Home for the Holidays

home

By Guanani

Coming home for winter break after being away for college can be unexpectedly disorienting.

This was especially the case for me, having chosen a school more than a thousand miles away from Minneapolis in Portland, Oregon. Even though I’m close to and on good terms with my family, suddenly being surrounded by them after months of figuring out how to live on my own was more of a challenge than I expected. I immediately missed the personal freedoms college offers; being able to go anywhere without having to tell anyone, the privacy of making my own decisions, and the spontaneous socializing opportunities I had gotten used to at Reed.

After the ridiculously busy last few weeks of the semester, I was looking forward to spending time with my family and having nothing to do for several days. But once I had finally turned in my last final exam, packed up my warm clothes and gotten off the plane into the chilly Minneapolis air, I mostly felt lost and confused.

I have two homes now: the familiar Minneapolis I grew up in and Portland, whose streets are full of memories and new friends and freedom to explore all kinds of new challenges. After weeks of going full throttle, always having some kind of assignment to work on or outing to participate in, being home almost felt stifling.

With free time to spare, I suddenly didn’t know what to do with myself.

Eventually the feeling subsided. I found projects to work on, spent the holidays with family and friends from high school, and came to feel much better about being home. But I know that initial shock of returning will only get stronger the more time I spend away. My new life at college that I worried so much about the summer after high school has become my normal life, and I can’t help but be a little sad that I don’t feel as at home here in Minneapolis as I used to.

Curious, I asked my friends who go to different colleges how they felt about coming home. Everyone had their version of similar feelings, which boiled down to wanting to stay connected to their childhood home and family but also not wanting to spend too much time there. My parents also noticed that I was talking much more about Portland this year, and that I seemed bored at home. My dad said he understood, but was clearly sad. “I’m not as important in your life anymore,” he lamented. “But make sure to keep visiting. We miss you over here.”

After some reflection, I’ve decided I probably won’t stay home during all of winter break next year. But I would at least like to visit for the holidays, when everyone else comes together. Even though I feel increasingly separate from them, there are still many unique things I love about my family and Minneapolis.

I know it’s important to spend time here, at least for short visits, and stay connected.

Creating a Home in College

home

by Guanani

There’s plenty of college advice floating around about leaving home and transitioning to college, but very little about what it means to create a home for yourself once you’re there.

One of the most valuable things I’ve come to learn is the importance of creating a home; without a solid place to come back to, physically and emotionally, it’s easy to feel lost, confused, and not sure how to ground all the hard work and exploration that a college experience involves. Home isn’t just something you find, but something you actively create according to your needs and values.

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Here are a few things that make a home feel like home for me:

  1. A space where you feel comfortable and relaxed.

This can be tricky if you find yourself in a loud, cramped dorm situation, but home doesn’t necessarily have to be where you’ve been assigned to live.

Look for a place where you feel calm and can unwind from the day. If you have a friend who lives in a quieter area, spend time in their dorm. Maybe there’s a pleasant spot on campus with a cool tree, or a corner in the library you can return to on a regular basis that can serve as a home away from home.

  1. Headquarters for your life.

Home is the axis that supports the rest of your life, whether that means a pit stop for snacks or a nap, a cozy corner where you can reflect, or just a place where you keep your things. Ideally home in college is conveniently near your classes, friends, and sources of food and other necessities.

The important thing is for it to be close enough that you feel connected to the greater college community while still having your own personal space.

  1. People or a community to come home to.

This has been by far the most important part of creating a home in college for me. Feeling like I belong and having people to talk to, study, and go on adventures with became easier as time went on and new friendships were formed. Living in a distinct community without your family offers you the unique opportunity to build a family of friends to support each other when things get difficult, do homework with, or just spend time together on a regular basis.

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Making a home takes time and effort.

It doesn’t happen overnight, and finding the right circumstances and strong relationships to make it happen can be hard or even frustrating in the midst of all the various challenges college brings. Home should be a focal point in the constellation of your life, something you can rely on, feel safe in, and come back to over and over again.

As you move on from living with families and discover the possibilities offered by independent living, don’t forget to consider what creating a good home means to you.

Transition Summer

tips-to-having-happy-summer

by Guanani

Senior year is just about over.

Hopefully most things are in order; you know where you’ll be going, you’ve wrapped up your last semester, and you’ve figured out how you want to celebrate graduation. Only three months stretch ahead before the bold frontier of the future…

Wait, only three months?!

