9 Reflections about College Studenthood: Freshman Year Recap (Part 2 of 2)

Well… that was fast. I think now would be an appropriate time for me to put into words a lot of the things that I’ve learned and pondered about during my first year of college. I wonder if anybody finds these thoughts relatable?

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  1. F.O.M.O (Fear of Missing Out) shouldn’t be reason enough to do things. FOMO’s a familiar feeling: the dreadful ache that makes boredom and loneliness that much more agonizing, and tempts me to do things I’d rather not do. Naturally, FOMO was that uninvited guest that occasionally crept up on me on those Friday and Saturday nights where I chose to stay in my dorm. Though I always enjoyed chilling in the room for tea and conversation with my roommate, the rollicking commotion outside our window during those nights weren’t always easy to ignore. I’d get passing thoughts that made me wonder if I was doing this “college experience” thing right, and if I really understood the meaning of fun, since our usual evenings of comfortable silences and chats about the simple pleasures in life didn’t seem as thrilling as whatever those people outside would be shrieking and laughing about. FOMO also happened with big campus-wide events, including a massively-hyped speech on campus by David Cameron, and the famed Spring Weekend. On both occasions, I admit that I got FOMO’ed into buying tickets. It was like seeing a mosh pit of people fighting over some items on Black Friday, and me deciding to thrust myself into that pile of bodies to grab one for myself, without even pausing to see what those items really are. Though both experiences turned out to be pretty pleasant in the end, it didn’t sit well with me realizing that I’ve just mindlessly made the time and money commitments to do something just out of a blind urge to leap onto a bandwagon. Coming out of this, I’ve vowed not to let FOMO get the better of me in my future decision making. I’ve decided that of all the reasons and motivations I have for doing things in the future, FOMO could make an appearance on the T-chart, but I won’t give it any standalone legitimacy or place it above my own real wants. Easier said than done, but I think this’ll serve me well and give me a stronger sense of agency.
  2. Getting into the habit of challenging old rules is good for the most part. I should still call my parents though. Growing up, I listened pretty compliantly to all the “should’s” in my life. I should obey my teachers, I should be a dutiful daughter, I should do X Y and Z to achieve success in life. Partly from the influence of my philosophy professor and my peers at school, I’ve started to chip away at my respect for a lot of the holy should’s imposed on me from before. For one, I’ve realized that hunkering down and studying my way to the top using brute force and self-discipline like I’ve been told to do before might not be the only way to get by in college. Along with questioning all my academic should’s, I started wondering about the should’s tied to familial responsibility. My philosophy professor is the most pro-individual advocate I’ve ever met, and she seems to be of the persuasion that there really aren’t robust moral justifications underlying a lot of traditions and social contracts. She points out the phoniness of actions like saying “I love you” to people you don’t actually love or want to love, or being forced to construct friendships solely out of politeness or obligation. Suddenly, I found it a lot more difficult to justify my routine but sometimes bland keep-in-touch conversations with family members. Of all the many positive ways college has encouraged me to challenge my should’s, the family duty thing is something I’m still feeling conflicted about. Though I probably can’t come up with a rigorous proof of why calling my parents or grandparents every week to talk about the weather is an obligatory moral good, I see the importance of keeping such things going, as I get the sense that there’s a responsibility I have that’s bigger than myself and my personal will. Maybe it’s not the content of these conversations that are important, but rather the gesture that counts.
  3. College life makes the highs higher and the lows lower. College does a weird thing of amplifying my life experiences. When I’m having fun with friends and sharing good times, I’ve experienced joys that I don’t think I’ve had at home. Nothing smells like youth and freedom like throwing rules out the window every once in a while, staying up late, and (gasp) skipping classes for better adventures like getting bubble tea. I admit, though, that I’ve also experienced some of my lowest moments here as well. I take it as a sign that college is the place for me to learn how to get all my shit together, or at least in the places where it counts.
  4. College isn’t like real life. The same kinds of things that would gain you brownie points at school (nerdy talents, a zealous mind for philosophical discussions, an optimistic and blithe outlook about my own future) wouldn’t raise many eyebrows (in the good way, at least) from people outside the university. Also, the “real world” is so large that I think I understand now why it can be so difficult to make new friends after college. I didn’t really become aware of how deeply engrossed I was in the college bubble until I returned home in NJ. I remember standing in line at Costco one afternoon, seeing more disgruntled and bored middle-aged people and noisy little kids than I’ve encountered all year while I was in school. I got the sense that everybody out there was too busy with his/her own life to care about the affairs of whoever was standing nearby. At Brown, every new person you incidentally encounter already has something in common with you, be it a shared class, or similar daily schedule, or (at the very least) a shared Brown student identity. At Brown, standing next to somebody was good enough of a reason to say hello. At Costco, I was standing in a crowded warehouse filled with more people than I could count, but I was feeling alone as ever. How dispiriting!
