(& Anyone Else in the World),
Hi! My name is Hannah, and today marks the first day of my second semester as a sophomore in college.
WHAT. Whoa. How did that even happen!!? Sometimes, I still feel like I’m so new to this whole university/city life thing; more often than not, though, I can tell that I’ve learned and grown so much while living away from home. That’s why I felt ready to write to you. This post is not directly related to my ‘normal’ content (recipes, workouts, skin care tips), but it’s a topic that’s quite important to me, and it isn’t something that’ll be beneficial if I don’t share it with you awesome people.
In the fall of my freshman year at Northeastern University in Boston,
I was accepted into the N.U.in Program. This meant that I was deported, along with about 200 other Northeastern freshmen, to Thessaloniki, Greece. For three months, I
learned attempted to speak about two words in Greek, was completely immersed in (real) Greek life and culture, explored some of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in, and consumed more macaroons, milk chocolate truffles, and creamy gelato than any dairy-sensitive person ever should (worth it, though. So worth it.). What was wrong with freshman year so far? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Yes, the wifi was horrendous. Yup, in Greece we couldn’t flush toilet paper (the Greek sewage system can’t handle it). And yeah, I had to fight the same lady every day for the elliptical, since there was only one of these cardio machines at the gym, but I made some truly amazing friends and enjoyed my time abroad more than I ever could explain.
Fast forward to January 7, 2015:
Move-in day for new freshman at Northeastern. I was so excited to move in to my dorm in Boston and start my “real, American college experience”. The first few weeks were okay — I was adjusting to classes and dorm life, and I was figuring out how to navigate campus and the city (the only place I’d found, so far, was Whole Foods. Safe to say my Husky dollars ran out a little too quick after that). And it was a thrill when the first snow came. But after the first month had gone by, I realized something that I had never experienced, so profoundly, before.
I felt alone.
All my life, I’d lived in a warm, cozy home with my parents and sister, attended a small, all girl’s high school that was rich with a supportive community, and constantly surrounded myself with friends, diving coaches, and teachers who I loved. While in Greece, I lived near, had classes with, and travelled on the weekends with the new friends I had made, and we all knew that being abroad was only temporary — we were loving our time in Thessaloniki, but we also knew that soon, we’d get to come home to the States and be with our loved ones.
But starting life at Northeastern, a large school in a booming city, was an entirely new, incredibly frigid beast.
Almost everywhere I went — the gym, classes, the student center, sometimes even the dining hall, I went in solidarity. I didn’t have classes with my Greece friends, and I didn’t see them as much as I had been able to in the fall; we had completely different schedules now, and I think they were struggling with the transition, too.
Some weekends, I would go home. I’m fortunate that Boston is only two hours away from my house, and while it was refreshing to see my family, going home always made me a little sad. I realized the second time that I was back in the room I’d grown up in that I didn’t actually live there anymore, and that every time I did go home, it was only temporary; I’d have to return to my dorm and my sense of loneliness in a few days. I even hated having all of the cute pictures of my friends and family up on the walls of my new dorm room — it made me miss them more.
(Wow hello depressing story….I promise this gets way less sad SOON!)
The wild winter we had in Boston last year made it more challenging to stay motivated to do fun activities with friends, meet new people, and join extracurriculars. Last winter, most of my school days would go like this: wake up, eat breakfast, study, go to classes, have lunch, go to the gym, shower, eat dinner (in my room…I never knew who to ask to go the dining hall with, since my few friends & I were operating on different schedules), study, go to sleep. Little social interaction happened last winter, and now I recognize that, had I made a bigger effort to see my friends and make new ones, I probably would have had a much more enjoyable time.
January through early March,
I thought I hated being a student at Northeastern. I wanted to transfer. I had never felt so alone in my life before; surely, others weren’t feeling this way, since my Facebook and Instagram told me they were all having fun and feeling adjusted to college life. I wanted to be like them — I wanted to find a community like my high school’s; I wanted to not feel so frighteningly alone. And fast.
I applied to six small, liberal arts schools in February, toured three of them, and got accepted into five in March. I thought that going to a community-based (the complete opposite of Northeastern) college would solve all of my problems, that switching schools would make my experience so much better.