The realization that I would be moving more than 500 miles away and leaving everything I knew behind in mere months was a delayed-reaction shock for me. In a haze of pre-nostalgia and panic, I made several drafts of packing lists, checked the Reed website every day to make sure I didn’t miss any important information, and wrote up a summer bucket list of things I wanted to do before leaving.

These preparations helped me get ready for the move to college, but I felt sad and woefully unprepared emotionally for most of the summer. I was excited to live somewhere outside of Minnesota and begin a new chapter in my life, but leaving my family and friends behind was heavy in my heart even when I was doing fun things with them.

If I could talk to myself from last summer, I would tell her:

  1. Calm down
  2. You aren’t leaving forever, these people will still be part of your life when you come back
  3. You won’t have time to read all those fun books in your suitcase 😦

That being said, I do recommend taking steps to make sure you don’t miss any important announcements from the college you’ll be attending, especially with all the forms and paperwork they will need for housing, registration, orientation events and health insurance. The bucket list was also a lot of fun to complete, though I really didn’t need to be so heavy-handed about it being the last time I’d get to do fun things at home. Figuring out what you need to pack well ahead of time makes the already difficult last week before moving less stressful, and the fewer things you bring with, the better.

I had a lot of fun during my transition summer: I hung out with friends, swam in the Chain of Lakes, read good books for fun, and finally got my drivers’ license.

However, the persistent worrying about everything being “the last” was unpleasant and unnecessary, and made the last two weeks especially difficult. Everything was ready except for me: my flight to Portland was booked, my boxes were packed, and most of the items on my bucket list had been checked off. The last days before leaving were filled with fretful goodbyes: everyone wanted another hug, another picnic or sleepover before I had to leave.

Everything felt irreversibly final, like walking toward a cliff. Looking back it seems overdramatic, now that I’ve built a home away from home and found friends in college. But it was very real at the time.

The summer after senior year is an odd one. Even if the transition feels awkward, or like it’s going by too fast, or you can’t wait to just get out of the house, it should also be enjoyable. Spend lots of time with your loved ones and read for fun while you can.

You’ve come a long way, and it’s time to relax and prepare for wherever you’re going.

Just When You Thought You Could Relax

Just when you thought you could relax

by Guanani

Whew! The flustered, harried college application season is over at last. Schools have been listed, essays have been churned out, and the stressful frenzy has finally quieted. The weight is off your shoulders, and now you can enjoy the last semester of high school in peace.

“So, are you excited for college? Where are you going?” your aunt/friend’s parent/other well-meaning adult suddenly asks, shattering your pleasant illusion.

You’re not done yet, and a new anxiety sets in.

One year ago, I had no idea where I would be in seven months. I didn’t know how I felt about leaving home. I wanted to just focus on enjoying senior year. I didn’t feel like explaining myself over and over again to various acquaintances who were attempting to make small talk.

On many occasions I felt like ignoring these kinds of questions and not thinking about my academic future. Alas, that would be rude. So I gave half-hearted, generic answers like: “Well, I just finished applying, so I won’t know where I’ve been accepted until April…”

I became so annoyed by the prevalence of these questions that one night, at dinner, I asked my parents to completely stop asking me about college unless it was extremely important. They were good sports about it, even though they didn’t understand why talking about college bothered me so much. In retrospect, the repetitive questions not only aggravated my anxiety about waiting for acceptance or rejection but they were also a constant reminder of my uncertainty about the future in general.

To my past self I would say, “Worry not: admissions are way less of a big deal once you get there, and lots of cool stuff happens, and the future will still be scary but you’ll be so busy studying gas laws and biking across cities that you won’t notice as much.”

So take heart, waiting seniors. Put thoughts of admission and the ever-elusive future on the back burner, encourage your family to do the same, and grab your second semester by the horns. Go out of your way to enjoy all the fun things about high school (while still working hard in your classes, of course). Preemptively and aggressively begin non-college small talk with your relatives, if necessary.

The semester is yours, and you can deal with admission/rejection when you get there.

College vs. High School Schedules

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by Guanani

Ah, sweet freedom!

The amount of unstructured time you get in college is by far the biggest adjustment from high school. Instead of having six or seven back-to-back classes with sports or other activities after school, college is a big mishmash of vastly different time slots, four-hour labs, student group meetings, and awkward breaks between classes.

In some ways, this is liberating. No one expects you home by a certain hour, and some days you might only have a class or two. However, it’s much harder to discipline yourself and know where and when to do things.

