The stories your friends and family tell about college don’t really do the experience justice. “You’ll have the time of your life,” my mom said. “You’ll come into your own skin,” added my sister. No one really mentioned anything specific about college classes. They just told me to stand out as much as possible. When I stepped into my first college class, I immediately felt intimidated by the sheer number of students packed into one space. Even more intimidating, though, was the one person standing at the front who successfully commanded the attention of the hundreds of young adults who had nothing but sleep on their minds.
I wore the title of “that one kid who always raises their hand” in high school, at least in the classes I felt comfortable in. Anything from the analysis of Romeo and Juliet to how to successfully make it through tough calculus problems, I didn’t mind raising my hand and showing a lack of knowledge. In fact, I often welcomed it, knowing the questions would not feel half so relevant if I waited until after class to ask them.
Coming to college, I turned into a different person during class time.
The mass of students pulled any words from me I might have voiced and the glares from interrupting lectures for clarifying questions quickly became too much to put up with. I grew more and more silent in class. I did my best to blend in, studying the material as best I could outside the class and doing the work required of me. I hoped the professor didn’t call on anyone in class for answers, keeping my head low when they did reach out for students. But this left me feeling unfulfilled.
Asking questions gave me the freedom to keep up with my mind while also connecting better with my teacher and class. Now, even that “teacher” title had changed to “professor.” I felt a sense of loss by the end of my first semester, disappointed to leave my classes and start new ones in the spring. I hadn’t connected enough with my professors or classmates to feel sad that I wouldn’t see them again. It just felt natural to move on without a goodbye.
Inevitably, I couldn’t stay in my willed isolation forever. In the end, a recommendation pulled me out. Of course, all the suggestions of who to ask for the recommendation pointed towards the professors I still didn’t feel comfortable interacting with. But nerves would not get in my way.
I finally convinced myself to ask a large lecture professor if she would write me a recommendation and if she wanted to see me first to discuss it. I put my head in my hands after sending the email, believing that it would come to nothing. How could she possibly remember one student who hadn’t even raised her hand often in class?
When I received her agreement with a side note that the professor remembered my work from class, I felt a mixture of astonishment and elation. The feeling of flattery consumed me at the thought of this esteemed professor remembering my work out of the many who had turned in their own last semester. Guilt also creeped its way into my head for not putting in more time than I had for that class. I got ready for the meeting in a haze of nervousness, rehearsing what I wanted to say. Then I walked over to meet my new favorite professor, face to face, for the first time.
As I talked to her, I could feel my eyes widening and mind opening. She had lectured all semester with a charismatic tone, but it could not compare to the excitement in her voice when she described her recommendation. The laughter in her voice was contagious as she contributed humorous past experiences with students.
Something that surprised me: Everything she talked of felt extremely relatable. Before my eyes she became human, losing her intimidating professional aura but still, in my eyes, becoming more respected than before.
One feeling overwhelmed everything else as I walked back home: regret.
I regretted not coming and talking to the professor sooner. Not only would my grade probably be better but I would have gotten so much more out of the class. Had I known she could feel like a smiling friend, I would have gone to chat a lot sooner.
Putting myself out there and talking to my professors always felt scary at the beginning. You never know how they’ll interact with you face to face until you get there. I learned that their personality in class doesn’t always reflect how they act outside the confines of lecture. Professors have to put on a persona in class to become their professional selves. Meet them outside and they will likely feel like a kind adult you can easily converse with about whatever you want.
Listen to everyone’s advice you may have ignored. Step into office hours and meet your awesome professors.