True Life: I’m a College Graduate!

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This is me, rebellious as ever.

Haven’t you heard? I’m a college graduate!

For those of you who didn’t know, I received my B.A. last week and have officially begun the newest chapter of my life as a full-time marketing professional. It feels like just yesterday I was moving into the dorms and trying to figure out who to sit next to at club meetings! These last four years have been the most challenging and rewarding years of my life so far, and I can’t believe how quickly they flew by.

Graduating from college is simultaneously exciting and scary. It’s a time of transition that leaves no room for black and white, only gray areas that cause us to question how we should act and what we should be doing in comparison to our peers. We’re technically adults, but we aren’t completely sure if we should feel that way just yet.

Change can be terrifying. It can also be incredibly rewarding. For the first time since I was five (or younger, if you count preschool), I am not enrolled in school, which means that, in a sense, a huge chunk of my identity is missing. In other words, I am about to embark on a life that won’t be measured in semesters. And yet, the changes I’m about to experience – a new job, a new apartment, a (slightly) new city – mean that I have even more room to explore my identity outside of the classroom.

I learned a lot from my college experience early on, and my goal was to share those tips with readers as often as I could over the past few years. Although college advice will continue to pop up here, you’ll notice a bit of a shift in content as I transition into the professional world and record my journey.

For those of you who have recently graduated, I wish you the best of luck in your post-collegiate plans!

The Freshman 15: Ways To Prepare For Orientation

I remember it like it was just yesterday. Almost exactly two years ago, I drove three hours away from home to attend Freshman Orientation at the college of my dreams. At first, I wasn’t all that excited to be there — my high school friends were having a party at home that I would have rather been attending, and I was terrified that I wouldn’t meet anyone within the two days of speakers, schedule planning and campus tours. As it turned out, I met two of my closest friends at orientation, and I hardly kept in touch with anyone at that high school party. Orientation was what ultimately got me excited about going to college, and I couldn’t wait to move into the dorms and start hanging out with my new friends.

Above all else, Freshman Orientation was what really prepared me for a successful first year of college. Although orientations may differ greatly by school, they can serve as a great tool for getting to know your campus and making new friends. As a peer ambassador for my university this year, I had the opportunity to assist students in the honors college at their orientation, and so I picked up a few tips along the way. Incoming freshmen, keep these tips in mind as you prepare for orientation this summer!  — Tweet this!

The Freshman 15: Ways To Prepare For Orientation

1. Get excited.
First of all, you’re going to college, which is an accomplishment all on its own. Second of all, you are about to embark on a new chapter of your life. Look at either of those facts alone and you have all the more reason to be excited. Now is the time to stop worrying about the schools you aren’t attending, and start thinking about all the amazing opportunities you are going to have. A little bit of enthusiasm at orientation goes a long way — no one wants to talk to the awkward guy who is constantly rolling his eyes or brooding in the corner.

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2. Be open to making new friends.
While it’s true that you may never see some of the people you meet at orientation again in the next four years, you should still make your best effort to meet new people. You never know, you could wind up meeting your best friend! For tips on how to make a good impression, click here.

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3. Take your placement exams before you get there.
Chances are, you’ll need to take some exams so that the school can decide what math and chemistry courses you’re ready for. If you haven’t taken your exams before orientation, a lot of schools won’t let you sign up for certain classes. Because everyone is trying to create their perfect schedules, it is important that you have met all your requirements before attending orientation so that you aren’t fighting someone a few weeks later for the last spot in a class.

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4. Ask questions.
One great thing about orientation is that it gives you a wider set of resources throughout the school. Not only do you learn about the various academic and wellness services that your school provides, but you also usually meet older students who have been through it all and can serve as a mentor for you. This is especially helpful if you don’t have an older sibling who goes to the school and knows a lot about it. No question is really off limits — they get asked pretty much everything, and because everyone else will be in the same boat as you, you probably aren’t the only person who is wondering.

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5. Distance yourself from your parents.
This doesn’t mean to disregard them completely, of course. Your family probably plays a significant role in your life, and they will continue to do so in the future. However, orientation is not the time to latch on. Most orientations do separate the families from their students, and this gives you the chance to choose your classes on your own (without parental pressure!) and prepare yourself for the not-so-distant day when you aren’t living under your parents’ roof. Even if you are staying with your family when you attend college, you will still want your independence. Fill your parents in on what you’ve been doing at orientation, but make sure they give you your space.

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6. Be prepared for the weather.
As a student in Florida, I may be a little biased, but because most orientations take place in the summertime, you never know if you’re going to have rain or shine. Weather.com isn’t always accurate, so make sure you have an umbrella on hand just in case. From personal experience, I have found that it seems to rain specifically on orientation days. Such is the life of a college student.

