It’s easy to feel like college is supposed to be the most important and formative part of your life. At least, that’s what many of us have been led to believe through media and film. However, after some time, I’ve come to realize that’s not true for everyone. It’s hard to not get muddled up in what you think your experience is supposed to be, but it is best to focus on making it the best version of what it already is. I felt the same way about high school — like everything that happened was the most important thing in the world. Yet, the number of people that I still keep in contact with that I used to see every day can now be counted on one hand. Even my most embarrassing or happiest moments have all become a blur.
High school and college can be all-consuming while you’re in them, especially because they are a cesspool of unhealthy comparison. However, everyone is on their own path — it may take longer to get from one place to another for some, but that doesn’t determine your destination. Trust that everything will work out, and if it doesn’t, worry about it when it happens because everything, good or bad, eventually comes to an end.
Here are a few tips I’ve gathered over time to help remember how to keep things in perspective in college:
1. Start studying early to minimize stress around exam time.
Annoyed how tests, projects, and papers all seem to pile up at the same time? Start studying early by going over your notes for a few minutes each day so you don’t have to cram for four classes at once. When you have some free time, study even if you don’t think you have to because exam time can sneak up on you before you know it. Easier said than done, but try not to procrastinate! This way you won’t be so concerned about where you stand in relation to others when you are cramming during exam week.
As someone who has experienced instances of almost crippling anxiety in my life, I know that the avoidance of these issues in conversation is a fact. Stress and anxiety are just not things that society addresses. If someone wants to discuss them, it is often either with a professional, or not at all.
For me, the amount of preparation it takes to even do something as simple as making a phone call or socializing with people I don’t know is staggering. And yet, through my years, I have learned to cope with this part of my life. I have learned how to be able to function when I feel like I can’t breathe and how to push past it.
But imagine if I were put in a totally new environment. An environment in which I knew barely anyone. A place with a culture entirely different from my own, with a language that I do not natively speak. I have personally never been in this situation, but all the students I have worked with through ALI’s Conversation Groups are experiencing this as I type.
A new place can be incredibly hard to adjust to. I know that it took me several weeks to adjust to USC when I first moved here just last August, and during those weeks, there were several moments when my anxiety took over, and it felt like every little thing was just absolutely overwhelming. Fortunately, however, I had friends and family who I could talk to, as well as an incredibly supportive roommate, and all of the coping methods which I have developed through the years. These support systems are not something everyone has, however. Not everyone is taught or is able to figure out ways to help their anxiety, and so stressful situations, such as moving to an entirely new country, can just be beyond overwhelming.
When I was a junior at USC, I spent the entire academic year abroad in Tokyo, Japan. I went because I wanted to learn more about what life is like in a different culture, as well as immerse myself in a language other than my own. While abroad, I realized three major ideas that helped me navigate my time in Japan, thus enriching my experiences. Now that I’m back in my home country, I’d like to pass these ideas on to any international student who is studying here at USC and struggling with the language.
1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! I know it can be scary to speak in a different language; you don’t want to mess up or look stupid in front of people. I learned that from speaking with lots of different people in Japanese that it is okay to make mistakes and that native speakers won’t think badly of you for messing up. I know it is hard to believe but if you just push forward and try to communicate your idea, you can learn more and develop your speaking skills better than not speaking up at all. To get in the mindset of speaking freely, I thought to myself: “This is a great chance to get to learn a language through talking to native speakers. I won’t get a chance like this for a long time. I have to seize this opportunity!”
2. Do not be afraid to reach out for help. If the native speaker is talking too fast or you cannot understand the words they are saying, try asking them to repeat themselves slowly or ask them to say it in a different way. Native speakers understand you are learning and will try to accommodate you as best they can! After all, it is harder for you to translate what they say and speak your opinion than it is for them as a fluent speaker to repeat their sentence slower. You might initially think it is rude to ask someone to repeat themselves but, I can assure you, it is not. Asking someone to repeat themselves means that you care about what they have to say and that what they are talking about is important for you to fully understand.