Winter break has just wrapped up and many of us have arrived back on campus after being bombarded with little tidbits of college advice and guidance from every crazy uncle or third-cousin, twice removed that we encountered at the dinner table. As a first-year student, it may seem like everyone has an opinion on how to make the most of your precious four years at Duke. I could’ve filled a whole floor of Perkins with the amount of guidance I received prior to starting my time as an undergrad and I feel like I would be preaching to the choir if I tried to impart the same “wisdom” onto you. Instead, below is the list of advice that I fully heard, loud and clear, as a first-year student, but still refused to take during those initial two semesters.
1. Don’t feel threatened by students’ and faculty’s accomplishments.
Going from big-fish/small-pond to being a very mediocre sized fish has been a tough transition for me. When my peers are out making waves, on and off campus, it often takes reminding myself that my accomplishments are valuable too. You never know, your randomly-assigned roommate or best friend might be a future senator, C-suite professional, or famous human rights activist. Everyone’s successes will make for great stories twenty years from now.
2. Don’t compete with your friends on who has the most work.
Dying in Perkins is not an accomplishment. I’ll repeat it again for the people in the back. DYING IN PERKINS IS NOT SOMETHING TO BE PROUD OF. Be mindful that when you’re eight coffees into a study session, are you really helping your learning or hindering it? Fostering a social culture based on complaining is, frankly, boring. There’s a major difference between hustling and general self-neglect. Challenge yourself to talk to your friends about something other than that orgo exam on Friday. It might be harder than you think...
3. Recognize the strong pre-professional pressure and counteract it… if you want.
Is your singular dream in life to be the next bright-eyed McKinsey business analyst? Great, Duke, the Career Center, and recruitment season have you covered. However, if you don’t fall into this camp, the fall semester can feel especially stressful as you watch your friends secure their summer experiences. When you find yourself drowning in a general sense of impending doom because you don’t have a job in February, schedule an appointment with a Career Center adviser, buy yourself a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, and know that lots of industries don’t start hiring until the spring. You can still make exciting things happen and Duke can help you on that journey.
4. Know that people will change, don’t hold it against them.
High school friends will change. Their new schools and experiences are shaping the types of people they are becoming. New Duke friends will change as the spring brings a number of recruitment seasons for different social organizations. While these changes may or may not be for the better, they are something you have to accept. Don’t hold onto the people that your friends used to be and feel bitterness towards their new persona. We’re all developing and relationships naturally will evolve, ebb, and flow with time, distance, and new experiences.
5. Go to the gardens.
Pack a picnic and spend time surrounded by nature. Do your class readings, play Spikeball, or try to convince yourself every cloud looks like a character from Looney Tunes. It’ll make you happier, I promise.
6. Use ALL your Flunch money EVERY semester.
This is pretty self-explanatory. You can start big or small, with your FIR or the professor of your massive Chem 101 or Econ 101 lectures. Believe it or not, getting a meal paid for by the university and hanging out with the undergraduate population who inspired professors to start teaching in the first place is usually preferable to sending emails or doing paperwork. Their answer is hardly ever no.
7. Take time to learn real life skills.
Cooking something more involved than microwave mac-and-cheese. Laundry. Balancing a checkbook. Scheduling your own medical appointments and taking advantage of the free flu shot clinics. (Freshman Plague, I’m looking at you.) Your future self will thank you when you don’t have to frantically google a series of how-to articles during important moments.
8. Wander through Durham and talk to people off campus.
Duke would not be the institution it is without the Durham community. Especially as a first-year student on East Campus, you have no excuse not to take a stroll down Main Street popping into the eateries, bookstores, or parks along the way. The American Tobacco Campus plaza has free wifi and I can guarantee that it is prettier than the inside of Lilly library. Lastly, when you’re out and about, please talk to other humans that aren’t 18-22 year old academic powerhouses who are probably overcommitted to too many activities. It’ll remind you that the real world is out there.
Looking back, these lessons would’ve been nice to have learned sooner rather than later. I’m not going to lie and say I have them all figured out, but a nice reminder every once in a while does make it easier. So I urge you, don’t be me! Take this advice the first time and save yourself some headaches, heartaches, and stomach aches during your four years on campus.