I gained these past four months:
(This is more for my college freshmen and high school friends. If you want fashion, skip ahead).

1. College is hard
In high school, all I thought about was getting into college--I rarely thought about actually doing college. For me, it was a heavily-romanticized concept; I thought adventure, independence, exploration. I was unprepared for the academic and everyday life upheaval I actually experienced. You're on your own now--whether it comes to doing laundry (which surprisingly takes a lot of time), checking syllabi for assignments (some profs didn't tell us about upcoming tasks in class), or developing arguments for papers (I was at first unsettled by the minimal guidance I received, even when I explicitly asked; later I understood that the process of sorting it out on your own is both enlightening and empowering).

The takeaway: college is an adventure, but it's still school and a period of adjustment, both of which can be painful. 

2. Advisors may not always have the best advice
As clueless freshmen, it's easy to blindly follow whatever advisors say. They generally know what they're doing, but they don't know everything because they usually specialize in one field. My pre-major advisor, for example, is a philosophy prof. By his suggestion, I ended up in a six-person upperclassmen music course that completely kicked my butt. I don't blame him because, ultimately, it was my decision to stay in that class, but I never would've considered the course without his direction. 

The takeaway: don't assume classes are right for you because an advisor leads you to them; careful consideration (and caution, particularly for first-years) is a must.

3. Hard classes may sound easy, easier classes may sound hard
Ironically enough, I struggled the most in my easiest-sounding class, Music and Culture. The exams were brutal--for our second midterm, we had to know 36 pieces by ear and by score, and for the final, we had to know 47 pieces by ear and transcribe up to 4 tunes from memory. Even better--these were all Medival, Renaissance, and Baroque pieces. So, many of the works sounded pretty similar, especially in the Renaissance era where imitation was rampant. 

On the flip side, I felt most comfortable in Multivariable Calculus. Not because it was exactly easy, but because it was most familiar--the problem sets and lectures were reminiscent of high school math. Despite the intimidating content, it ended up being my favorite class because my professor was energetic, clear, kind, and entertaining, 

The takeaway: the titles of courses aren't accurate indicators of their difficulty or level of engagement.

4. Getting up for classes before 9 am is rough but completely worth it
8:30 and 9 am classes each day were extremely painful in the beginning. I had assumed getting up would be a breeze since high school had started at 7:45. I was so wrong.

Getting to sleep was a battle since I'm sensitive to noise, and at one point I was using heavy duty earplugs with a white noise machine meant for babies to drown out the common room conversations, hallway shuffling, closing doors, elevator dings. Eventually, I settled into a decently comfortable cycle, getting up at the same time each day regardless of when my first class was and journaling my sleep patterns. Now, I prefer to get up earlier to catch more daylight (those 4 pm Massachusetts sunsets though) and to tackle work. 

The takeaway: college life may promote late nights, but early classes are conquerable; similarly, it's possible to get eight hours of sleep a night and still finish everything if planned right.

5. Coming home for the first time isn't all warm and fuzzy and wonderful
If you read my previous post, you know that I struggled a lot to find my place the first time I came back. I had idealized home to the point where disappointment was inevitable. This article, while directed towards Christians, nonetheless brings up many universally applicable points. Liz Riggs puts it so eloquently: "[Coming home] inexplicably painful and challenging, it can force odd crises of identity and longing, and even for those with the best of families and old friends in sight, it can feel like a bizarre foray into a past long left behind."

The takeaway: Home is a wonderful place, but it's not perfect. Expect change and embrace it. Luckily, I was well-equipped the second time: without my unrealistic expectations, I've been much happier. 

6. Feeling homesick, alone, and distraught is normal and fleeting
I completely regretted going so far away for college at one point, partially because I felt so lonely. There was no shortage of social contact, but all my college friendships were still developing, and all my close friends were hundreds of miles away. It seemed as if no one around me really knew me. We bonded quickly though, often times over our similar struggles--from adjustment to boys to grades.

I think school stress deserves a category in itself: I broke down crying a couple times, once even in front of my professor. It's absolutely frustrating and distressing when you exhaust your resources in hopes of improving only to get a similar result or even do worse. I felt incompetent and inadequate, but I wasn't going to stop until I got it right. Eventually, I did pull off products with which I was satisfied.

The takeaway: with every challenge comes growing pains.

7. Feeling like a big fish in a small pond will be but a distant memory
Inadequacy--a word that taunts, tantalizes, torments. Surrounded by high achievers and go-getters, I often battled feelings that I wasn't doing enough or that I simply wasn't enough. I pared my activities down to only orchestra, I skipped many social events to do homework--despite all of this, I was still struggling with classes. 

Feeling inadequate can be an impetus to improve, but it can also be crippling. If you decide that you're simply not capable, it's an excuse to keep wallowing in self-pity. If you decide that you're capable but not there just yet, it's motivation to grow. 

