The words hard and college go hand in hand. Wrong as ever, I thought that I knew this going into my freshman year at University of Kentucky. Since I had maintained a 4.0 nearly every semester, high school seemed like nothing. I felt like I could start this new chapter in my life. I felt like I could handle a new challenge. Having had a lot of credits from high school helped me a lot.
Who knew AP Bio really could benefit me?
Though, I went in as undecided, I knew that I wanted to pursue something with English, teaching, editing or writing. But I couldn’t decide on what exactly. Taking my core classes helped me narrow down my decision. Of course, I looked to my mom and older sister for advice and what they told me helped. Becoming the first one in my family to go to college, however, presented its own difficulties—not only academically, but also socially and mentally. I didn’t get dorm life, have a clue about the course load or know how social life played out.
Am I going to make friends? How am I going to succeed in a college class? Can I learn in a class with 300 people? These thoughts ran through my brain as I drove with my mom to my dorm. What I’d seen in movies, on TV and read in books greatly shaped my idea of college: parties, late nights cramming for tests, huge lecture classes. The best four years of my life, right?
After lugging all of my stuff up to my new home for the year, I sat there on my bed.
And then, honestly, I cried. I had no clue what to do. I felt isolated and scared. Could I feel homesick already? I mean, my mom only left less than an hour ago. As I scrolled through Instagram, I felt worse seeing all of the pictures of my friends looking happy in their new homes. At the time, I felt like the only one who had these emotions. Looking back, I know how silly that sounds. Even though I knew my family lived an hour away and that I had friends from high school who went to UK with me I felt alone.
I had about a week to settle in before classes started, so I begrudgingly went to orientation activities: K Week, six days of going to events, meeting people and getting involved in organizations. All of this while learning about UK and its campus, of course. Supposed to try making friends, it seemed as though I hadn’t actively made friends since freshman year of high school. Four years ago. Did I even know how to anymore? I put on a smile and tried to think of another “fun” fact about myself for each ice breaker as I shook hands with countless of other freshmen. I can’t remember another name if I tried.
Worse than the countless names, I was out of touch on where to find anything here.
How am I going to get to class? I can’t be late on the first day. My anxiety went through the roof and, at the time, I had no idea how to handle it. Going numb in a sense, my mind went blank. It seemed like I couldn’t muster a single thought if I tried. I laid awake in my bed for most of the night. Silencing my alarm before it even rang, I shot out of bed to get ready. With no inspiration on what to wear, I rummaged through my closet in search of the perfect outfit. Finally realizing that nothing would meet my standards, I had to settle. Once I got dressed, a moment of crisis hit me. I had no idea what I needed for the first day. Did I need a lot? Did I need anything at all? I shoved everything that I thought I’d need into my backpack, triple checked that I had everything, put my headphones in and walked out of my dorm. Am I ready? I guess so.
I got to my first class 20 minutes early. Thank you, anxiety. Only about 50 percent certain that I entered the right room, I scanned it. Oh God, where do I sit? I didn’t want the teacher’s pet stereotype by sitting in the front. But also wanting to avoid the lazy student perception from the professor, I hesitated on the back. Feeling like I hovered too long, I settled for somewhere in the middle, still unsure if I even sat in the right room. Luckily for me, before the professor arrived, someone in the class asked if everyone had taken the counterpart to our class, Communication 112. Thank God, I’m here.
It seemed like everyone else knew all about college. I assumed they all had parents who graduated from college and passed down their stories and advice to help them succeed. Already ahead of me. My mom and sister had always told me that if I worked hard, I can do anything.
But sitting in this classroom, I didn’t feel so sure.
I knew that I loved all things literature, but my only experience stemmed from high school and my own time. It seemed like I should go to school for a “real” job—whatever that means—and I knew that becoming an English major didn’t seem like it made a good fit. According to my mom, English never seemed like a lesser major than a science or math major, yet I still felt less than my peers who studied pre-med or biology. In my mind, going to school to read books equated to a waste of time. Luckily, having support from my mom allowed me to feel like I made the right decision.
My day had ended. After three classes, the clock only read 1 p.m. What now? I decided to head back to my dorm because I had no clue what else to do. I had mixed emotions about my dorm room. It became my safe haven but also forced me into an isolation box. It allowed me a place to breathe when I felt anxious but if there too much, it made my depression spike. I didn’t know what to do. A few weeks had gone by and I settled more into my place at this huge school. I had gotten my routine down. But still, this feeling followed me wherever I went. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I didn’t feel homesick, I talked to my family often and though I missed them a lot, I enjoyed the freedom that I had. Plus talking to them about school made me realize that I enjoyed most of my classes.
I couldn’t figure it out then, and honestly, after two years at UK, I still don’t know.
Maybe due to the newness of everything. Maybe my anxiety got in the way. I’m not sure. But I’m still here and I go to class every day. I’m still an English major. And now I know my way around campus a little better, though I still get lost from time to time. Now living in a house with three roommates, I discovered that living off campus with my friends helps my mental health a lot.
Though not as active anymore, this feeling still shows up. These last two years of school have shaped me as a person more than any other point in my life. I learned how to live on my own, how to manage my time and money, and how to act like an adult essentially. That said, I still have a lot to learn and a lot more to experience. College felt very different from anything I expected. I went in blind. Merely knowing how to act like a good student, college made me realize that taking care of yourself and not ignoring your mental health should be your number one priority. And in this way, I quickly found out that college takes much more than academics.