Many thousands of students leave their homes and travel abroad to study every year, in search of new experiences, better education and exposure to international culture. I’m one of those many people. Having survived four years of college, I learnt many lessons along the way, some of which I wish I’d known before setting sail. The four years you spend in college really define your life. It’s one of the most challenging experiences you’ll have. And you can only do it once, so here’s a quick synopsis of what I’ve learned in the past few years.
The first day in college, 2010
It’s a fresh start
No matter what you did before, where you came from, or what your mindset is – coming to a new place gives you a fresh start. It’s very rare for life to give you second chances, so it’s very important to acknowledge that. At the beginning of college, straight from your orientation days, be friendly and open to differences. More likely than not, everyone is nervous and looking to make new friends; so talk – talk to everyone and you’ll be presently surprised. I kept and open mind and made many new friends in the first few weeks of college, and it helped me overcome the initial culture shock.
Honor’s Conference Presentation at Niagara Falls, 2014
I can’t stress this enough. Join clubs, go to meetings, attend seminars, trips and conferences. It’s a great way to make new friends and find your strengths and weaknesses. It readies you for the real world in so many different ways. You learn how to communicate, administrate, lead and become a much more responsible person. In my years at college, I was an honors student, a teacher’s assistant, president of the student body, a resident assistant, a tutor and part of many different executive boards. Get a job that helps you cover your expenses! It helped me pass my time in a very constructive way and enabled me to become a well-rounded person by the time I graduated. I was no longer afraid of public speaking or making reports. It really helps your resume too! You rather be a 3.7ish student with many different contributions to your school than a 4.0 who spent all their time in their room, well…studying.
Again, making good friendships is absolutely vital to a successful college experience. Through my four years, I was fortunate enough to make some connections that will last me a lifetime. People from numerous different countries and traditions, through whom’s stories and experience I travelled so many places. Suddenly finding yourself away from family and being alone can be very overwhelming. Try and make a few close connections that you can always count on – and you’ll find that they eventually become your family. People left and people joined my “inner circle”, but the memories that I had with them will live on forever. It taught me that you find many amazing people along the journey who may be temporary, but they have a long-lasting impact on you.
Find the right balance
It’s often said that you can only get two out of Social Life, Good Grades and Enough Sleep in college, and I found this to be pretty true. College is not just about education, but it’s also about having fun. Personally, I gave up on a lot of sleep and chose to keep my grades up and have fun with my friends. It meant for a lot of zombie days, but I don’t regret it at all. Make sure you are able to find your right balance and stay true to it. If you feel like one of the areas are lacking, you could pay more attention to it at the expense of others. Study Hard, Party Harder!
Get that internship
Getting, at least, one internship is pretty much mandatory in college. It’s a great precursor to the real world and helps add a lot of weight to your resume. I was fortunate enough to land a web development internship in New York at a very modern marketing agency and it helped me get a good idea of how it would be like if I did a job in that field. Working in one of the most exciting and bustling cities in the world is one of my fondest memories from my college years.
Daytona Beach, 2011
Travel as much as you can – and I mean – every chance you get. Once you’re out of college and get a job, and eventually start a family, traveling gets increasingly harder (and more expensive). Through my years, I drove up and down the entire east coast of the United States, from Vermont to Miami. I spent more money than I could afford, but the memories I made with my friends during these visits made it worth every penny. Seeing new places as a student is easy, so hop on that bus and journey on!
Don’t do stupid things.
Need I say more? While college is all about having fun and doing crazy things, remember that you’re (probably) paying a shit ton of money to go to school. I saw people go through some very bad experiences because of some bad decisions with drugs and alcohol, procrastination and hanging out with the wrong people, and it cost them valuable time. If you do make stupid decisions, learn from them, and move on. You’re young and making bad decisions actually is a good thing – if you manage to learn from them. In short, draw that line, and stay behind it.
Graduate with a plan!
You’re probably planning to graduate if you’re going to college – but it’s only half the challenge. In your senior year, set time apart for finding jobs, applying to your grad schools, etc. Time goes really, really, fast in college, and before you know it – you’re out of college with no plan. So plan ahead and you’re sure to have a secure feeling once you’re done with school.
Surround yourself with smart people
Success is contagious. It helps to be around smart people because they’re probably making the right choices. They push you to become a better student and you tend to work harder around them. Not to say you find the geeky-ist group of people – find kids who’re equal parts fun and smart – and you’ll notice that you get a lot more out of your time, alternating pleasantly between silly conversations and debates on world issues.
Finally – Soak it all in!
It goes by fast! Time is pretty constant but it seems to defy the laws of physics and goes by a lot faster when you’re having fun. Remember to soak it all in – you will probably condense a lot of experiences, lessons, memories and moments in a very short time, but revel in them and take it all in. You’ll never get those years again – try to make the most of them and take that great first step towards an awesome life!
Graduation Day with Parents