Here’s where the dreaded Time Management comes in. There are more strategies for how to plan your time than will ever fit in a blog post, but the most important strategy of all is to have some kind of strategy. Here are some of mine:

  1. Whenever possible, try to schedule classes back to back (with enough time to walk between them) in order to maximize long stretches of time instead of chopping up your day.
  2. If you do have some time between classes, use it to get homework out of the way. Always carry something you can work on in short periods, like readings or worksheets.
  3. My RA, Brandon, gave me this advice: Treat schoolwork like a 9-5 job. During the day, work on homework and academics until 5 in the evening. Then do fun things to wind down, instead of waiting until late at night to start working.
  4. Set aside specific times for different things, for example: chemistry problems from 4:00 to 5:30, then start working on the next sociology paper from 5:45-7:00.
  5. Create your own study groups. It’s always helpful to talk through material with others, and chances are you’ll remember things better if you’ve explained and repeated them to each other.
  6. Work on things that are important before things that aren’t urgent.
  7. Review as much as you can, even daily. College classes move quickly!

Of course, college isn’t just schoolwork.

There are loads of fun things to do, including opportunities to hear guest speakers, going to parties, spending time with friends, and exploring. I have a personal goal of getting off campus once a day, even if it’s just for a short run. This helps me remember that the world does not revolve around Reed, and that there’s much more out there than the next biology test and cafeteria food. Include fun things in your schedule: plan events for yourself or with friends, look up cool things to do or see in your college town, or volunteer in something you find rewarding.

In college, you are free to do whatever, whenever, which makes the biggest challenge figuring out what to do when. If you find yourself overwhelmed and confused, bogged down by piles of work at one in the morning, you’re not alone. Once you do get a handle on how to best do your work, remember that the appeal of spending any extra free time scrolling through blogs or just hanging around wears off quickly. Do a couple things you could never do back in high school. Go exploring. Join teams and groups to find new friends. The only way to get time is to make it.

Your time is yours; make what you spend it on something worth telling people about.

College Work Load: Surviving the Pile

workload

by Guanani

I tried to brace myself, but it didn’t do much good.

At first college seemed almost like an intensive summer camp. Within a week, however, the focus shifted from get-to-know-you activities and scavenger hunts to problem sets that took hours and 50 page readings. More than the amount of work, what really took getting used to was figuring out where and when to do the work, for how long, and how much depth and understanding was really necessary.

Unlike high school, college professors don’t necessarily remind you about upcoming assignments. There are fewer things to turn in, and in some classes you have no idea how you’re doing until you get your midterm exam back. With no set schedule for each school day and less transportation, you have much more freedom in terms of deciding when to do your work. This makes procrastination easier than ever, and due dates have a way of sneaking up from two weeks in the future to tomorrow.

Sometimes the sheer amount of work is overwhelming. The week feels like a whirlwind, and I’ve felt like I don’t have the time to ever process and really understand what I’m learning. It’s easy to get confused, get behind, and feel like you’re just barely treading water in one or more of your classes. This is where I will repeat a piece of clichéd but important advice: ask for help before you need it. It will be easier to learn from your mistakes if you ask about something confusing as soon as you realize you don’t understand it.

After going to Reed’s academic support center about three days a week, getting tutoring, and studying ten days in advance, I still failed my first test. I realized that taking detailed notes and doing all the assignments wasn’t enough. The depth of knowledge and speed of recall I needed for tests would require a lot more preparation than I first expected.

Disappointed and hungry for advice on how to do better next time, I visited my professor during her office hours and asked for some tips and extra resources. I had never imagined I would do such a thing, but my new strategy involves creating extra homework for myself: extra practice problems, extra review, extra notes. Hopefully the next test will go more smoothly.

Besides office hours, something I’ve come to realize is that colleges really go out of their way to set up support systems and student resources. Find a tutor, create a study group with your classmates, sign up for any workshops or talks and get involved with your learning outside of class. Take advantage of all the resources available to you, and if you can’t find one related to what you’re struggling with, ask professors or older students for guidance. Sometimes resources and help aren’t obvious or easy to find, especially in the labyrinthine tangles that are large public university websites.

At Reed, there are students you hardly ever see. They are the people whose academic work is the top priority, and the problem is that at this school, you could spend every waking hour doing homework and still always have plenty more to do. There is a point where you have to decide how much is enough for you, and stop.

One of the first critiques I heard an older student make of Reed was about “stress culture,” where people brag about how much work they have, how little sleep they get, and compare stress levels with their peers constantly. I recognized this phenomenon from high school, but being on campus alongside students who are all extremely smart, able to understand equations at a glance or write brilliant essays without doing the reading, it was hard not to feel inadequate or just plain dumb in comparison.