But I don’t know if it would have. I don’t know if switching colleges would have made my feelings of loneliness, sadness, and unhappiness disappear; I don’t know if I would have made more friends at a smaller school. I very well might have, but the answer will always be undiscoverable.
Because on March 16, 2015, everything changed.
March 16 was the day I arrived back at Northeastern from my freshman spring break (which my family and I spent out in Colorado). This day was a month and a half away from the official end of the semester, and it was the week that I happened to write in my “Notes” iPhone app the following:
“this is the happiest week i have had since Greece. maybe since summer. maybe since ever.”
I then proceeded to write down all of the great things that happened to me in the following seven days, and I titled the note, “the week of amazing things”. Because that is just what it was. The Week of Amazing Things.
You know those things that happen to you that you can’t seem explain? This could’ve been one of those weeks, where it just felt as though everything GREAT was falling from the sky and right into my lap, but I’m not naive enough to believe that. I can explain this week of incredible stuff.
This was the week that I started to change.
This was the point in my freshman spring where I finally, finally began to see myself and my situation in a positive light. All winter long, I had been negatively thinking about Northeastern and about myself; I plagued myself with thoughts such as, “it’s too cold here”, “no one here is friendly”, “no one here cares about community”, “I feel too alone”, and “I hate this”.
So what’d I do to change?
First, I recognized that the winter of 2015 was 100% awful, that I had a minimal amount of fun and joy in my life, and that I strongly disliked that. Because of my motivation to change my experience, I started to bring positivity and happiness into my life in as many SMALL ways as possible. I don’t care if that sounds cheesy; it worked (and continues to work!) without fail.
As the snow began to melt and as the semester started getting closer to the end, I started smiling more.
At the cashiers at the dining hall, at the RA’s who had to check us into our dorm, at people walking to class. At the people who I made eye contact with around campus, at the gym, and on the T. And as people smiled back at me, I was able to reverse the thoughts that I previously had running through my head — the thoughts like, “people here aren’t friendly”. There are unfriendly and friendly people in every single place, you guys — and what I believe is that we attract the ones we are looking for. Simply by smiling at people, I started to discover the happier of people on Northeastern’s campus.
I began to make a strong effort to see my friends. The people who I had become close with in Greece, while there aren’t a ton of them, are some of the best friends I’ve made since high school, and I knew that I had to start making it a priority to see them more. We started taking walks in the park, exploring the new city now that the snow had just started to disintegrate, spent more time in each other’s dorm rooms, and went to the gym and to the dining hall together. By making this effort to interact as much as possible with my friends, I stopped thinking, “I feel so alone,” and started thinking about when I could see my favorite people on campus next.
I started talking to strangers. Not in a weird/dangerous/creepy way, but I would ask servers in the dining hall, “how’s your day going?”, and I would compliment people’s bags and shoes in the (previously awkward & long) silent elevator rides. When I saw someone who I kind of knew walking to class, I’d make a point to say, “Hi! How’ve you been?”. Through doing this, I began to disprove the thought I constantly used to repeat, “nobody cares about community”, because I was actually finding the people who are kind and who care to have a nice conversation.
And this was a big one: I started being grateful for little things.
I thanked Northeastern for giving me such a nice dorm to live in, and was thankful for my roommate who I got along well with and always kept our room organized and clean. I thanked professors for their time in office hours. I expressed gratitude towards myself for making time to go to the gym and eat healthy. And I was grateful for Mother Nature for finally showing us the sun again. By doing this, I began to find the small, positive things that I liked about my situation. And those things ended up creating one giant thing that I was grateful for and happy about: my LIFE. Being grateful, simply finding things to say “thank you” for throughout the day, began to help me heal the sadness that I’d been feeling all winter long.
