It took me two hours of sitting at JJ’s with my friends after my last final to realize that I had just finished my first semester of college—somehow, the past four months I had spent in New York and away from home were over. It was in that moment, as I was sitting in my most comfortable sweatpants eating curly fries, that I was the proudest I have ever been of myself.
Everything about the first semester of college seems like a big deal. Everyone around you claims it’s going to be amazing, and that you—for sure—got this. But still, how exactly you’re going to get through it all remains an unanswerable question—or at least that’s how it felt for me.
But I did get through it, and I would like to believe that I gave it my best, even when I didn’t feel like I did. It took me time to start believing in what I thought I already knew: that grades don’t define my worth, that it’s OK not to feel great all the time, and most importantly, that I have to really love and believe in myself no matter what. It wasn’t until this past semester that I learned the importance of really practicing self-love.
I first had to acknowledge that I only have to live up to my standards, and nothing more. I needed to do things not because I had to, but because I wanted to. But before I could start learning, I realized I have to love and allow myself to be imperfect—something I didn’t do in the past.
It wasn’t until I stopped enjoying my classes that I started seeing the flaws in how I approached my first semester. Being in SEAS is overwhelming as it is, but when you dread going to calculus, physics, and chemistry courses—even though you love them—that’s a red flag. That’s when I decided I needed to make some adjustments. As important as being “involved” was for me, it shouldn’t take away from my learning and self-worth. Instead, it should add to them.
Fall of my first year brought about the most change I’ve ever experienced, but it was also a change that I shared with everyone around me. Everyone had to adjust to a completely different lifestyle once they arrived here. I didn’t know what it was going to be like exactly, but I was OK with that.
Because I went to an international high school in Lebanon, I wasn’t stepping into uncharted territory at Columbia in terms of diversity, academics, and other aspects of campus life, which resembled the lifestyle I was exposed to for the past seven years of my life. With all the similarities, I started thinking I could get by with my old routine.
But college wasn’t the same as high school. I had the additional factors of living alone in a different country without any of the people or things that defined home for the entirety of my life. I no longer woke up to my siblings running around the house or my parents getting ready for work, nor did I hear Arabic curse words overshadowed by the adhan and the ringing of church bells as I walked on the street. I didn’t know every single person in my graduating class, and I didn’t like what American breakfast had to offer.
But I also didn’t know nearly enough people who opened up and talked about their experiences and struggles, so I did the same thing for a while.
Then I started talking to my high school friends studying in the U.S. about my transition, and then with my friends at Columbia. Throughout the semester, I made sure to maintain my relationship with my family, even if I wasn’t always my happiest self. Talking to others about these things and having them share their experiences with me helped, and I was slowly feeling like a better version of my old self.
I know I’m not the only one who didn’t have the smoothest first semester, and I also know that every single first-year out there should be proud of themselves for surviving it. Getting to the point where you can give yourself the space needed to grow isn’t easy, especially when you feel like you can’t let people down or you can’t make mistakes—or else you’re not worth being here in the first place. I learned that the hard way.
The academic and social pressures of being a first-year paired with the feeling of being disconnected from everything you had always called home are tough. That’s for sure. But at the end of the day, as long as you spread love, let your passion drive you, and take care of yourself, you should be proud.
The author is a first-year in SEAS still trying to figure out her major. Her goal this semester is to be healthier and do things she loves. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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