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7. Connect with your roommates.
Even if you have already found your roommates on Facebook, you may not have met them in person yet. Although there are most likely several orientation dates, you should find out if your roommates will be attending yours, and try to meet up with them at some point. It isn’t the end of the world if you aren’t able to see each other then, but if you can, by all means go for it. This should help alleviate some of the awkward “breaking the ice” when you meet again at move-in.

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8. Join in the festivities.
Yes, orientation is probably going to be long and tiring, but it is important to make the most of it and take advantage of new things. If there is an ice cream social at the end of the day, go and meet people. If the orientation leaders are dancing on stage during dinner and they ask students to join them, do it (or was that just at my orientation?). Try to be upbeat and energetic.

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9. Look at your general education requirements ahead of time.
As a freshman, your first order of business when planning your schedule will be to get some of your general education requirements out of the way. If you have access to a course catalog or the academics portion of your school’s website, look over some of these requirements and think about what sparks your interest. Advisers will be on the scene to help you craft your schedule, but it is a good idea to know what general classes are required and sound appealing to you.

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10. Find out about available clubs on campus.
Want to rush a fraternity or sorority? Find someone who’s an expert on Greek life. Want to find out if there’s a Quidditch club at your school? Talk to some of the people in charge of student involvement. At many schools, the different organizations will actually attend orientation to answer questions for incoming freshmen and recruit them for future meetings. I always stress the importance of getting involved early on. Why not do this at your orientation?

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11. Stay organized.
You will receive countless handouts, fliers, booklets and school paraphernalia while attending your orientation, so bring a folder or backpack so you don’t lose any of them. I found myself constantly flipping back and forth between papers at my orientation because of the sheer number of them — half the time, I didn’t know where to find what I needed! Keep everything together as neatly as possible so you can refer back to specific items later if you need to.

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12. Take advantage of social media.
Hopefully, you will meet a lot of new people at your freshman orientation. Although Facebook isn’t always the best means of communication, it is definitely a good way to group new people together and write quick messages back and forth. Exchange numbers with the people you meet, if you’re comfortable with that, but adding them on Facebook could be slightly less intimidating for the shy student, and allows you an instantaneous means of keeping in touch. When you return to school in the fall, it may be easier to reconnect with those people you met at orientation.

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13. Take notes if you need to.
After receiving countless tidbits of knowledge about your school for an entire two days, things can get pretty confusing. Instead of letting the information get completely lost in translation, write down the important things so you can remember them later.

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14. Be as flexible as possible.
When planning out your class schedule, things might not come out 100% as you may have hoped. This is okay — you have four years of college ahead of you, so you don’t need to rush your way through. Orientation may bring shocking changes to others. For example, the actuarial science majors at my orientation (including two of my friends) were informed on the first day that their program had just been cut and that they would have to pursue new degree programs. Although they were not happy about this at the time, they have thrived in their new majors and since cultivated new interests. Your mind may change, as well, and you may decide to change your major on the spot. Change can be wonderful because it allows us to grow as people and learn something new about ourselves. Keep an open mind.

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15. Have a sense of humor.
There’s usually at least one corny aspect of Freshman Orientation — a speaker who makes too many bad puns, an outdated video of campus life, a few dance routines sprinkled here and there — so it’s important to try and have a good time. Be engaged in what you are doing, but don’t let yourself become too pretentious as you go through the various presentations at orientation. Have fun!

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Questions for readers:
– What was your freshman orientation like?
– What did you learn from orientation or wish you had done differently?
– What topics would you like to read about in future Freshman 15 articles? 

The Story Of Us: Just Another Transition

While listening to Taylor Swift’s more recent single The Story of Us, I couldn’t help but think about how relationships (whether platonic or romantic) tend to come in stages. In the song, Swift sings about a once-iconic relationship that ended badly. She begins with the idea that the “story of us” is this effortless love story that she and her boyfriend will be telling their grandchildren, but then reveals that she and the former love of her life are no longer on good terms. Soon, that “story of us” becomes the story of how “I was losing my mind when I saw you here,” not about how sparks flew when they first met.

The lyrics and theme of The Story of Us reminded me that our relationships are constantly in a state of transition, and so are the stories we tell about the people in our lives. The guy you met in your bio class and instantly connected with might soon become the guy who took you on the perfect date, then the boyfriend everyone envies you for having, then the boyfriend who cheated on you with that girl down the hall, and finally the ex you run into on a plane and hardly speak to. All relationships begin and end differently, but most of them will have their beginnings and endings, and your perspective will certainly differ depending on the point you are at in that relationship.

