Welcome to College: Part 1

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Transitioning to College

My pre-college reflection reads like it was written ages ago, when in reality I penned this angsty train-of-thought only a few weeks ago. Much has changed since then. I’ve made it through orientation week, and am highly anticipating the start of classes.

Orientation has left me debilitated; I’ve not drank much water, nor eaten much healthy food, nor gotten much sleep. However, it’s the most fun I’ve had in a while, and I know that people will start to settle down as classes ramp up, and I will fall into some sort of routine. I don’t know what to do with all of this freedom!

I eat on a meal plan, I shower in the company of others, and I live with a roommate. What a change from the lifestyle I’d adopted over my summer. I find myself wondering if I need to make some small talk, or if silences here and there are completely okay (they most likely are).

Here I am free to make my own decisions, spend my free time as I like, and pick which classes interest me. I am much more motivated to learn, now that I have a say in which classes I take.

High school Catherine was quite the introvert; lots of people undoubtedly thought I was weird. I was. That’s okay. I know that a lot of people have started college with the intention of abandoning their high school self, and some plan to stay the same. I think I’ve been lurking in the middle, making a conscious effort to be more outgoing and outspoken, an experience that I’ve greatly enjoyed.

First impressions, as everyone is aware, are powerful, but are we aware of how misleading they can be? So many people trying to be someone they aren’t, and I have no doubt that the amount of people who have been to parties this week has been massively inflated by people attempting to make friends and seem cool. I respect it; I’ve done it.

But people here are also less afraid to walk alone, eat alone, and I love that. We all have places to be! Campus is huge! The freshman are always looking to travel in packs, but will eventually learn how this thing called college is supposed to happen.

The first few days of orientation, we were all required to wear purple shirts, though by Thursday, we’d all started dressing regularly, and it became more difficult to distinguish freshman from older students, though I’m sure we all still looked pretty confused as we grasped a map, walking up and down the main road.

Every freshman/transfer student/gap year student shares a collective nervousness about a new setting where they don’t know lots of people. I don’t care how a person acts. Everyone feels antsy. We just deal with our feelings differently. At the end of the day, nobody really knows what they’re doing.

Some believe college to be a step up from high school. And it can be! More people gather with a myriad of backgrounds and perspectives, with a plethora of things to do and resources available. In many ways, this week has been a new start; if you had bad grades in the past, don’t let bad habits follow you into college. You no longer have to be quiet if you were in high school.

The truth is that we can all start over whenever we want, we just feel more comfortable doing it with a tangible checkpoint, “the start of college”.

I myself haven’t had a new start since the beginning of 6th grade. Yeesh. Private school.

However, I often fall prey to the idea that college is an overarching solution to every problem I’ve ever had, when really, it just allows you to live in a new place and experience new people. It doesn’t stop your past from haunting you. It doesn’t make your insecurities go away. I have many a time developed unrealistic expectations for what college could do for me. I have to stop idolizing it; come down from the clouds, Catherine.

The day before I moved in, my mom told me that if I showed up to college with a naked face, no one would react, and a makeup-free face would be the only face they know. In the end, I was too weak; I put on my mask.

However, a girl I knew in high school, who I always saw wearing makeup, has been rocking a naked face all week; I have never felt more respect and awe than I do at this moment. What tremendous courage, and what a fantastic way to embrace a new start where people see a face for the first time and automatically assume that that’s what it’s always looked like.

Party Culture

The way Northwestern handled Orientation was great, honestly. It required months and months of planning and paid off. The college hosted inviting events every single night (think: a capella fest, hypnotists, improv comedy, soccer games, etc.) to try to lure people away from the frat parties that were happening off campus. It was smart, and worked for some.

Some have ended up going to parties every night. That’s totally fine.

Some have went to a party or two. That’s totally fine. Now you know what they’re like.

Some have started in their dorms every night. That’s totally fine. You do you.

Some students do party and drink, but it’s important to recognize that a huge percentage of students do not, which addresses a huge misconception that’s been perpetuated by social media.

Most of us are here to learn, some of us are here to party, some of us are here to focus on sports, and some of us don’t know what the hell we’re doing with our lives (holla).

Haters Gonna Hate

I do not understand people who constantly express their displeasure with Orientation week. I’m sorry, but did something about this week offend you? Some aspects were cheesy, and some were cliche, but you came into college with the wrong mindset. You have immediately alienated people who were excited about the new start. Your negative attitude does little, except make you come off as an asshole.



How are we supposed to deal with ignorant or annoying people? I’m conflicted because I find myself in a huge pool of students, and I don’t know whether I’m supposed to confront it or live it alone. Confrontation oftentimes seems unnecessary because everyone always has different opinions.

Why should I try to mold this community according to my views?

But leaving certain issues alone also makes me feel complacent, and silent about things that I should speak up about.

I don’t have an answer, but if I think of something, I’ll let you know.

Catherine Has Friends?!

What do you expect when you meet people online? Most turn out to be much different in person, when they can communicate with more than letters and emojis. It was incredibly cool to sit across a table or run into someone on the street.

But sometimes being friends with people you’ve met online is a bit more difficult than you realized, either because they have different interests, or they live on the opposite side of campus, or they (and you too probably) end up joining a different friend group, or some other completely rational explanation.

With so many people to meet, you shouldn’t feel devastated.

Peer Pressure and Society

In high school, ~25% of students were revealed to drink regularly. A misconception that the majority drank had to be addressed…but in college, the number has risen to something like 75%, making this social phenomenon much more relevant and tangible.

On a public blog, of course I won’t be very direct about it, but I will say that those who choose not to drink are now in the minority.

But there’s nothing wrong with it; people shouldn’t be coerced into drinking or doing drugs or having sex. There’s nothing wrong with being in the minority; aren’t we all minorities in different ways?!

The truth is that everyone is different, and that drugs, alcohol, and sex are not AT ALL necessary to have a good time.


I just finished my orientation week. I’m about to start classes. I think the college culture will change drastically as everyone finds a rhythm to follow.

This is just my reaction to the first week, fresh on my mind.

FINALLY: The (arguably) best thing about college is that I meet so many other people with much better music tastes than I, that I can only grow.


  1. Pingback: Blogging tips for intermediate bloggers | Catherine Zhang
  2. Pingback: Welcome to College: Part 1 | The Northwestern Chronicle
  3. Manny

    Catherine, I think you’re off to a great start in college. You seem to be willing to be open to discover new things about life and to embrace the challenges that college life presents to new students, yet you are grounded enough and have a strong sense of yourself that you will not allow negative forces to adversely change your values and beliefs. Good luck to you.


  4. Sabina

    Ahh I have a post sitting in my drafts about how I went from pretty dramatic makeup every day to naked face every day in college. I should publish that at some point so you can read it.


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