Oberlin Blogs

Doing Freshman Year Wrong

November 27, 2012

Karalyn Grimes ’16

It's been creeping up on me for a while now. It started as a tiny thought in the back of my head. Then it became a knot in my gut. Finally it arrived as this terrible realization: I'm going about college the absolute wrong way. I have failed as a freshman.

When I came to college I anticipated running around with all new people and wild crazy times. I envisioned conga lines and late nights swapping stories about trips to the Congo and contemporary conversations about the postmodernism of the Beat generation and my hero Allen Ginsberg. I would be avant garde and feel comfortable as the centerpiece at parties. It would all be very suave and nothing about my new life would reflect my Midwestern upbringing. Even though I'd never experienced any of that in high school, I thought it would be inevitable in my new atmosphere. I was right, right?

Dead wrong.

I haven't been to a single rager (unless Queer Beers at the 'Sco counts). I haven't had any one-night stands. I frequently find myself in the library from dinner until two a.m. More than once I have spent my Friday night watching movies in my room or just having coffee at Slow Train with a friend before a late night of studying. My mornings are spent taking a walk or in the Art Library, not nursing a hangover. Still overwhelmed by loud music and lots of people, I gravitate more towards calm hangouts with a banjo in the corner. I have great close friends, and I don't go out of my way to introduce myself to new people. (It's scary!) I'm learning tons in and out of the classroom, but I don't feel any more confident or capable. I still get nervous about depositing my paycheck incorrectly or forgetting to pick up vitamins from Gibson's or if the attractive girl in the skirt thought I was cute or not. I bite my nails over my blog posts, wondering if they're good or not, helpful or not.

Additionally, I feel like I make freshman mistakes all the time. I embarrass myself on a daily basis. From silly things like not knowing that Decafé has two exits, to drastic things like breaking stack at a board meeting. I am just as socially awkward as I was in high school. I'm sure I do things that people frown upon. I have clarifying questions that any second-year would roll their eyes at. In Mudd, I'll go to the bathroom and then not be able to find my way back to where I was working. The Oberlin College dating scene is a complete mystery to me. I have no way of knowing who's dated who and I find myself trying to dive into this system that I don't understand. I still have social anxiety and feel incredibly uncool and unsuave around other people. Daily I am in awe of how I could have possibly fallen into such good company with these amazing people.

As of late, all of this has been giving me a lot of (additional) anxiety. Not only am I bending to the pressures of classes and extracurriculars, but also I've been walking around with this daunting notion that every move I make is incorrect. Sure, no one's grading me, but certainly my peers, professors, friends, and acquaintances are observing me. If all I am is this bundle of awkward, if my actions don't jive with what's right, that definitely can't be good for my social standing in the long run. Right, right?

Dead wrong again.

When I started this post, I didn't have any solutions to my problem. I felt like I would just continue on trying to make ends meet in order to fit myself into one life that I would love. But then I had another realization. I can't love all the pieces of myself. I do make stupid mistakes. I do do things that people frown upon. But I learn from the things I do wrong and overall I like who I am. More importantly, every day I like who I am becoming even more.

Furthermore, I realized that one's freshman year isn't standardized. There's not a set experience I'm supposed to be having. There's no quota I need to meet. I don't have to go to parties or feel comfortable in large groups of people in order to 'be cool' or have 'the freshman experience.' If studying in the library is what makes me happy, then that's what I should spend my time doing. If walks, reading, and banjos are what make me feel good about myself, then those are the things I should focus on. There is nothing wrong with having your freshman year be about parties and making great friends and doing crazy wild things. In fact, I think a part of me will always envy those who are able to do so. I'm only offering an alternative for those who that's not for.

College is what you make of it. At Oberlin those words are truer than anything. Here you have the chance to define who you're going to be, with the knowledge that it's okay to have that person change. And I can't imagine a better place to make mistakes and figure out who that person is than at Oberlin.

P.S. One of my freshman failures is that I still can't figure out how to get photographs into blogs and it's preventing me from posting as frequently as I'd like to. But don't worry, I am on it!

Responses to this Entry

I didn't know you had a blog! Also, you're doing college wrong!

Posted by: Nick on November 27, 2012 7:07 PM

I think you have it all figured out. You sound like a young lady with her head on straight.

P.S. One night stands are not what they're cracked up to be. So you can just skip that.

Posted by: Rebecca Shroats on November 27, 2012 7:20 PM

Yes. Yes to nearly everything in this post. Seriously I don't know what else to say about it other than: 1) I completely felt (and still feel) pretty much everything that you wrote about feeling in this post and 2) I used to get lost every time I went into Mudd. Every. Single. Time. I'm pretty sure that I didn't go beyond the ground floor of Mudd without getting lost until the beginning of this semester.

Posted by: Emily on November 27, 2012 8:22 PM

I'll show you how to put photos in your blog later this week! (As promised).

Posted by: Ben Reid on November 27, 2012 10:04 PM

This is a great post, and I hope Oberlin doesn't make you feel too anxious. It's easy to get wrapped up in lots of little worries about what you should be doing and what other people think of you. It definitely happens to me sometimes. But you are so right that "cool" is not standardized. Also, hanging out in a corner with a banjo is my idea of a party. Do you play banjo?

Posted by: Nora on November 27, 2012 10:31 PM

Blarg. This is so great that you are starting your own blog. This post was very insightful and relevant to my life as well. Life is what you make it!