It is important to accept that things are always going to change in some way. (Tweet this!) Even if you do find the love of your life, chances are your relationship will hit some bumps or adapt to the way you start to grow up. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Everything in your life can become a learning experience, a story you share with your friends and your children in the years to come, even if the story manifests itself differently at different points in your life. One day, your life might feel like a bad teen soap opera; the next, like a page out of an introspective Sarah Dessen novel; and maybe even one day like a really poignant memoir that gets all the glowing reviews.

“The story of us” could be, as T. Swift puts it, a “tragedy.” It could also turn into a comedy a few months or years down the line, when we finally start to ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?” Maybe the lessons learned in one relationship will help us recognize when we’ve actually found our perfect match in another, and will lead us to that happily ever after. Or maybe what we take away from a failed relationship will lead us to a greater understanding of ourselves.

Bottom line: Change can be good. Without it, we wouldn’t survive. The stories we tell about our life experiences will constantly be in a state of transition, because we ourselves are in that same state of transition, and we have to be prepared for the curveballs life will throw at us. Taylor Swift’s love story with so-and-so might be over, but that doesn’t mean that you have to look at your own ended relationships as tragedies. Look at them as transitions, and embrace the change as the catalyst that will lead to better things.

The Freshman 15: Celebrating the Holidays from Afar

Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish and partially-Jewish readers! Tonight, like many other holidays, is a night typically shared with family and friends, as observers exchange gifts and enjoy household traditions. However, some college students will spend the entire duration of this holiday away from home because of final exams and a few lingering classes. In fact, while we may have Christmas break (and some might not even have that!) and many of us do travel home for Thanksgiving weekend, we do run into this problem on plenty of other occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, mid-semester holidays, etc. Even for those of us who will get to celebrate Christmas with our families, we still miss out on some of the pre-holiday preparations – the weeks of decorating, menu-planning and gift-shopping that some people might do together.

So, does this mean that college students are doomed to lose all holiday cheer? This month’s Freshman 15 is all about how to get in the holiday spirit even when you’re far from home. — Tweet this!

Grab your coats and boots, and let’s get started!

The Freshman 15: Celebrating the Holidays from Afar

1. Decorate your dorm room.
While the picture shown on the right doesn’t do it much justice, my three roommates and I wanted to make sure that our apartment was festive for the holidays. Because we come from different backgrounds and religions or non-religions, our room represents both Christmas and Hanukkah, with an electric menorah plugged in by the window, and Christmas lights and garlands lining the walls and ceilings. You don’t have to go all out, but it’s nice to put up a few holiday decorations here and there just so you have something celebratory to come home to. You can purchase these really cute window clings for $1 at Target, or start the search on your own. Besides, I am a firm believer in the idea that personalizing your dorm room or apartment makes you feel much more at home!

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2. Participate in a gift exchange.
Get together with a core group of friends and set up a Secret Santa or other type of gift exchange. Come up with price limits so that no one ends up with an unfair deal or completely breaks their bank accounts. Presents are definitely not what the holidays are all about, but rather the spirit of giving!

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3. Send out holiday cards to faraway friends and family.
Just because you might not get to see each other on the actual holiday doesn’t mean you can’t wish each other a happy holiday! While a Facebook message can be quick and easy, it’s hardly the most personal way to contact someone, and often text messages can even feel like they were sent out en masse. Instead, a simple card can be endearing. When your friends open their mail and see something waiting there from you, they won’t be able to stop smiling.

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4. Throw your own holiday party!
You’re not alone – plenty of your friends at school will be separated from their families during holiday seasons at one point or another, so why not celebrate the holidays with them? Last year, I threw a small Chrismukkah get-together, complete with latkes and Christmas cookies, and this year it’s going to get a lot bigger. Next Tuesday, my friends and I will celebrate in style! Your party can be as outrageous or low-key as you want it to be, and you can ask friends to help chip in.

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5. Ask your family for left-over items.
If you’re ever going to be home before the holiday and not during, ask if you can steal some extra holiday decorations or other items for your own use at school. In fact, I stole #5 on this list from my mom! Chances are, your family has accumulated a lot of excess holiday decor throughout the years, and more times than not, they’d be happy to part with some of it.

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6. Go to a service.
For those of you who celebrate certain holidays more religiously than others, you might feel more in tune with the holiday if you attend a church or synagogue service. Campuses are usually crawling with groups that are ready to take you in, and if not, you can always look around the community for something that appeals to you. I’m not preaching any religion here, but I do think that being a part of a congregation during the holidays can be comforting to some, and if you’re one of those people, you should consider the option.

