What I Say, As An RA

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Casey Tissue, '16
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October is one of the hardest months of the fall semester, especially for freshmen. Up until midterms, the first few weeks of class are a time for settling in, meeting new people, and trying out new clubs at Duke. After about a month of wavering between friend groups and activities, many freshmen start to wear out and become frustrated with their experience. Around this same time, they are taking their first midterms and writing their first papers, adding to the overall stress of feeling uncomfortable here.

Midterms can leave freshmen shocked and disappointed with themselves. Most of them are accustomed to being straight-A, top of the class students, and they expect to continue this successful academic trend in college. It’s frustrating to work as hard in college as in high school, but receive substantially lower scores. In many math and science classes, the average test grade can be lower than 50%, and even though the freshmen know their classmates all failed the test with them, it’s still hard for them to feel comfortable with the score. It takes time at Duke to realize that being average here is something to be proud of. We’re surrounded by superstars of all types, inside and outside of the classroom, so being perfectly average is actually amazing compared to the world outside the Duke bubble. With time the freshman class will begin to understand that they don’t have to live up to the expectations of high school. Courses in college are designed differently than they are in high school, and it takes a couple semesters for students to build a new academic identity.

Another aspect of college freshmen struggle with during the fall is finding their niche. From O-Week up to about the third week of class, East Campus is an exciting place to be. There are always new people to meet and new events to attend. It’s almost like summer camp. As the school year becomes more intense, people have less free time and the social scene dies down. Freshmen start to feel lonely and can’t seem to find a place where they fit in at Duke. Friend groups from O-Week can dissolve quickly once classes start, and there aren’t any more large orientation events to help the entire class meet new people. After the activity fair is over it can also be difficult for freshmen to find student groups that interest them.

In my experience, it took more than the first few weeks to fully understand where I fit in at Duke. It took me my full freshman year, and my idea of where I belong is still evolving. It’s important for freshmen to keep trying new activities to meet new people, especially when they’re at the point of giving up. It’s frustrating to feel out of place for such a long time, but the only way they’ll find their place at Duke is if they continue exploring.

Balancing work and social life is a third way freshmen have to adjust around this time of year. This combines what I previously said: trying to get good grades while also making friends. School and social life always seem to be at odds with each other. To stay in and study, or go out and have fun? Something that impressed me my freshman year was how many people decided to stay in to do work rather than go out. It often seems like everyone goes out to parties on weekends, but only because we don’t see the people studying in their rooms or the library. It will take time, but eventually freshmen will find friend groups who will help each other make good decisions about balancing life.

If I could give all the freshmen one word of advice this semester (and I do as an RA), it would be “patience.” Balancing the workload and finding true friends takes time for everyone. No one makes a best friend immediately. Relationships need time to grow and strengthen. At this point in the semester it gets tough to keep a positive attitude through feelings of inadequacy and loneliness, but no freshman is alone in this struggle. It’s a class-wide difficulty that happens every year in college across the country. Luckily for the freshmen at Duke, they’re at one of the most diverse colleges in the nation. There’s something for everyone here, and as long as they don’t give up they’ll figure out where they fit in. Before we know it, the class of 2018 will be next year’s sophomores and a new set of freshmen will arrive on campus looking to them for guidance on how to find their way at Duke.

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