  5. Routine makes time go faster. Being present and being deliberate at school is a skill that I still need to hone. When the novelty of a new experience wears away, and monotony and routine take over, time seems to roll by at frightening speeds (Before Einstein crawls out of his grave to waggle his finger bone at me, I’ll qualify that I’m talking about something completely non-scientific). When cool stuff is happening, my time perception slows so I can savor the experience. I felt as though my rocky adjustment period in September seemed to last forever, but two finger-snaps later, I’m looking back on it all as a misty-eyed sophomore. I wonder how that happened. It seems that the best way to slow the accelerating time treadmill is to first notice that it exists in the first place. I really like college, and sometimes I fear that it’ll pass me by if I get too complacent. These four years are too valuable to me (so much so, in fact, that it’ll be 4% more valuable next Fall!), to be squandered like a roll of toilet paper when I get too caught up in the relentless grind of problem sets and exams. For the future, I’m going to make a point of trying new things, meeting new people, smelling the flowers more, tasting my food more, and appreciating the loveliness of people’s company more. None of this actually dilates or contracts time (hoho I am way out of my depth with these physics references), but it really makes it more meaningful.
  6. I’ve begun to wonder when the world stops treating you like a precious investment and begins to expect you to be paying out. Education is all about incubating young people, showering them with knowledge and resources and money so that they can develop into productive citizens. A love for learning is such a great virtue for young people, because it shows their potential. But when does your hungry (and sometimes haphazard) pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement start to shift in people’s eyes from a laudable virtue to a somewhat selfish extracurricular activity? When is it time to stop stroking our chins over the same deep mysteries in life, and look to what we are actually able to do with all this laborious thinking? Being at Brown, I’ve rarely bogged myself down with pre-professional anxieties, as the atmosphere did a great job at making me feel good about learning for the sake of learning. Where is aggressive book-reading and aimless pontificating and whimsical soul-searching more encouraged than at an elite university? I wondered at points if I was starting to lose touch with reality. To some extent, I think I have. I’ll be counting on this summer break working in NYC to bring me back to my senses a little.
  7. I’m trying to be openly wrong more often. I’ve always been pretty reticent about voicing my thoughts or opinions for fear of being challenged. For some reason, I never put something out in the open unless I am certain that I will be able to defend myself, or convince others that I’m correct. Jesus — could I be any more wrong? If attaining the most correct truth is my goal, waving my unpolished ideas out in the wind will be the fastest way for me to locate and fix its problems. I think I’ve begun to learn the importance of this after getting to know my philosophy professor, who is delighted when she is proven wrong about things. Her mental framework of logic is terrifyingly sturdy, all thanks to the forty-years-worth of counterarguments that have been slung at her from all directions.
  8. Should I accept this opportunity to _______, even though I’m not sure if I’m qualified or prepared enough? I’m trying to say yes as often as I can. The outcome usually doesn’t turn out as bad as my thoughts like to conjure it up to be. I’ve now gotten a lot better at biting the bullet and just “going for it”, though overcoming apprehensions about new things will always be an ongoing struggle for me. The one experience I love to cite when it comes to this is the Hackathon I attended back in November. I still consider it one of the best impulse decisions I’ve ever made.
  9. Post-finals slump is a thing? For some reason, I’ve always found the immense relief of finishing a tough final or midterm disappointingly short lived. After the initial euphoria I feel from being freed from long hours at the library and crying over my open textbook, I always get filled with this cavernous feeling of emptiness. As someone who is always aching to be productive or busy, the ennui I experience from having nothing to do or look forward to is almost as agonizing as having too much to do. I realized that this post-finals slump thing might’ve been a sign that I was relying too much on external achievements for my sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. I won’t have “nothing” to do if I decide to take things into my own hands and start my own pet project, or set some ongoing goals that will take me beyond academics, so I can always have a reason to get up in the morning. And so that’s why I made this blog.

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Writer, Cog-Neuro Research Assistant @ Yale. Presenting my thoughts about self-development and life as a former college student || gloriawfeng.com

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