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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

You do you: There’s no ‘right’ way to experience your college years

There are a lot of times I think I did college wrong. This becomes especially evident as my college career slowly creeps toward a close, while my sister’s is just taking off. Because of the glorious war of sister rivalry, sometimes I can’t help but compare our freshman years. She’s been making new friends every day, working out regularly, going out every weekend and bonding with the people on her floor.

In a way, she’s the poster child for the perfect freshman-year experience. The friends I made my freshman Fall semester did not last beyond then, I think I went to the gym once or twice and the first time my friends and I tried to go out, we ended up taking personality quizzes and eating popcorn.

At the time, I felt very insecure about not making a million new friends and not going to parties every weekend. Sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly self-critical that day, I think to myself, “Maybe I should’ve picked a different major. Maybe I should’ve been more involved in that particular club. Maybe this, maybe that.”

This, I believe, is a very common feeling, especially among those who don’t necessarily follow the typical path. And even among those who do, there may be a doubt in their minds about what they could be doing differently. We just can’t help but compare our experiences to the ones we are told we should have — be it from our peers, our families or the media.

We’ve been told college is the time to go out and party, it’s going to be the best four years of our lives and we’re going to meet our best friends within weeks of starting classes.

And sure, that’s one path you can take.

I didn’t meet my best friends my freshman year. Instead, I grew closer to two of my friends from back home, my roommate whom I had known since middle school but had grown apart from in high school and a friend from high school who transitioned from being someone I talked to in the hallways to someone I could confide in. Even though I wanted to go out and go to parties, it didn’t really happen that often, but we would go out at night and have picnics at random places on campus.

We would also walk downtown, as none of us had cars at the time, every week to go to the Master of Fine Arts readings — a series run by students in UF’s creative writing program — at Volta Coffee, Tea & Chocolate. When I’m feeling particularly reflective and at peace with myself, I look back on my freshman year and feel content. It may not have been the “right” way, but it was the right way for me. It was what I was ready for — what I was comfortable with at the time.

I know there’s some freshman out there right now who might be feeling that pressure to have a typical college experience and may be feeling insecure that he or she isn’t meeting new friends every day or going out three times a week. I just want all of those people to know that it’s OK. There’s no “right” way to go through college; there’s a way that’s right for you.

Don’t compare your experiences to those who seem to be getting it "right." Everyone takes different paths and has different experiences. In the end, there’s no point in regretting what you did not do. Instead, you can reflect on what you did do and the moments that were important, even if at the time they didn't seem like it.

Petrana Radulovic is a UF English and computer science senior. Her columns appear on Thursdays.

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