Into the Unknown
Navigating Through the First-Year of University
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As we finished taking all of my boxes up to my dorm room, I hugged my parent's goodbye as I began a new chapter in my life. Tears welled up in my mom’s eyes. Tears that were unknown to me. Tears signaling the duality of the pain of separation and the acceptance of the new chapter in life.
I grew up in a bubble for most of my life. My hometown was a typical Chicago suburb where most of the people I grew up with lived nearby. The routine of school, extracurriculars, time with friends and dinner with my family was a routine I became accustomed to. Frankly, I enjoyed living in my bubble until…
… it came to attending college.
Many of my mentors have said that attending college was going to be a new chapter in my life. As an eighteen-year-old, I realized that maybe it was time to venture out of my bubble to gain new experiences.
As my parents drove me three hours south to the university, I was excited!
But after my parents left, I quickly realized the transition was much harder than I expected. I had to juggle the responsibilities of studying, making friends on campus, joining student organizations, staying in touch with family, cleaning, doing laundry, continuing my spiritual traditions, conducting my daily prayer… the list goes on.
While the transition was not easy, there are a few things that I learned during the first year of college that made it easier to live away from home:
- Dedicated Family Time
- Developing a Routine
- Connecting to Others
1. Dedicated Family Time
The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA conducts an annual study to understand the needs of first-year college students. In their recent study, they found that a majority of first-year college students rely heavily on their family as a support system in the transition to college.
Each parent has their own way of connecting with their child, whether it is through a phone call, FaceTime video call or a short text message. Find what works for you and your child. This might be a weekly FaceTime with the entire family, daily ‘Good Morning’ texts or the one-off conversations.
For me, this was to text my parents daily in the morning and evening. (Not to mention that the morning text also forced me to attend my early morning classes.) My parents also called once or twice a week to discuss what happened in the past few days and to catch up on life. If needed, they would also adjust to my schedule to give me space to study and relax.
I will admit that I did not appreciate enough how much their texts meant to me. Although there were times where I was annoyed with my parents constant communication, their care reinforced my belief that my parents are always there for me as a support system.
This experience reminds me of the way Pramukh Swami Maharaj, whose Birth Centennial Celebrations are being celebrated in 2022, had shown such genuine care to the youth.
In the years between 1977 and 1980, a youth named Miteshbhai Patel lived in the United States as per his family’s wish. Before leaving, Pramukh Swami Maharaj told him to write a letter every month, adding, “Even if you don’t write to me, I’ll definitely write to you.”
Miteshbhai’s letters to Pramukh Swami Maharaj were filled with questions and sometimes did not make any sense. However, Pramukh Swami Maharaj unfailingly would reply to each one. This continued for four years, and eventually the youth had been so touched by Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s care that he took initiation as Pujya Yagnavallabhdas Swami.
2. Developing a Routine
Research has shown that having a consistent routine helps in managing stress levels, staying healthy and even has a positive effect on self-esteem. And frankly, it can even be fun too!
Early on, I established a routine to help me stay consistent in college. I developed this routine while in high school but was able to tailor it to my needs while beginning college.
My daily routine included a morning routine of waking up, brushing my teeth, taking a shower, performing my morning puja (which contains elements of meditation, prayer and reading), followed by my morning coffee.
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, explains this principle as habit stacking — in which you take a habit or action follow it with another habit. Habit stacking allows you to ultimately create a routine for yourself in a hectic schedule. It also allows you to ground yourself to something every, single day.
There were days where I did not or could not get up from bed due to tiredness or boredom. On days when I do not want to get up from my bed, I am reminded that I need to go through my morning routine before I can eat. This also allowed me to wake up and give myself enough time before class to get my mind into the right mindset.
3. Connecting to Others on Campus
Loneliness is something that I faced while transitioning to the college lifestyle. And the feeling is common among many students living away from home.
According to the American College Health Association, around 63% of students feel lonely for some duration during their first year on campus. The feeling of loneliness can create a sense of isolation and depression if prolonged.
It is easy to go hours or even days where one can stare at a computer or scroll through social media. It can also be easy to be swept up with work that there may not be much time to develop relationships on campus.
For me, I joined various student organizations on campus to overcome my loneliness on campus. There are hundreds of organizations to choose from, but I chose a few that were either aligned to my professional goals or personal hobbies and interests. The people at these student organizations did not feel like other students but became my friends throughout college. We would watch movies together, discuss any big plans in our lives and would be able to get advice from upperclassmen.
One such student organization was the BAPS Campus Fellowship. These students and alumni on campus became a key resource in making me feel at home on campus. The upperclassmen would always check up on me, ensure I had my needs met and offer me rides to stores or back home. Biweekly hangouts became the norm to break the stress of college and simply enjoy spending a few hours with others who shared similar values as I did. Their mentorship and genuine care during the first year of college helped me acclimate to campus more and not feel as homesick.
As I graduate from college, I keep going back to the scene where my parents dropped me off at my dorm.
That moment was the turning point in my life where I challenged myself to step outside of a familiar space into the unknown. But four years later, the decision to go to the university was one of the best decisions I have made as I have grown so much as a person since that day. The past four years are filled with unique memories and experiences that I would not trade for the world.
And as I go again into the unknown to the next chapter in my life, some things will never change. The friends I grew close to are still the ones I seek advice from. The routine I developed continues on. And the daily texts from my parents will hopefully never stop.
Mauktik Dave, Chicago, Illinois
Student in Accounting