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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Learning to like college: When you’re not so in love with it

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College life — the long-awaited chapter in our lives supposed to be filled with newfound freedom, unforgettable memories and endless opportunities. It's the moment we've all been waiting for since childhood, right? What happens when dreams don't quite match reality?

If you're anything like me, then you probably pictured your college experience quite differently than life at UF. Having spent all of my life in Florida, I was looking for any way out and leaving for college was going to be my answer. 

Acceptances were no issue, but the reality of a debt-free lifestyle in-state was something I couldn’t pass up. Now, instead of getting to watch the seasons change, I have to imagine the leaves falling from palm trees symbolize a difference in the 90-degree heat. 

Between UF’s busy campus, rigorous coursework and a never-ending sea of faces, it's easy to feel like a small fish in a big pond. Nonetheless, finding my niche in college was not all about falling head over heels for every aspect of campus life. 

From what I’ve learned so far, it’s about forging your own path, embracing all the difficult times that come your way, and ultimately learning to thrive in an environment that you might’ve initially resisted. 

When I first transferred to UF in the Spring of 2023, my overall experience was underwhelming. I knew the “getting to know each other” friendliness of the Fall semester wouldn’t carry over to the new year, but the lack of connections wasn’t even my main issue — everything just felt the same. 

I was still coming to terms that I was just another person from high school who had come here when I had been expecting to leave everyone behind for a fresh start. Financially, that just wasn’t an option, and I needed to get over the loss of my fantasy world. 

Remembering not to treat the present like a transitionary period is a lesson I’m still trying to learn. 

Some days it’s so hard to not hate everything, anything, everyone and anyone here, but I don’t think that’s an experience unique to only Gainesville. I’d be naive not to appreciate where I am in life and all the hard work that’s been put in to get me here. 

Just because where I’ve ended up did not match my expectations, it does not mean I’m unsuccessful. I will surely not waste this time wishing it was already over. Why look back on this fantastic period in my life with regret, when I have the ability to change that?

I thought I would miss out on  a campus filled with new and unfamiliar people, but it turns out UF was precisely that. However, that also came with its own challenges.

I love the feeling of a big school, but the comfort of familiarity was an underrated concept when it came to friends. My familiar faces from past schools were kind enough to show me everything I had missed in our fall semester apart, and quickly became my pillars of support once again. 

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Meeting new people wasn’t a difficult task — connecting with them was. So many students already come with their own cliques or groups, which can make you feel like you’ve only just missed the deadline of that “lifelong friendship" everyone talks about. This can be even harder if you're living off-campus, as there’s no immediate access to the on-campus community or events that give way to those crucial interactions. 

One of the best pieces of advice I have is to just say yes — to everything, anything, everyone and anyone. If you findt there are no opportunities for you to say yes, then be that person that’s asking. Even if you don’t think the event aligns with your interests, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.

I’ve found so many new interests, made so many important friends, and created my favorite memories just by doing this. Growth rarely happens if you stick to your bubble of familiarity.

I’m learning to love college. I know that this time, these experiences and all of the lessons are all for the better. Impatience and longing for the future might have overshadowed the value of the present, but I refuse to let it any longer. Gainesville might not have been my dream destination, but it’s the place where I have the privilege to grow and evolve.

Mia Orris is a UF psychology junior

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