So. I have a full semester of college under my belt now.
It was a whirlwind of experiences, good, bad, stressful, fantabulistic. (I'm making that a word as of now). And by whirlwind I mean it flew by, really, really fast. And I want to take a moment to highlight some of the things that made it as good as it was - so much better than I expected, to be honest. I was homeschooled, and I thought the shift to secular college life would be a massive emotional undertaking. Turns out, I needn't have worried - it went swimmingly.
So here are some of the highlights, and what I learned from them.
1. Honors college orientation
The week before classes started, I went to a four-day honors college orientation retreat at a camp with a couple hundred other college freshman kids. I was nervous at first, unsure about making friends and of how different they might be from the people I was used to hanging out with - how different they might be from me. Turns out, they were likewise just a bunch of kids trying to learn how to both adult and enjoy themselves in a new college setting. Those four days were spent building friendships, learning about college life, swimming in the lake, rock climbing, and staying up late with cabin mates. It ended in a giant spirit contest that involved skits and screaming the college fight song about 4,782 times around a three-story bonfire. (At least, it seemed that tall to me and was hot enough that I couldn't even get close to roast my marshmallow). The friendships that I made there were vital to my transition into college. It was an experience I'll never forget. I learned that one of the nice things about college is that when you're starting out, everyone's in the same boat. Sure, we all come from different backgrounds, but as long as you're capable of asking, "Hey, what's your name?" and "So what's your major?" you won't have trouble making friends.
2. Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM)
Can I just.
I met the president of my university's BCM over the summer, and she helped me get involved with the ministry. I showed up on the night when they assigned Freshman Family Groups (Bible study/support groups with an upperclassmen "mom" and "dad" as leaders, in which you have fellow freshmen for brothers and sisters) and it just got better and better from there. If it hadn't been for my family group and the other people that I befriended at the BCM over the last 3 months, my semester would have been infinitely less fun. Not to mention, they helped me stay on track in my faith, which is even more important.
From BCM, I learned the importance of getting involved with people who share the same values as you, and who can help you stay grounded in your beliefs. I got to witness a group of college kids actively seeking and sharing Jesus among themselves and with others. It was an amazing reminder of how much influence young people can have (1 Tim. 4:12). I can't wait to see where God takes this campus ministry.
3. My professors
I had the coolest professors ever. And I was super nervous about that, too, going in. I thought they were all going to be either boring or intimidating. Turns out, they're just people too. And fun people, at that. My geology professor was a shorter woman with long, dark hair, who liked classic rock music and always put an inspirational quote up on the screen every Monday. "Motivational Monday" she called it. My Folk Studies professor was a really nice woman with a nose piercing and an engaging folklore course. I had two professors that were both named Dr. Kim - one, a literature professor who challenged and encouraged me in my first-ever college English class, gave me a hug the last day I saw him, and sent me one of the nicest emails I've ever received, and the other a very chill and lenient psychology professor who gave us candy before every exam.
I learned that most professors respect you, and they notice when you respect them in turn. They notice when you listen, and when you put forth an effort. Getting to know my professors was a word of advice that I applied over the semester, and it helped me in so many ways. And they were awesome people, which made it easy.
4. So...I had my first date.
I met a guy at the BCM, and by the end of the semester he asked me to go ice skating with him and a couple other friends at the new ice skating rink in town. I hadn't dated up until then, and didn't quite know what I was doing, but I liked him, and I accepted. And it was fun - except we didn't get to ice skate. I had an orchestra concert that evening which they came to, but it ran late and the rink closed before we could get there. However, we went to the city square instead and meandered under the Christmas lights, talking. And then we drove around town and ended up hanging out at Steak 'n Shake until 2:30 a.m.
I'd never done anything like that before, hanging out in town with people my age until almost three in the morning. And it was so much fun. I learned once again that not everything always goes according to plan (we did get to go ice skating eventually, though), and if you just go with the flow, it can still be fun and memorable. I also learned that first dates aren't necessarily what you imagine them to be; my first date was basically us four college kids loitering at the town square and then chilling at Steak 'n Shake, chatting about everything from morality to Marvel movies and flicking sugar packets at each other over fries and milkshakes. It was fun and comfortable, and I wouldn't have changed a thing about it.
I love my campus. It's spacious and beautiful, with countless places to hang out and study in both good and bad weather. The cafeteria serves food that meets all of my dietary needs, and once the weather turned cool I'd go there, get a hot meal in a to-go box, and hole away in a study nook in the building to do homework. Before that, when the weather was warmer, I had a routine of studying in the library between classes, then finding a bench or a flat rock to sit on and eating my lunch in the sunshine. I got to walk anywhere, drive anywhere, and ride with anyone anywhere that I wanted to go, staying out late, going places with my BCM group, and attending social events different groups at my university hosted. The newfound taste of freedom was liberating, and thankfully, I have good parents who taught me how to use it wisely. I learned that it's good to hang out past your bedtime sometimes, but there's a fine line between prioritizing your social life and prioritizing homework. As an introvert, I didn't find this too much of a challenge - eleven o'clock is when I start to wear down at social events that last late - but there were still a few times that I ended up saving homework for the morning of. (Not recommended).
So there you have it. Five highlights. There were many more - weekly lunches with friends, interesting class projects, and some very exciting educational opportunities, to name a few. There were also lots of stressful, not-so-good moments, of course. But overall, my first taste of college completely surpassed my expectations in the best ways, and my heart is full to the brim with gratitude toward my faithful God for that. I was more than ready for my winter break when finals ended, but I already miss my new friends, and look forward to what next semester holds.