Educational value aside, going away to college means no strict curfews, no one to force us to attend class and no more lectures from Mom and Pop. Although I personally did not have helicopter parents, being on my own still appealed to me. I knew I would miss home, but I couldn’t wait for the chance to live by my own rules.
When I arrived at the University of Florida and said goodbye to my parents, I was a swirl of mixed emotions. Even though I feared being on my own, I was proud of myself for making the decision to go away and enjoy the freedom I thought I would have. In my time so far in school, I’ve realized that college is not the lecture-free experience I thought it would be. In fact, college consists of more lectures than being at home does, even outside of the classroom.
For starters, I was lectured nonstop about my long-distance relationship. As a decorated third semester veteran of long distance romance, I can’t count the number of times people have asked me how or why I’m in a relationship. Forming bonds with with other people was difficult because of my relationship. They’d talk about their crazy nights out, their wild flings and then ask what I was up to last night, to which my response was usually, “Well, you know, I had a FaceTime date with my boyfriend.”
People also judged my choice to major in English. Of course, not everyone told me outright that my choice of major was useless, but their facial expressions said it all. I noticed that even people outside of the liberal arts field got questioned. Pre-Meds get asked why they want to stay in school for so long, engineering majors get asked how they can bear so much calculus and chemistry majors get asked if they hate themselves.
All these little criticisms really overwhelmed me during my first few months of college. I just couldn’t believe that people who were supposed to be mature and welcoming were so judging of my personal choices and the choices of others. Of course, I did what every first semester freshman does—I called my parents, told them I just couldn’t do it anymore and that I wanted to come home. Typical. My mom told me that I had every right to be overwhelmed, but that what I was feeling would not go away if I left Gainesville. She said my situation wouldn’t leave if I left, but that I had to change the way I looked at the situation or I would be miserable for not only the remainder of college, but my whole life too.
I wanted so badly to take my mom’s advice, but I just couldn’t. How was I supposed to just magically change the way I saw things? When I was leaving for the second semester, my mom left me with some final words of advice. She said, “Sometimes, you have to stop listening to what other people are saying and instead just look at what they’re doing.”
Putting this advice into practice took me a while, but eventually I realized just how to apply it. My mom wanted me to stop focusing so much on how people were looking at me and instead to look at other people. And I did. I looked around and noticed that despite the judgment of others, people were still continuing to shape their own lives and chase success in their own way.
All around me, people were fighting stereotypes and asserting themselves. They were keeping up with relationships they thought were important, whether the person was in the classroom next to them or 500 miles away. They were sitting in the front of the class, answering questions, even if people thought they were teachers’ pets. They were studying something they loved, even if people thought it was too hard, too easy or a waste of money. They were wearing what they wanted to class, even if it was too casual or too formal. These people, the ones who were effortlessly themselves, were the people I should have listened to all along. Through their actions, not their words, they silently lectured me, telling me that it was possible to be unapologetically myself.