Yes, it is true that some things were simply out of my control last winter, — the T was shut down for multiple days (which, if it had been running, would’ve provided for optimal exploration of Boston), my friends and I all had busy, different schedules, it can be really awkward to make friends in such a big school, and the lack of sun certainly did have a negative impact on my mood. Maybe it’s true (at least at a big city school) that you kind of…simply have to exist during freshman year; there are so many aspects of the first year of college that make it really hard for people to get through, but what I discovered for myself (and what I know that others can use to help themselves, too) was this:
Once I shifted my mindset from a negative to a positive one, my entire experience at Northeastern as a freshman began to change with it. Entire. Experience. No joke.
And you guys. HERE is the crazy part: while I was making a deliberate effort to do whatever I could to put out positive vibes, here’s a few of the things that were happening to me in return, the stuff that made up that “Week of Amazing Things” back in March:
- I won a free t-shirt at the gym, AND on that same day, they were giving out free watermelon! Free food!
- My friends started complimenting my food Instagram (it wasn’t even @inhannahskitchen last spring — it was @collegefooodie, and it was super anonymouss!), which motivated me to continue with it and grow it.
- I did way better than I expected to on a project for Comparative Politics, my hardest class (I’m a Political Science major)
- I went out to brunch with my friends on the weekend at a bookstore cafe
- A kind stranger at the gym, who I’d seen many times there before, complimented me for working hard
- A class got cancelled on Friday so I had the whole day free to do what I wanted
- I made a new friend in another one of my classes
- I tried a new type of exercise for the first time (this was the first time I tried sprinting, or HIIT), and I discovered that I loved it!!
- On Friday night, my Greece friends and I made chocolate banana ice cream in the Nutribullet and got delivery for dinner
- My skin finally started to get better after a winter of irritation, redness, and breakouts. MAJOR WIN!! (More on that in a different post.)
So this week of happy stuff was so much more than just good ‘ole “chance” acting in my favor. It was a week that I created; yes, small, good things were happening to me, but they were happening because I started to change. This was the week when I began to make those changes to my mindset, my attitude, and how I acted as I went about each & every day.
I believe that because all winter long, I was thinking that I didn’t like Northeastern, and that I felt super alone, that’s what kept happening — I kept feeling alone; I didn’t do anything to change that, and I kept disliking my large-sized school more and more. I wasn’t seeing any of the positive aspects of my situation (and thus wasn’t feeling great about my standing) because I was not looking for them.
And that’s my first, and biggest, piece of advice to any college freshmen (or anyone!) out there who’s reading this:
Start making small steps to think positively (by being grateful for little things and saying mantras like “I am going to make today great” when you wake up). And with time, your situation will get better because you enacted a change in the way you think about your life and the world around you.
I think about my freshman winter often; while it was a pretty sad and lonely time for me, it was one of the most transformative growth experiences I’ve had to date, and I will never forget that period of my life. I look at where I am now compared to where I was a year ago, and the two situations could not be more different. Today, I’m a few days away from starting my DREAM co-op at a start-up healthcare company in Boston, I live in an apartment with two of my close friends, I can cook for myself at school, I’ve made more friends (within and out of the Northeastern community), joined student organizations – I was Fit NU’s foodie last semester! – , and have started to grow my blog, what I call my “baby” that is In Hannah’s Kitchen! And I fully, 110% believe that where I am today, what I’m accomplishing, and why I’m happy with my life is because I began to change how I think about myself and my place in this world back in March of freshman year. One hundred and ten percent. Zero doubts.
hi hello welcome to our apartment bathroom..anyways..this is the face of a @northeastern student who just got their DREAM co-op job!!! Northeastern has a program where students can apply for real, adult careers in fields that interest them & gain work experience in the 9-5 for six months starting in January. i had an interview with a start-up health services company i was really excited about this morning, & on the T ride home, they emailed me with their decision. i could not be more thrilled or grateful for this opportunity…fghlkhAHHH!!!! does this mean i’m an adult?? #coop
A photo posted by hannah | paleo foodie (@inhannahskitchen) on
Sooo….okay! This has turned into a post about the universe and positive thinking more than I originally had anticipated, but I’m not surprised — positive thinking completely altered my freshman experience, and I’m confident that, if you’re struggling, it can change yours, too.
I do have some other pieces advice, though, which I’ve written out below for you.
