ZAR’S DECLASSIFIED SCHOOL SURVIVAL GUIDE
Zaria Williams, ’19, College of Arts and Science, Student VUceptor
Tips to survive and thrive during your first year at Vanderbilt
Tip #1: Embrace your discomfort.
For my first few weeks of college, every day was filled with new people, new experiences, and new feelings. But I quickly fell into a pattern of talking to the same few people, eating lunch in the same spots, sitting by the same person in class, and going to certain types of campus events. I was aware of the thousands of other people on campus, but didn’t know how to break out of my shell. If you find yourself in this situation during your first year at Vandy, I encourage you to start small. Do something once a week that makes you uncomfortable. If this doesn’t happen to you, if you get uncomfortable you’ll be growing as a person and steadily gaining confidence. I once also volunteered to serve dinner at the Asian New Year Festival on campus. As a black girl, my initial thoughts were I don’t belong here. But that night I did more smiling, laughing, and meeting new people than I’d done in a long time. People will tell you to put yourself out there, but I recommend that you put yourself out into a “there” that is completely unknown and uncomfortable for you. You never know what kind of friendship, skill, or experience you could gain!
Tip #2: NEVER pass up a Rand cookie.
Every now and then (or every day if you’re like me), it’s good to indulge and do (or eat) something that makes you happy. As a pre-med student, I quickly became wrapped up in a routine that involved a lot of studying and little time for other things. For a time I didn’t appreciate being on campus, and struggled to find spaces and things about Vanderbilt that I genuinely enjoyed. Delicious, hot, chocolaty Rand cookies were something I used to find a minute to sit down and really think about the goodness surrounding me. Stress relievers of any kind are essential to mental and physical health. Take time to be alone and focus on yourself.
Tip #3: Be dependent on others.
You’re in college and you can finally be free and independent – to an extent, that is. My first year in college was simultaneously the most fun and most difficult time in my life. In my opinion, the more you ask for help, the better it will be. I don’t mean rely on other people for everything. But please, allow yourself to lean on your friends (new and old), family, VUceptors, RAs, professors, or whomever you need. The first months of college were hard for me, but I felt things getting easier when I shared my problems with my student VUceptor and RA, who I knew cared about me and wanted to help. Never underestimate the power of a hug, and don’t be afraid to ask for one. In a similar vein, though you’ll undoubtedly hear this fifty times in your first month of school, I’ll make it fifty-one: GO TO OFFICE HOURS! Your professors want to help you more than you know; if you honestly need an extension on a project or paper you might get it, but only if you ask. I learned my first year that, yes, sometimes you do fake it until you make it: make the best of situations, and take things one day at a time. But also, be vulnerable and show when you’re struggling.
Tip #4: Enter every Commodore Cruise you can.
This tip also serves as my advice to you to read your emails and go to events even if they don’t seem like the fun “college” events you had in mind before you left home. Commodore Cruises are put on by the Vanderbilt Programming Board, and students enter raffles to win fun trips around Nashville like historical tours, concerts, and much more. The Nashville Predators hockey game I attended will forever be one of my favorite Vanderbilt memories. There will also always be events going on in your house and other houses. I can’t encourage you enough to go to as many as possible. Through Commons events, I’ve learned to swing dance, played laser tag, eaten unlimited free miniature donuts, and seen the baseball team play at First Tennessee Park! On and off campus, there are endless experiences to enjoy and memories to make.
Tip #5: Be your true self. All sides of it.
I know this a cliché you’ve been told since kindergarten, but when I first came to Vanderbilt, I thought I could reinvent myself without really knowing who my “self” was. I believed that after high school, I had to be “better” in every way and mold myself into that perfect Vanderbilt student. I wanted to be a leader, earn good grades, make a bunch of friends, and impact people’s lives, all while undergoing a challenging transition. But, I realized the people I looked up to on campus made Vanderbilt a better place just by being themselves – by talking to people, sharing good and bad experiences, and trying to be authentic, present, and personable. In my first year, I saw many new sides of myself, some I liked and some I wasn’t so sure about. But I know now it’s important to embrace all parts of myself, because you never know which of your experiences could help or impact someone else. Be patient with the awkward, sad, lonely, funny, weird, and amazing parts of yourself, because they are all important in the growth of not only you, but the people around you.