Many people I know are moving away from their hometown and beginning their college journey. This article is for you.

There’s so much I wish I would have known before starting college, and I just wanted to take a few minutes to write a few of those down- both for you and for myself as we continue to experience changes.

Looking into an empty classroom at Princeton Theological Seminary

For me, college was a time in which I learned who I was a little better. I felt like through life I had carried around a bucket, and along the way I picked up lego pieces. These lego pieces are all of the things that you’ve learned along the way, hopefully to take them and build them into something great. College felt like taking those pieces and pouring them on a table to take inventory. Inspecting each piece while trying to decide if it’s something you still believe in, something you want to use to build your foundation with, or if you want to trade out your old piece for a piece in which fits better. This process can be both empowering and frightening. It makes you ask questions you haven’t asked before. There are moments in which you many not recognize yourself, and there are moments in which you are more proud of yourself than you ever have been before. I hope that the following words are encouraging if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the newness of college and the things that college can bring.

Remember who you are and what you stand for. You’re going to meet people who have all kinds of agendas for their time in college, and it’s not always “be a good student”. Don’t be afraid of “losing points” for leaving a situation in which you don’t feel comfortable. Give yourself grace when you make mistakes, but be wary of your mistakes becoming your character. My parents always told me, “you are who you hang out with”. One of my mentors ( Jay Neff, this is you) used to say, “surround yourself with people better than you- people you want to be like- and they’ll rub off on you”. So far, I have found these things to be true. Be careful who you hang out with, don’t surround yourself with people who are just like you. Hang out with people who came from different contexts then you did- learn to see the world through a different lens. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to be better, to be your best self. Be that kind of friend to others.

Be carful about comparison. Some people don’t have to do their readings and will get As on tests. Maybe you’re this student, or maybe you’re not. Figure out what you need to do in order to be successful and do that. Your job is school, be the best student you can be and don’t apologize for it. Be carful about comparing relationships too. Maybe you grew up and have had the same friends all of your life. Don’t compare the friendships you have had for one week/one semester to those you’ve had for 10 years. I made this mistake when looking for a church. None of the churches felt like “home”. I wish someone would have told me that a church I visited 3 times wouldn’t compare to the relationships that had had 18 years worth of building and investment. On the church note- visit at least 3 times before you judge it.

It’s ok to change your mind. Like I said, your 20s are for working towards being the best you. (Age aside, shouldn’t that way we aim for every day to be?) Maybe you were thrilled to get into a specific school for a specific program but after your intro course you realized you hate it. THAT IS OKAY. It doesn’t make you a failure. It doesn’t mean you messed up.
Visits home may get weird. The first time I gave my opinion on something and my parents deeply disagreed- it was weird. It didn’t make me right or them wrong, it just means we have different experiences that inform our opinions. They still love me, and I still love them. It’s ok to change your mind. It’s ok to accept that you don’t have everything figured out. Keep working, keep asking for help, keep praying, keep going.

Know your surroundings. Practically speaking, don’t be on your phone when you’re walking through a parking lot, make sure you lock your doors, say hello to people when you pass them, smile. Don’t trust people with your drink. Be intentional at meals, take people to coffee, pay attention to people. Take care of yourself and those around you. Find somewhere to be a “regular” at. Whether it be a coffee shop, deli or somewhere else, be intentional to know the workers and for the workers to know you. On days in which you feel like no one knows you, it’s nice to have your order known. Get to know the student groups, invest time in them and find your place on campus. Know your community. There is so much more to campus, spend time investing in the community that is likely crazy about their students.

Take notes. In class keep good notes, doodle, whatever you need to do to be off your phone and paying attention. Keep thank you notes for when you want to take time to give someone a “thanks” big or small. When you are reminded of someone from back home, write them a note and let them know. You are missed, and people don’t want to bother you in your new life- take the time to reach out. Journal. You are going to grow and change a lot in the next three or four years, write encouraging notes to yourself.

Find your voice. Transition is difficult, and sometimes realizing how much you have changed or your friends have changed can be scary. Don’t let that deter you from finding your voice. Speak up about things that you care about. Be involved on campus with people who care about similar things and work together to make the community better.

Most of all remember:
You are loved.
You are being prayed for.
Take care of yourself.
You are doing good things.
Make phone calls home.

We are rooting for you.

This was originally posted at adventuringashleyblog.wordpress.com on August 20, 2017

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AshleyBrooke

Princeton Theological Seminary, MDiv/MACEF 2020 Aspiring advocate, learner, and United Methodist. she/her/hers