The First Few Weeks: A First Year’s Perspective

The leaves are finally starting to change color, bringing with them weather cold enough to justify our collective addiction to oversized, shapeless sweaters that somehow feel like “wearing a hug.”

Though Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady is suspended for two more games (#FreeBrady), the beloved pumpkin spice latte has returned to the Starbucks starting lineup. All of these signs point to one inevitable truth; we’re back in school.

For many, the 2016-2017 school year is merely another notch on their academic belts. But for the Class of 2020, this year marks a fresh start in an entirely new setting—a college campus. As the adrenaline rush of orientation week wears off, we the first-years have found ourselves drowning in a sea of fascinating classes, exciting orgs, and, for what may be the first and only time in our lives, more time than we know what to do with.

Fortunately, the transition to college life is a smooth one for those who know how to swim.

Here are some tricks that I’ve found that have helped me make the most of my first weeks as a first-year:

1. KEEP YOUR DOORS OPEN

You’ve all had someone tell you this at least once: keep your door open on move in day. I’m here to tell you to keep it open every day, in both a physical and metaphorical sense. Keeping your door open lets you get out and explore your new home, rather than staying secluded away in your dorm like a less smelly, more fabulous version of a hermit.

As anyone with a college email inbox knows, there are more extracurricular activities than any one student knows what to do with. From volunteer opportunities and activism, to music groups, to sports teams like Quidditch, there is something out there for anyone who takes the time to look. Use the luxurious amount of free time you have before classes really start up to take advantage of what Wellesley has to offer.

Don’t just stick to what you’ve been doing in high school either! Part of keeping your door open is keeping an open mind. While continuing to pursue a long-time passion is a great way to smooth any transition, I’ve found that there’s no better way to get your mind off of the stress that comes with a new environment than to try something completely new.

Speaking of your inbox, keep up with the events on campus. In the past few weeks alone, I have had the privilege of listening to speaker after magnificent speaker as they crushed societal norms by discussing difficult and important issues. I’ve heard men and women recount their struggles with racism and homophobia and describe how they managed to break down barriers that were fueled by their silence.

Most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in talk backs, where groups of students reflected on a speaker’s topic through their own unique lenses. I have had more interesting conversations with my classmates in one week than I’ve had in my 18 prior years, and I know that you will have plenty of your own if you go looking for them.

2. FIND THE RIGHT TIME FOR FRIENDS, BOTH NEW AND OLD

One of the most jarring parts of entering a new environment is the move away from familiarity. It doesn’t matter if you live 2000 miles or 20 minutes away, homesickness is a fickle mistress.

While it is essential to stay on campus as long as possible to help kick-start your new college career, it doesn’t hurt to keep in touch with the people who are already close to you. A good conversation with someone who cares will help fight some of the loneliness that makes you want to go home in the first place.

Set up a time early on (I like to do it about once a week) to chat with the people closest to you –your family, your friends, your S.O., whatever floats your boat. Getting a schedule in place quickly will help stop you from drifting apart as the semester progresses. Just don’t spend too much time dwelling on your past relationships!

Make sure you’re engaging with your new classmates. College is where you’re going to find the most diverse, intelligent, creative, and just plain awesome people you will ever meet. Talk to them, eat lunch with them, learn from them. Remember, everyone you meet has gone through, or is currently going through, the same thing as you.

3. MAINTAIN MINDFULNESS

College is inherently a uniquely personal experience. It’s a time to figure out what we really want to do with our lives and to set stepping stone goals to achieve our dreams (hint hint). Use some of that soul-searching to check in on your emotional state. In fact, take a minute to check in with yourself right now. Breathe. What’s going on in your head? Are you exuberant, depressed, anxious?

Dr. James Bray, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine has said that “it’s important to recognize these feelings and not just suffer in silence.” One of the highest priority tasks on your to-do list is to schedule self-care into your day.

A good way to do that is to exercise. Join a sports team, either varsity or intramural will do, or a PE class with a new friend; pals that sweat together, stay together. If you’re not super sporty, I’ve found that a walk around campus has much the same effect, with the added bonus of helping you get used to your new environment. As we all know, physical activity releases endorphins, so even if you hate it while you’re doing it, movement will make you feel better in the long run.

If you’re spiritual, find some small interval of time in which you can really reconnect with your faith. We have many incredible religious leaders and groups on campus, including our recently welcomed new rabbi, Audrey Marcus Berkman! A transition period like this is a great time to pick up those good habits that you’ve been meaning to implement. Keeping yourself checked into your environment will help you to succeed both academically and socially, not only in your first year but also throughout your time in college.

With these tips in mind, go forth and make your marks, 2020s! These first couple weeks are but the tip of your college iceberg. Stay classy and confident in yourselves, and you are certain to shine.