Moving on from freshman expectations

“Your brother went through the same thing — he was in pieces after his first semester,” my mother said, her image freezing on my computer screen. “It’s ...

Nov 2, 2013

“Your brother went through the same thing — he was in pieces after his first semester,” my mother said, her image freezing on my computer screen. “It’s never easy to enter a new environment. Especially for people like you who expect so much from everything and everyone.”
I assume many of us rabidly aspired to college and the prospect of endless available knowledge and resources. Class representatives, valedictorians, varsity team captains and such — roles rarely delegated to students with limited aspirations — are the norm here. Needless to say, we viewed college as the necessary stepping-stone in our novel-worthy lives. We held high expectations.
I was thirteen when I first toured a university campus. Walking among the buildings that had shaped my mother’s education many years ago, I knew what my first long-term goal was: going to college. I asked my mother if I really had to go through five more years of secondary school. Her answer was yes, and I did not look forward to it. High school became a chore, an antechamber for the greatness I so duly awaited. I fantasized about marvelous courses, I dreamt of brilliant students, I envisioned godlike professors and in my mind created a place that no sane person could have thought existed. Then again, time acted like it often does, fermenting these ideas like grapes of a fine wine. But who likes wine the first time they try it?
We learn to accept disappointments, but some are harder to acknowledge.
“For high school, you guys wrote papers,” one of my teachers said. “For college, you’re writing more papers. And later on, you’ll still be writing papers, they’ll just be called something else.” And that’s when it hit me: our college is just a continuation of high school. In comparison, the work is more demanding, the students are generally smarter and the professors are definitely more enthusiastic. But why does it feel like something’s missing? The opportunities are amazing — or would be if we had time to breathe. The city is extraordinary — but we only see it through our windows. And people outside of college have plenty to offer — yet we only meet others in the dining hall.
Most of us are used to juggling rough courses and various extracurricular activities; it’s how we got here in the first place. But as the academic burden increases, the need for personal time grows proportionally. Living away from home in a new environment, surrounded by an array of remarkable peers, does little to help. And so, as work piles up and time flies out the window, we go to sleep every day with the same longing: to make tomorrow worth getting out of bed. I’ve been here for two months and I’ve yet to take a walk on the Corniche and engage in the city I’m living in.
However, as the temperatures gradually drop and our routines become natural, I’ve started looking at things with a new perspective. There is no such thing as the perfect living environment. Obstacles come in all shapes and sizes, but we can mold ourselves and use them to our advantage. That extra effort we put into a specific assignment, the long hours we spend reading countless novels, the struggle of writing a great conclusion will all benefit us at one point or another. Sometimes, living in the moment and forgetting our responsibilities can help as well. I, for one, rejoice when I wakeboard for an hour once a week and overlook all of the mental challenges awaiting me back in Sama. Only in those rare instances am I free from any pressure and can enjoy the city I now call home.
Alex Bagot is a contributing writer. Email him at 
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