I always romanticized graduating high school and moving on to college, as though it would be like a movie. Movies paint the picture of a protagonist who resolves all issues, gains epiphanies, and has a happy ending all within two hours. However, reality is not a two hour long movie and the conflict-resolution paradigm in our lives is not linear. I was born and raised in a small town in the valley (a.k.a South Texas- I love the 956!) However, the day I received my acceptance letter to Cornell University, I blasted “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift for weeks. I thought after having a successful graduation and getting accepted into my dream college, it was the cue to a happy ending. I assumed the rolling credits with the Taylor Swift song playing in the background would begin. Little did I know going to college was only the beginning of an adventure.
Be Prepared to Move Across the Country
It was August 22nd, 2019 and I was packed, had my itinerary, and felt as ready as I could be to permanently move thousands of miles away from home… or so I thought. I had never been to New York City before and it really showed because I arranged my transportation times very tightly. All it took was a one hour flight delay in Houston, Texas and this led to a chain reaction of missing my buses in NYC. On top of that, when I tried claiming my luggage, I was told it was lost in the system. I was panicking but I ordered an Uber and still tried to make my connecting bus to Ithaca. Again, as a novel New Yorker, I didn’t realize an Uber from LaGuardia to the Port Authority Terminal would cost around $100. I still ended up missing my bus to college, my designated move-in time slot at Cornell, spent $100 on one Uber trip, needed to claim lost luggage, and I was all alone. The last thing I wanted was to worry my family, so I decided to figure things out on my own. I felt defeated and was in tears until I looked up and realized I was in THE Times Square, it was a complete dream. I was finally in the city for the first time. Then, I went back to panic mode and had to find a hotel for the night. After one sleepless night, several phone calls, and the longest day of my life, I finally made it to Ithaca the following night.
How to Avoid my Mistakes
- When booking flights or bus tickets, allow 1-2 hours of delay time between each reservation
- If you can drive to your college with all of your belongings, do it
- Look at the estimated price before you panic buy an Uber or any other form of transportation
Remember to research what the weather is like at your future college.
So now I’m on campus, could I find my happy ending? I walked into an empty, sad room, I was jet lagged, hungry, homesick, and tired. Then, I learned about the difference between collectivism and individualism in my Psychology class. I realized I was raised in a collectivist culture where I am influenced to make decisions based on what will benefit my family and community. I came to the conclusion that I should’ve never left the valley. I was missing out on funerals, birthdays, and other personal matters, so was leaving really the best decision for me or my family? Time had passed but I still felt alone and out of place. Was attending school so far from home really worth it? Who was this benefitting?
I had this doubt in my mind but continued moving forward. I kept hanging out with my friends that I made via Twitter and over the Prefreshman Summer Program. I kept searching for organizations to get involved in during orientation week. I tried out for several A cappella groups and applied to jobs on campus. I started going to office hours and constantly checked my emails for opportunities to become involved. In the end, I joined one A cappella group, remained true to what I am passionate about by volunteering with my friends, became an ambassador for the college of Human Ecology, a hospitality minister at Sage Chapel, a Cornell Tradition Fellow, became Balch Residence Hall president, made the Dean’s list, and landed an educational job with amazing bosses.
I realized I was living a happy beginning in disguise all along. Leaving wasn’t a mistake, it was an opportunity for me to learn just how strong I truly am away from home so that one day I can make a difference at home, for my community. Every moment is an opportunity for a new beginning, not an ending and life is not like a movie, it is much better. The transition to college may be physically, emotionally, and mentally draining but above all know that you are not alone in experiencing this. If there is a moment where you feel broken, remember that is when the light can truly seep through.
Just like Maddie from the show Sweet Magnolias put it, “The storms never stop coming but neither do the rainbows.”
Advice I would go back in time and tell myself
- Utilize online and thrift shopping
Retail therapy is a thing, it can also be inexpensive which makes it even more fun so just do it wisely. Also, decorate your dorm ode and it will make you feel at home.
- Create a Google calendar and practice time management
Make a google calendar and put all of your course times and locations on it. Shameless plug but I work at the LSC at Cornell. There are great resources for time management on the website lsc.cornell.edu like a printable monthly calendar (you can add all the “big picture stuff” like test dates and paper due dates to this) so you can target your busy weeks.
- Don’t go home (your dorm) if you know you won’t get any work done
Try not to leave central campus and sleep the day away in your dorm. Stay at a library and get some work done instead.
- Please just sleep
Self-explanatory, but take care of your health, that comes first and your problem set can wait until the morning!
- Schedule in time to FaceTime family members and friends from home
Family and friends give you a sense of home and that can bring comfort.
- Get a meal plan or make sure you eat at least once a day PLEASE
Don’t ask how I survived my first year (on Goldfish crackers and cereal) kidding… but don’t try to experiment and if you can get a meal plan, get one! Or, make sure you are at least eating healthy meals and eat at least one meal a day. It sounds bad but you can get so caught up in work, you forget to eat. If you need to schedule in time to eat, please do it!
- Get involved in your college and surrounding community
College can seem intimidating or scary but I promise you isolating yourself in your dorm won’t help. Go out, meet people, join organizations, and stick to your values. You are at that college for a reason so please go out there and show them what you’re made of.
- Schedule in time for self-care
Shameless plug for Cornell- visit the botanical gardens, New York City on breaks, Willard Straight movie theatre, College town bagels, frolic in the snow, visit Boba tea places in Ithaca, go bowling, go to socials, go on adventures with your friends and have sleepovers! You can also just put on a facemask and watch Netflix shows in your room while eating chips and salsa (I did that sometimes it’s totally okay). Just take care of yourself please. Remember that you matter.
Checklist of Useful College Supplies
- Shower Caddy
- Shower shoes
- Portable Charger
- Extension Cords
- Utensils and bowls
- Water bottle/flask