The takeaway: it's easy to feel inadequate, but doing something about it is another story. Do something. Be patient. Keep pushing.

8. Perspective is key
The pressure of grades is suffocating. Sometimes, it seems as if a single grade on a paper or midterm will dictate future success (or lack thereof). Stop. Take a step back.

I believe that I am not at college to achieve flashy grades and become marketable. 

I fervently believe that am at college to grow, and the rest will follow. 

*                       *                       *

Oddly enough, I've had all the major pieces in this look for nearly a year now, but never thought to pair them this way. My style seems to be just one of the many things that've been changing. 

True to the New England influence, I've found my looks erring on the more minimalistic, preppy side. But my love for sequins and other quirky twists has remained the same.

I'm absolutely ecstatic to be back to blogging (hopefully regularly!) and can't wait to catch up with you in the next few days. Wishing you a merry Christmas today if you celebrate and a warm holiday season filled with happiness.

post signature

Join the conversation!

  1. well hello, dear Lily! finally you have enabled comments again! I've read the previous posts but didn't feel like writing an e-mail. and I kind of thought/felt you're going to be back anyway :) the first thing I noticed was your oh so serious expression. but reading the post explained a lot. I remember my first year in university was the hardest. okay, actually the whole time I lived in another town, alone was kind of a big mess. I'm glad I grew out of it.. parties, night clubs, people that didn't deserve my time and attention.. I guess I just had to experience it all. and now I just look back and take it as a part of me becoming me, if you know what I mean. everything happens for a reason and we just have to face it all, the good and the bad. but I hope you and your loved ones had wonderful holidays and the end of 2014 is as wonderful for you. take care!

    Part of me

  2. I'm so proud of you, Lily. I am just so proud! You're so honest and open in all your posts and I love that you write it all out and rationalize why you feel that way. That will really help you out in the long run.

    I remember feeling homesick the first two years even though my parents were just an hour away from my University. Strangely, I got over it, but I was also having some mental funk going on at the time due to the transition from college. I'm glad that you bonded with people and actually made some friends and such over struggles--I honestly believe it's the best to make friends in college because they have similar goals to you, where as people in your old high school may actually be the ones who are quite distant from you (literally and figuratively).

    You sound like you've grown so much, and yes, there is struggle in growth, but you're always so much happier after you've been through with it, right? It's amazing how change can affect us that way. Again, I am so proud of you. Take a much needed break to relax, my sweet Lily!

  3. Now that I'm in my second year of college, I completely understand what you're going through. I'm getting into harder classes, and my major is extremely time consuming (Musical theatre, so I have rehearsals 3-5 days a week after class and work study). It certainly doesn't get easier, but you've built tools to manage it during your freshman year. I wish you all the best going forward :)

    Theatricality by Mariah

    Haha, I figured you'd shut down the commenting section in those earlier posts, which I completely understood. But yes, I saved your posts through Bloglovin, if only to let you know I was still reading ;)

    Anyway, wow, what an awesome post summarizing your college experience and lessons learned! These are such a great list of points and explanations. Many of them I found myself nodding along to. Aha, I'm still working on organizing my time better sounds like you've got a better handle on it!

    Isn't it funny how things get more minimized when you're a college student? Even your style! Though you'e definitely still rocking that quirky, colorful, awesome look that's so Lily :)

    I've definitely streamlined my style and really lean towards minimal, simple fashion. Which, if you knew me in high school, is the complete opposite of what I wore.

    Anyway, glad to see this update, and can't wait for more posts from you throughout your winter break!

    The Dragonfruit Diaries

  5. Hello dear Lily! Such a nice surprise to see your comment AND to see we can comment here again! I missed you.
    Wow, from this post, I can conclude that college life in America is much harder than in the UK. I studied music but the amount of actual classes sounds much less! REAAAAALLY 47 pieces in ONE term!?!?!?!?!?! Oh my! (I kind of wishi could have done something like that- I find it quite easy to memorise music. I was playing Sibelius's 5th symphony and my music fell off the stand during a quick pageturn and I had to play half a page from memory- who knew I knew it that well from 4 rehearsals- apparently the whole back row of woodwind gasped in horror as it fell and all played tensely wondering what would happen!)

    I am adoring that sequin skirt- I really wanted to get a skirt like Clara's in Doctor Who for The Caretaker and I haven't really found anything suitable- yours is a good subsitute!

    Really looking forward to more posts.

    And yes, it was totally cool to meet Lauren- felt surreal meeting her after reading her blog for years and years- I think she probably thought I was a bit of an idiot (though she was lovely!) - we almost missed her coach back to the airport and she was all calm and I was going "AAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!"


the 'gram

© imperfect idealist.