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7. Volunteer your time.
This may be the Season of Giving, but that doesn’t limit you to just gifts among friends and family. Because others in the world are less fortunate and don’t have the same luxuries we take for granted, doing some volunteer work may be beneficial at this time of the year. Whether you choose one of those Angels at the mall or you visit a soup kitchen, you can make a difference and make someone else’s holiday season a little brighter.

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8. Build a gingerbread house!
It’s fun to be crafty with your friends. Every year when I’m home on a break, my sister and I decorate our own eccentric gingerbread houses (see this year’s example on the right) with our cousins and friends who are visiting, and it’s a great way to be creative and spread our holiday cheer. Not only is it a fun process, but it also lasts for a while afterward, and provides plenty of laughs and smiles along the way.

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9. Bake something delicious.
The way to a college student’s heart is through his or her stomach, right? So if your dorm room, apartment or other living arrangement is equipped for baking, then win everyone’s heart by baking something holiday-esque for them. Either borrow an old family recipe, pick up some break-and-bake cookies from the grocery store (still arguably just as yummy as any other homemade cookie!) or try out one of these adorable cupcake designs.

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10. Leave notes for your neighbors.
If you’re feeling creative or just hospitable, write sweet little notes wishing people the happiest of holidays, and then tape those notes to your neighbors’ doors for them to come back to. You can sign them from yourself and your roommates (always a fun bonding activity), or you can keep them anonymous. Either way, it’s one of those random acts of kindness that you can’t help but feel good about afterward.

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11. Enjoy the cold[er] weather.
We all tend to associate a drop in temperatures with the holiday season. Even if you’re from Florida like me and all you’re ever exposed to are cold fronts, you know that the holidays aren’t complete without a sweater and scarf. Therefore, one way to feel festive is to go outside and really enjoy the cold weather. Build a snowman. Have a snowball fight. Go ice skating. Floridians, go on a picnic but wear a jacket. Embrace the cooler temperatures because before you know it, you’ll be melting in the heat once more.

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12. Showcase old family traditions.
When you celebrate the holidays with your college friends, everyone should bring a piece of their traditional experiences to the rest of the group. Cook that special dish that has been passed down through your family for years, and try out some of the new customs that your friends bring to the table. Seeing your friends in a setting they might normally experience with family can actually bring a group closer and teach you something about those people you never even realized.

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13. Watch your favorite holiday movies.
Whether it’s Shop Around the Corner, It’s a Wonderful Life or Nightmare Before Christmas, boost your spirits by watching a movie that pertains to the holiday you’re celebrating. Sip some hot chocolate and bundle up.

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14. Pump up the volume.
Create a holiday playlist on your iPod or online, and play it whenever you want to feel just a little jollier. Taylor Swift does an adorable cover of Last Christmas!

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15. Create your own traditions.
Yes, it’s hard to be away from home during holidays, but as you create a brand new “family” at school (not to replace your old one, of course), you will find that new events become important to you, and new traditions will emerge. Embrace the changes that you undergo, and enjoy the spirit of the holidays no matter where you go!

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How do you like to celebrate the holidays? What are your plans?

The Freshman 15: Overcoming Homesickness

With a few months of your first year of college behind you, you may feel like you’ve already started to find a place for yourself. Now free to make many of your own decisions, you might embrace your newfound independence and thrive on it. However, you may also begin to miss seeing your loved ones every day, or living in the same place you have lived your entire life, and that’s when homesickness can start to kick in.

Even though I’m a sophomore and am in love with my university, there are times when I would love nothing more than to be in my old house again. After all, being three hours away from my family means that I miss out on some birthdays and holidays, I don’t have my parents and sister right there when I need their expert opinions, and I am absent for a lot of those you-had-to-be-there moments. However, as important as those things are to me, I do realize how much I benefit from the college experience, and how much I truly love it and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

For those of you struggling with homesickness, here’s a fresh perspective on how to banish any negativity that comes your way.Tweet this!

The Freshman 15: Overcoming Homesickness

1. Stay connected.
Regardless of how many state lines or oceans separate you from your friends and family, you can still keep in touch easily. Whether you prefer Facebook or face-to-face video chats, you have countless options for communicating with others long-distance, so long as you have access to a computer. Of course, there’s always the telephone (for those of us who feel alienated by social media at times), but it’s good not to just avoid your loved ones simply because you’re away from home. Allow yourself to miss them, and allow yourself to continue fostering those relationships.

