After my freshman year, I thought I had this whole college thing down. Then sophomore year hit me like a brick wall.
Freshman year was exciting, energizing and slightly terrifying. I made friends, lost friends and then made some new ones. I had crushes (some of which weren’t reciprocated) and nursed my wounds before moving onto the next one. On the last day of freshman year, I remember calling it the most difficult and incredible year of my life.
And then sophomore year began.
After the busy first few days passed, I looked around and thought, “Wait… is this really all there is?”
With the rush of newness gone, the pace seemed slow, like I was wading through honey after last year’s sprint. Many of my friends from freshman year had either transferred or were studying abroad, and others were now living off-campus. By now, I expected campus to feel like home – instead, it felt emptier than I remembered.
I think part of my problem came from the idea of college shown in movies, TV shows and in the way older people fondly reminisce about “those good old days.” College is depicted as a time of reckless abandon and nonstop partying. Each night is one to be remembered—or entirely forgotten in the wake of the next morning’s hangover.
As wide-eyed freshmen, it’s pounded into our heads: These are the best four years of our lives. We better soak in every moment before we’ve crossed that stage, diploma in hand, into an endless abyss of work and bills.
By sophomore year, everyone had already settled into friend groups, while I felt stuck in between different cliques without really belonging to any. The frantic freshman frenzy had passed. My cycle was set: class, work, study, sleep, and repeat.
To make it worse, my college is in middle of nowhere central Pennsylvania. Here, the typical evening consists of runs to a local 24-hour diner, star-gazing on Cemetery Hill or drinking smoothies at our student union. After a year of this, I was getting bored.
All of this led me to question my place in this school. Had I chosen the right college? Would I be happier somewhere else? Why the hell had I not chosen to live in a city – any city? I had moved halfway across the world from Thailand to live in a place that smelled like cow manure and dirt year-round.
On top of this, the same GPA that hadn’t mattered freshman year became a looming stress over my head. I walked into college with the attitude of, “I got this.” By my sophomore year, I was under self-imposed anxiety, trying to maintain perfect grades while balancing a full course load, working 20 hours a week and participating in other campus activities.
I quickly started to crumble underneath the weight of the pressure cooker I’d created.
During that semester, the more stressed I became, the harder it was to fall asleep at night. I’d toss and turn for hours, with one thought going through my head over and over: “Maybe I don’t got this.” I couldn’t balance it all: the grades, the jobs, the shiny social life. I had no idea how they made it look so easy in the movies.
This lasted a couple of months. The more I tried to attain the perfect image of college life, the unhappier I got. Some mornings I couldn’t even find the motivation to get out of bed. I’d just lie staring at the chalky white ceiling, unable to sleep but unwilling to move.
(At this point I also started to binge-watch enough TV shows to probably beat some kind of world record, but that’s a story for another time.)
I felt like I was trapped in a perpetual dark cloud that I couldn’t shake on my own. It took the help of some great friends to make me realize I needed to stop thinking so far in the future and just take it one day at a time. I didn’t have to stress about next year’s internships; I just had to write today’s paper, breathe a little and have some fun. Tomorrow would take care of itself.
I learned to appreciate the slow pace of my middle-of-nowhere school. I’m still a city girl at heart, and I’m a hundred percent sure I’m moving to an urban area the day I graduate college. But for now, this is where I chose to be, farmland and all. There may even come a day when I miss the constant smell of cow manure in the air, although I wouldn’t bet money on it.
As a junior, I still don’t have it all figured out. There are days when I procrastinate and decide to take a nap over studying for an exam. There are still moments when I feel like the stress is so heavy that it’s like carrying a dumbbell around.
But at the end of the day, I still have those friends around to remind me how to shake off the sophomore slump and really live in each moment. I’ve learned to laugh at the things that are ridiculous, appreciate the people who keep me sane and notice the ways in which college is changing me for the better. One day, once I start dealing with real “grown up problems,” I’ll probably confuse the next generation with tales about my “good old days.”