So, I’m finally home. There’s this awful thing I do where I rush through everything I’m doing, and count the days till it’s over and then I regret it. And that’s pretty much how I spent my first semester in college, counting the days to go back home. And now I miss it. That’s one of the most important things I learned this past semester: don’t rush through things. Or, in the words of the great John Green in Looking for Alaska: “…being present for every facet of your daily life, of being truly present. Be present in this class. And then, when it’s over, be present out there.”

I traveled thousands of miles at age seventeen to a place where I knew literally no one, so I must have learned something, right? I still don’t know how I feel towards my decision of starting college in the spring semester (in my country we graduate in December) instead of just waiting for the fall, but I definitely feel a little bit wiser than I did six months ago. Here are a couple of other things I learned in that period, in no particular order:

1. There really needs to exist a website that rates dorms. And if there is one already, you should probably use it before you end up living in a HAUNTED dorm like yours truly. This would also come in handy if, for example, you need to pick between two dorms that look identical. In my university, the freshman and sophomore dorms look pretty much the same, and things like “there are more girls in this dorm” or “a girl killed herself while practicing witchcraft in this one” aren’t on the website. In the meantime, call the housing department or ask any older friends you have.

2. Always have an escape plan, also known as “don’t go out with completely random people”. I was so lucky that the one night I did that I ran into the only Panamanian girl I know, and she took me back to my dorm. I am not really into the whole smoking weed with strangers thing, so I probably should have listened to my gut that told me not to go out with the girl I met the day before in my dorm.

3. Building on that, always listen to your gut. Always.

4. You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have. This is so cliché, but so true at the same time. In my first week of college, my credit card was blocked, and my parents were in Disney World and practically unreachable. Apparently, I have weird priorities and I used the cash I had left to buy books instead of paying for my meal plan. But I fixed everything like a BIG GIRL! And it may not sound like much, but I’m super proud of that.

5. It’s okay if you don’t like college at first or feel like you aren’t making friends.  At the end of the semester, I attended a banquet thrown in honor of the graduating seniors. After many speeches, I realized there are a lot of people who started out just like me, crying in their dorm rooms and feeling like they had made a big mistake. But, trust me, it gets better. Another thing I learned at the banquet: college is the best time in your life to travel. Take advantage of that. As you grow older, it just gets harder.

6. Expand your horizons! I’ve noticed this particularly in international students, but I think it can apply to everyone. If you’re from Latin America, for example, you can make friends that aren’t from Latin America. If you’re from the Middle East, there are tons of people in your campus that aren’t from the Middle East. I’m not saying you shouldn’t befriend people from your country, I think that’s absolutely wonderful. Speaking Spanish every once in a while definitely kept me from going insane. But try to surround yourself with people that have different cultures and ethnicities and lifestyles than your own.

7. A couple words to live by: “College is a ticket to an adventure beyond the parameters of what you’ve experienced so far. It’s a passport to the far side of what you already know. It’s a chance to be challenged, not coddled. To be provoked, not pacified.” I read this in a NY Times article by Frank Bruni, and I absolutely love it. Another quote that sticks with me: “You’re going to dream about getting out of your hometown, and you’re going to miss it when you finally do.” I read this somewhere a long time ago and wrote it on a post-it note I found when I was packing to leave for college. I spent half of my senior year feeling sick of being here and counting the days to leave (see first paragraph). But how I missed the tropics and the ability to wear shorts year round. College is awesome, but you’re going to miss home (SO much).

I’m pretty excited about the time I have left in college and all the things I’m going to learn. Probably the fact that I actually know nothing about life is what I’ll conclude after these three years and a half, but at least I know it’ll be fun.

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the author

Clarissa Gallardo is a sophomore at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Originally from Panama City, Panama (only place in the world where you can see the sun rise in the Pacific and set on the Atlantic!), she is majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in Mathematics and Ballet. A member of the Honors Program and dancer at heart, you can find her studying at the library, scrolling through her Tumblr feed , dancing, or reading. Clarissa has a really bad case of wanderlust and is obsessed with white chocolate mochas, The Big Bang Theory, and Doctor Reid from Criminal Minds. You can follow her on Twitter and on Tumblr.

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  1. Paula on May 23, 2013

    This is a great piece, especially because it doesn’t sugar coat the realities of homesickness. So many kids drop out or transfer after the first year because living miles away without your family and friends can be harder than they thought, and they don’t give the college a chance. Or they go home every weekend, and never learn how to be independent. But you’re right about just hanging in there AND getting out there. Thanks!

  2. Anonymous on July 31, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m leaving for college in the next 20 days and thinking about it makes me quite nervous. This helped. Thanks a lot!

  3. Victoria on September 24, 2013

    Wonderful article!! As for the first item on your list, there is a website called that lists dorms by university and allow users to comment on them.

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