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2. Make your new place your home.
It doesn’t matter if you live in a tiny jail cell dorm room or a luxurious apartment — you can still personalize your new living space so that it works for you. Coming home to a room that you’ve structured to match your personality and preferences will make you feel much more at home than merely staring at the empty cinderblock walls all day. For tips on how to properly stock and decorate, click here.

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3. Set goals.
College is the best time for self-improvement and growth, so why not focus on that for a while? Attending workshops and listening to guest speakers you admire will keep your mind off of your loneliness and boredom and more focused on achieving something new. At the very least, setting goals and working to achieve them will help you to better yourself for future employers and relationships.

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4. Meet with friends from home.
For some of us, this may not be feasible, but for those who attend state universities with others they went to high school with, or who have known a lot of people in the surrounding area, it can be good to reunite with those people on occasion. Of course, it is important to spread your horizons, but reminiscing with old friends from time to time can be perfectly harmless as long as you don’t dwell on the past completely.

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5. Get involved on campus.
It makes perfect sense: if you’re busy with clubs and sports and other activities, you have more time to make friends, bolster your resume and have fun — and less time to think about what you’re missing back home. Faculty and students at all different universities agree that student involvement is one of the most important things one can do to have a meaningful college experience.

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6. Embrace your new geography.
Learn about everything your new location has to offer! If you’re in a city, it’s easy to find interesting things to do and attractions to check out, but even if you’re in a college town, you can locate something exciting nearby. Getting to know your new zip code can help you to form a greater connection to it, and it can give you something to be proud of.

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7. Don’t forget snail mail!
Write letters to your friends and family, and memorize your new P.O. Box number and address so that you can start to receive mail there as well! I know it sounds cheesy, but when I have letters from home awaiting me in my mailbox, I can’t help but smile. It makes me think of the days when I will have my own house and receive holiday cards and letters there each year, and it gives me more of a reason to call my community home. Plus, how can you feel lonely when you have something waiting for you in your mailbox?

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8. Form your own support network.
Having others to talk to and spend time with is vital if you want to have a positive college experience. Whether you need advice on a particular subject or you just want someone to accompany you to the grocery store, having close friends can make college feel much less intimidating. My friends and I have formed somewhat of a second family, and without them, I don’t know how I would get by. It’s important to be open to meeting new people, and don’t be afraid to lean on them when you need to.

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9. Help others.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do to forget your woes is to assist others in conquering theirs. When I first started my fall semester of freshman year, I often wound up with practically the entire class of 2013 at my door, looking for something to do. Although it was sometimes overwhelming to play hostess to all those people, baking lots of break-and-bake cookies and serving all of my water and tea in Solo cups, I was also grateful to know that I had made others’ lives just a little easier and a little more entertaining. While you should never let others take advantage of you, you should be willing to occasionally assist others who may be just as homesick as you are.

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10. Get out of your room.
This tends to be my main advice for a lot of things (making friends, getting involved, etc.) but it still rings true no matter how many times I say it. The more exposure you have to the rest of campus and all of the events it has to offer, the less time you have to wallow in self-pity and think about how much you miss your home life.

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11. Bring in traditions from home.
Chances are, you will spend plenty of holidays at school, so why not make the most of them? Introduce your friends to some of your at-home customs, and allow them to chip in as well. In the meantime, it’s likely that you will develop your own traditions that you will pass on over the next four years. Christmukkah with my friends last year was a great success (and a great way to begin our finals week), and I’m positive that it will be even better this year!

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12. Find your outlet.
Do whatever it is that you do to overcome other forms of stress. Create art. Go for a run. Take pictures of the things you see. Play your guitar. Meditate. Write a blog (and then send me the link!) and find something that allows you to release whatever tension you have. This will help you in more ways than just this one, but having that one thing that allows you to let your mind go will also help you in overcoming any stress you may feel from homesickness as well.

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13. Make a list.
Sometimes it’s good to have something written down — then you’ve got your tangible evidence of what makes life at school so great. Keep a list of what you love about your new place, and remind yourself of everything it has to offer. Having to experience these things away from home is just another part of the growing process.

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14. Remember why you’re here.
You are in college to obtain an education (or to meet someone rich enough to marry… har, har). Ultimately there are many perks to being in college, but in order to experience those perks, you need to accept the challenges that come with. Being on your own is one of those challenges, but if you know that you can get past it, you will be able to improve yourself in more ways than you could have ever imagined.

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15. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If things are getting to be too much and it’s starting to affect your grades or health, then you may want to speak with a counselor. Many schools offer counseling services for a variety of issues, many of which are extremely common to college students. A professional may have more ideas (for free!) that will help you to better adjust to college life and to not let your homesickness debilitate you. 🙂

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College is definitely a time for transition and change. How have you dealt with those changes?