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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Tampa chapter.

In three weeks, I will be walking the commencement stage and graduating from UT. Looking back, at my four years in college I get a little emotional because the young girl that came from another country has grown. I hope that this article helps anyone who is far from home in college.

Going to college is an exciting but scary big step in a person’s life. We think about how cool we want to decorate our dorm, the friends we are going to meet, the opportunities we will get, and how much we will learn. But we also think about how it’s going to feel leaving home, moving far from family and friends, starting over, the thought of classes being hard, or professors being scary. We think about the good and sad parts of what this moment in life means to us and even to the people around us. It is a phase in life where we are no longer kids but aren’t necessarily adults. We belong to the middle awkward phase, where we are learning how to file our taxes and do our car maintenance but still call our parents for them to make medical appointments. Being in college has taught me, of course, academics, but it has also taught me patience, kindness, respect, time management, sympathy, empathy, how to stick up for myself, and strength. These are only a few because the list of learnings could probably keep expanding as I think more about my four years.

So, before going about what being away from home taught me, let me give you some background about me. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico until I was 18 years old, when I decided to come to the US and pursue a bachelor’s degree at UT. Puerto Rico is my home, the place where I find peace in its salty air, where I run barefoot along the streets, where my favorite place exists, and where my family is. That 100×35 km island in the Caribbean Sea is where I am very proud to be from. Throughout my education on the island, I learned how to write, read, and talk in English, but I never really used it outside of my English class. So, when I decided to come to the US, I was scared and thought, “What if I regret this?”. I knew that I was going to be able to understand the language and that I would make friends that would help me adapt to not being home. However, the US is a different culture, and as soon as I arrived, I felt embarrassed about having an accent because I didn’t know I had one. But that was when the first lesson came: be proud of who you are and be confident. Instead of feeling ashamed or embarrassed, I learned how to be confident in myself and my English skills, even if sometimes I mess up. I didn’t have to be perfect because my friends from UT, who are native English speakers, also mess up all the time, so I was being too hard on myself.

During my sophomore year, I started working as a mentor for different classes and labs, helping professors prepare and run their classes. Here I find myself interacting with both professors and students, who for someone who is an extrovert and introvert, is both exciting and nerve-wracking. Having to be in front of a class and explain the material to the students was a slight nightmare for me. But the professors kept giving me these opportunities, and I learned the second lesson: get out of your comfort zone and appreciate the opportunities given. In the past, I would have never voluntarily gone to the front of a classroom and explained to my students how to do an experiment or to provide important material for a class. But now, I am comfortable and even realized that I like teaching. I like being able to teach students to understand concepts and ideas that help them understand how life works, in terms of science, of course.  

Moving on to junior year, I am a full-time student living off-campus, taking the bus and then getting a car, working multiple jobs on campus, and doing research, all of which made me excited and happy. But not without ignoring how exhausted I was sometimes. I went from learning and timing my days with the bus schedules to learning how to maintain a car, live in an apartment, and pay bills. Here, the third lesson was learned: stay organized and be responsible, but remember that you are only human, and you can say no. During this time, I found my mental health deteriorating due to trying to juggle all these different things, and I kept saying yes to people, which added more work to my overflowing cup that I already had. With this, I learned that there is only so much a person can handle, and I was not a robot. That there were things I could control and things I couldn’t. For example, I can keep organized about exams and bills, but I cannot control if the bus is late. Lastly, in senior year I am still a full-time student, working multiple jobs ( on and off campus), doing research, and figuring out the next step. At this point, I would say I am considered more of an adult than I ever thought I was. Looking back at my four years here, I have met wonderful people who have become dear to me. I have gone through good and bad experiences that have made me laugh out loud in the hallways with friends but have also made me cry while walking to class. Nothing was ever all happy and rainbows, and neither all sad and gloomy. UT was the place that allowed me to discover who I was by myself and outside of the place I had always known. Today, I can say that coming here was one of the best decisions I have ever made. For now, I would classify the fourth lesson to be: be grateful. Be grateful for the lessons life has taught you and for the people you have met, even if they left your life or hurt you. And with yourself, don’t forget to give yourself credit because it is so easy to forget sometimes.

Anngelyk M. La Luz Maldonado is a writer at Her Campus at Tampa Chapter. As a Her Campus writer, her articles cover topics revolving life experiences and entertainment. Aside from Her Campus, Anngelyk is a senior at the University of Tampa majoring in Marine Science/Biology with a minor in Environmental Science. She works for the Department of Biology as a head mentor for the general biology (199L) lab and an office assistant. Anngelyk, also, is a researcher at the Durkin Lab working to gain better understanding of Macrocheles sp. mites. When not writing or studying, Anngelyk enjoys watching Asian dramas, listening to music, and reading. She likes to read books about high-fantasy, mystery solving, and lately she is into romance books such as “Love, Theoretically” by Ali Hazelwood. She also enjoys spending time with her friends and calling her family.