Advice for college freshmen (and any person who wants to help themselves change their situation) from a college sophomore:
1.) Watch The Secret. Just do it. It’s a documentary as well a book, but if you don’t like to read or want to figure out what it’s all about it an hour and a half, it’s on NETFLIX! I know I’m only another person on the Internet making a list of things for you to do, but trust me…this film is life-altering. Watching The Secret is what helped me to change my mindset; thus, it’s what helped me transform my entire college experience. The documentary and book center around the explanation of the Law of Attraction, which basically states that what you put out into the world (positive/negative thoughts) is what you are going to experience in return. Some parts are cheesy. Many other parts are insanely motivating. GO WATCH.
2.) Exercise! Going to the gym last year was a very important way for me to me stay grounded and focused. It was a chance for me destress and have fun for an hour each day…even if it meant watching Sex and the City or Parks and Rec on my phone while on the elliptical. Whatever you like to do to get a good sweat in, do it.
2.5) When you make a good friend, or have a classmate who you think you’d be good friends with, hold onto them. Make it a priority to grab coffee or dinner, study, or hang out with them when you both have some free time. Friends are a HUGE factor in one’s support group on a college campus, since being here, we live away from our parents and siblings (and dogs and cats and hamsters). It definitely can be hard to make friends (particularly at a huge school), but if you’re deliberate about it, it is going to happen.
3.) Join EVERY club/extracurricular that sounds somewhat cool to you, find what you actually like from what you join, and stick with it. One of the best ways to make friends is through joining clubs & sports that interest you, because you will automatically have something in common with the people who do those activities. If you have a Fit University chapter at your school, highly recommended that you join!
4.) Take walks outside when you can. This is easily one of the best ways for me to think, clear my head, and reset. I think fresh air is amazing for the soul.
5.) Eat food that makes you feel good. This one probably doesn’t come as a surprise for those of you who know me as a paleo food blogger, but I believe that a diet full of nutrient-rich foods can change not only someone’s health, but their overall wellbeing. For example, dairy and I are…not great friends. Since coming home from Greece, I haven’t eaten any dairy products, and I’ve felt ten times better! (But UGH the gelato in Italy/Greece/EUROPE….if you aren’t allergic to dairy, eat as much of that stuff as you desire. For serious.)
6.) Important one: whenever you feel alone, recognize that there are so many others (probably even your roommate…even if they don’t seem like they are) who are feeling the same way as you. Remember: people’s Instagram profiles are (the majority of the time) portfolios of exciting experiences when they look good. They are not direct passageways into what someone’s actual life and wellbeing are, but rather the highlight reel. If looking at Instagram and Facebook make you feel alone, delete the app(s) for a little while to reset.
7.) Not everyone goes to every party. It’s just as acceptable to go out as it is to get food from DoorDash, do some much needed laundry, and call it a night in.
8.) Talk to your Uber driver! So far, the conversations I’ve had with them are interesting — they always have cool stories and backgrounds.
9.) And for that matter, get off Snapchat and go talk to people in real life! We’re all humans just trying to live happy lives in this world, aren’t we? So start conversations with people before class, the kid you sit next to, a cashier at the drugstore. Even a simple, “How are you today?” or “How’s your day going so far?” can lead to an nice conversation. I’m an introvert, for sure, but it’s a fact that simple social interactions can make a positive impact on my day.
10.) It’s okay to miss your friends and family at home; it’s okay to be homesick. Know that this is normal, and know that other people are feeling that same way, too. You’re not alone in the way you feel; I think that most freshmen probably have many of the same thoughts throughout the day, but not a ton of them want to share that information.
11.) And if all else fails and you still are having a rough time in freshman year; know that it does not last for that much longer. You’re going to be a sophomore, and then a junior, and then senior, faster than you know it, and it DOES get better from here. At this point in the game…it is January. You are (less than) one semester away from summer vacation. So make some belated New Year’s Resolutions, and go out into the world and tackle them. I’ve got faith in you — you can DO THIS!
Andddd if you’ve made it to the end of this short novel…CONGRATS!
Thank you so, so much for reading. Happy New Year, friends!!
This article was originally posted on Hannah’s blog, In Hannah’s Kitchen. Check it out!