Ask any upperclassmen at Gonzaga about what kind of advice they would offer incoming freshmen and the tidbits of wisdom you’ll find are endless. Many pieces of advice are discussed during orientation, however most of the golden nuggets come through trial and error and actually experiencing your first year of college yourself. 

I could continue writing this list for days after reminiscing on my freshman year here at GU.  Reflecting on the challenges and experiences I faced, I came up with a list of what I believe to be the four most important lessons to be learned as a first year student.  

Making Friends

When it comes to making friends in college, I feel that there are many misconceptions that we are led to believe before beginning school. 

For me, I had always been told that college friends are your forever friends. They will be in your wedding party and are the ones you will actually keep in touch with into your adult years, unlike your high school friendships that often fall out of touch. 

I was incredibly frustrated at the end of my freshman year when I hadn’t yet found a solid group of friends and began to question my place at GU. I felt incredibly lost. But then it final clicked for me my sophomore year when I realized how different the social atmosphere is in college from high school. 

Daily scheduled bells, passing periods and break/lunch social hours are not the backbone of our college schedules. We each have our own unique routines depending on our studies and interests and we are not bound to see the same faces at given times day after day. 

That being said, if you meet someone that you’d like to become closer friends with be upfront and open. And I literally mean walk up to them and say, “Hey, want to get coffee sometime? We have a lot in common and I’d like to get to know you better!” 

It sounds awkwardly confrontational, but it wasn’t until I took this approach that I started to find my closest friends here at GU. And remember, don’t get frustrated if this takes some time. As a junior I am still taking strides in this field. 

Homesickness

Everyone experiences homesickness their freshman year. Some more than others and in different ways as well, but do not be ashamed of feeling this way. 

Talking to fellow Zags who had shared experiences with homesickness all said they struggled with a similar concern: a sense of missing out and being excluded from what family and friends are doing back at home. 

During family birthday celebrations and events that I would typically experience annually, I felt a gaping hole in my social life and relationship with them. 

If you find yourself struggling in this way remember that your family is rooting for you in these new life experiences. Yes, you are not able to be a part of these routine events that you have been a part of for years, but it is truly for the best. 

You are finding yourself through this new path and sometimes distance from family and high school friends is what it takes for you to become the refined, mature, adult version of you. Trust me, you will be complimented over winter break for how grown-up and well-rounded you have become. It is mind-blowing what a single semester of college can do to transform your character. 

Decorate your room like it is home

Growing up my room has always been a major form of self-expression. I have displayed my interests, passions, creations, pictures of loved ones, trinkets, etc. In my room I’ve always felt a sense of comfort and happiness. 

Starting my freshman year, the atmosphere of my dorm was a big priority for me, and I am certain that it was a massive factor in what helped me get through the challenges of homesickness and adjusting to this new college atmosphere. 

In addition to the new decor that I found for my dorm room, I made sure I brought some items from my bedroom back at home to give my new dorm a touch of the sanctuary I had spent so much time curating in my high school years.

During orientation and your first week of school things will be in constant motion. It’s perfectly fine to take a deep breath and make sure you are comfortable and moved in. After all, this is your new home. 

Don’t be afraid to get too involved

The last thing I wish I had known my fall semester of freshman year is to not fear getting over-involved your first year at GU. Personally, in the semesters of my last two college years where I was busiest, I was not only the happiest, but I was also the most productive. 

Sitting around all day long with only homework on your agenda is a recipe for procrastination. Don’t get me wrong, grades are still very important in college, but it’s more important to give yourself some grace and remember that this is a time of transition. 

It’s essential to find the perfect balance between social life and academics your first year at GU.  I placed so much pressure on academics and grades that I almost completely forgot how important it is to get involved in clubs and activities around campus. 

Not only is this a way to meet new friends but it is also a great stress reliever and distraction from this homesickness you may feel when you first embark on your college journey.

Natalie Rieth is an arts & entertainment editor. Follow her on Twitter: @natalie_rieth.

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