Posted by: Leslie on November 27, 2012 11:43 PM

Careful about all that banjo-liking, you might end up having to play with me and Nora (who plays banjo delightfully). Also, if the girl in the skirt didn't think you were cute, she doesn't have eyes in her head. Nora's right - you're great, this post is great, Oberlin is great, and we should all have a work/tea party sometime soon.

Posted by: Ida on November 27, 2012 11:48 PM

I think we may have to converse in the near future about the beat generation, my desire to bring it back, and Allen Ginsberg (my hero as well).

Posted by: David Kahn on November 28, 2012 1:42 AM

Nice post, enjoyed reading your story :)

Posted by: Karina Erhart on November 28, 2012 3:07 AM

I know I'm just the girl who gave you a muffin once and left you a note in your bedroom while you were sleeping :p but reading your blog is great! It was wonderful to read this and feel so much resonance with my first year at a private liberal arts college :) It gets easier and it keeps being a mystery and confusing. And THAT'S why college is so great. What a wonderful adventure! Hope you're doing well!

Posted by: Katie Ring on November 28, 2012 3:40 AM

This reminds me of my freshman year. As a fellow Midwesterner/Southerner, I can identify especially with your preconceptions about Oberlin. Most styles of socializing/weekend activities are being accepted here, the very chill ones as well.

Posted by: Spike on November 28, 2012 11:00 AM

@Aunt Becky: Thanks so much! I love and miss the fam!

@Emily & Ida: Also, thanks so much! Ya'll were my heroes when I was a prospie. I love that we're now peers. Blogger love.

@Nora: I wish I played the banjo! Teach me?

@David: Yes, yes, yes! So many beat feelings!

@Everyone: It's been so great to see this post get such a positive response. It was not easy to publish, but I feel so supported. Ya'll are the best.

Posted by: Karalyn on November 29, 2012 7:13 PM

Can I just randomly post that Allen Ginsberg is an unbelievably beautiful poet? Does Oberlin hold monthly readings of Howl? If not, I'll probably start some next year. The noise quiets around me as a cold voice whispers "december 15th, december 15th, december 15th."

Posted by: Ryan on November 29, 2012 8:33 PM

"I envisioned conga lines and late nights swapping stories about trips to the Congo and contemporary conversations about the postmodernism of the Beat generation and my hero Allen Ginsberg. I would be avant garde . . ."

...I started a blog post based on a very similar idea halfway through sophomore year. I imagined college would involve more group outings, spontaneous deep discussions about Real Literature, or simple things like randomly dropping in on people in their rooms and having them randomly drop in on mine--that life would be like books I'd read about college (never mind that they were set in the 1920s or 1950s). That these things didn't materialize for me made me afraid that I was somehow Not Doing Social Life Right or Planning Things Too Much or basically Doing College Wrong. Part of the reason I never finished the post, though, is that I realized it's a different century, norms are different, and there is no one "classical" college experience to be had. There are some things from the imagined experience that I wish had happened in real life, but I've come to accept that I actually have a lot more fun when I don't worry about how things "ought to" go.

You seem to have come to that conclusion a LOT faster than I did--so high five!

Posted by: Tess on November 29, 2012 8:59 PM

--Also, if people are sneaking into your room and leaving you notes and muffins, you're having a pretty Oberlin-y college experience. Just sayin'.

Posted by: Tess on November 29, 2012 9:01 PM

Tess, I love your response. I'm intrigued by the fact that this is a common sentiment, though - it never crossed my mind that I ought to be going about college in a certain way. I have had a lot of people tell me I'm a very good Oberliner/I was doing Oberlin right over the years and I've felt flattered by that, but I think if someone were to tell me I was a good college student/doing college right, I wouldn't really know what to think. It seems nonsensical to me.

Posted by: Ida on November 29, 2012 10:48 PM

So I guess what the above comment was supposed to say was: people reading this, I am interested. What do you think the right way to go about college is, and why?

Posted by: Ida on November 30, 2012 11:20 AM

This post is too true. I remember worrying freshman year that I wasn't having the kind of collegiate adventures I should be having, or I wasn't doing college the way I thought I should... it's funny, I still sometimes worry, as a senior, that I'm not doing my senior year the way I should. But I'm okay with that. I'm learning a lot about myself, as I did freshman year too (and as it sounds like you're doing!) - and that's really what college is for.

And for the record, I was the world's most awkward freshman, and have managed to maintain most of my awkwardness throughout my college years. One of my better moments was in my sophomore year, when, in an attempt to dodge the hoard of college students heading to their 11:00 classes, I hit a parked car on my bike and fell on top of it (and I was going like 4 miles an hour. It was in the Finney parking lot. so bad) So don't feel alone!! :)

Posted by: Paris on December 2, 2012 1:32 PM

Gosh this sounds so wonderful... This doesn't just apply to college as a freshman, it's relative to life as a whole... Everyone finds their niche differently... It's so nice when you reach a point where you realize that just because you're not doing it the way you think it's suppose to be done means you're not doing it right! More power to you...

Posted by: Tammy on January 7, 2013 1:37 PM

This is such a good blog post- thank you for writing it! I'm an incoming freshman and I'm so glad I got to read this before starting college.

Posted by: Katie on August 3, 2013 2:55 PM

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