At Reed, academics are sometimes terrifyingly hard. I feel under-prepared and incompetent a lot of the time. Somehow, though, I’ve found I really like it. Taking the time to get engaged and talking about the material helps a lot, even in classes that aren’t my cup of tea. They say you’ll get whatever you put into an experience out of it. I came here for a challenge, and boy did I get what I asked for.

How to Move In and Survive College Orientation

Guananiby Guanani

Move-in day at Reed College was much more difficult than I anticipated. I had just returned from a lovely pre-orientation backpacking trip and was suddenly thrust into the hustle and bustle of orientation: getting my room set up and unpacked, buying a bicycle (we got hopelessly lost in the process), and starting a long week of required lectures, socializing with hundreds of strangers, and teaching people how to pronounce my name.

It was a disorienting experience.

The first evening was packed with a residence floor meeting to attend, a roommate to meet, freshmen class talks about honorable conduct and the Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy, and a fire spinning show (which was the coolest part of the day by far).

There was no time to process everything happening around me. I was so bewildered that I wished I could just head back into the mountains and not have to start this whole college thing.

Any major transition is difficult, but college orientation made me feel as clueless and lonely as ever. So here are some tips to help you get through it as smoothly as possible:

Get Comfortable With Introductions

During college meet-and-greet activities, you will find yourself repeating your name and where you’re from constantly. It’s okay if you don’t remember everyone’s name, but be sure to always ask for people’s names again if you forget them. It’s not embarrassing, it’s courteous. And if you do remember someone’s name hours or days after meeting them, use it, and savor the relieved smile on their face.

Become a Pamphlet Connoisseur

There will be pamphlets! All sorts of papers will be handed out at activity fairs, info sessions, and any event offering student resources. Before long you’ll find your room flooded with dead trees.

Instead of tossing the entire pile into the recycling bin during a fit of overwhelm, try to get rid of the papers you don’t need/want as you get them, and keep important ones tucked away in a folder for later.

Don’t worry about parties

During orientation I heard about several crazy parties and how freshmen were already passing out on the first night. Drunk people ambled by and hollered outside my dorm while I tried to sleep.

If you think you need to go out and have a wild time as soon as you set foot on campus, remember that you don’t HAVE to do anything. Take your time finding people you can trust and whose company you enjoy. Start out with low-key activities like playing cards in a dorm lounge or taking a walk around campus. Have fun, don’t go overboard, and remember that there are better ways to make friends than getting drunk.

Don’t Hide!

During orientation I found myself tempted to stay in my room organizing things, doing random stuff on the Internet, emailing friends back home, or just reading a book. But hiding in your dorm is not a good way to make friends (unless your roommate is also hiding).

Go to the activities and events, no matter how cheesy they may seem. Sit down with people at meals. The hardest thing about Orientation is reaching out and trying to connect with a bunch of strangers, some of whom will hopefully be friends that you’re emailing during winter break…

Remember to get off campus

One piece of advice I keep hearing over and over from older students is to get off campus once and a while. On Labor Day, my roommate and I took the train to Washington Park and went on a three-hour hike. It was an enormous relief to escape campus after the intense structure of Orientation, do something outside and engage with our wider surroundings. It’s easy to get trapped on campus by homework and other obligations, so it’s all the more important to get away and refresh your mind while you can.

All change is hard, and the transition into college life is no exception. I felt extremely unprepared and isolated, and had conversations with other incoming students who felt the same way.

After the whirlwind of that first week, classes started, and things fell into a rhythm. Three weeks later, I still miss home, assignments are difficult, and I worry about making friends.

However, I feel a lot more comfortable and less overwhelmed than during orientation. And people are starting to pronounce my name right.

Introducing Guanani – Reed College

Guanani

After living in Minneapolis my entire life, I decided I wanted to experience living somewhere different and headed out to Reed College more than a thousand miles from home. Now that I’ve lived here in Portland for a year, I can say I’ve loved studying in a different climate surrounded by new people, places, and possibilities for adventure.

I am a notorious bookworm, but I also enjoy camping, hiking, and playing ultimate frisbee outside. I’m half Puerto Rican, half Minnesota Polish. I’ve decided to major in biology because the physiology of life and how microbes interact with humans are fascinating topics that I hope to write about for popular audiences someday.

  • High School: South High
  • College: Reed College in Portland, Oregon
  • Major: Biology
  • Dream Career: Physician’s Assistant or science writer
  • One weird thing about me: I Iove making ceramic teapots, but I don’t care for tea.
  • Favorite author: Neil Gaiman.
  • Question: If all living things shared one collective consciousness, what would we think of ourself?