Small things can stabilize college life

On one particularly grumpy day of freshman year, I announced to my roommate that I was going for a run.

I threw on headphones, stormed off to the gym and ran on the treadmill for a good long time. And then something miraculous happened: Absolutely nothing.

As I walked back from the gym, I felt better and much more relaxed. Nothing on my giant legal pad list had been accomplished for the last hour, and that was OK.

It was at that moment that I learned to appreciate the little things in college. In high school, every day is scripted. Not only are you in school from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., but you likely have things like extracurricular activities, dinners with your parents and television shows to anchor your day. Though the whirlwind that is college can be exhilarating, it also lacks the stability of high school.

My angry run was the first of a series of experiences that taught me that fighting for the things that bring structure back into your life can be worthwhile and restore sanity.

Freshman year I was much worse at striking this balance. Driven by the idea that each moment in college must be put to maximum use, I took a series of difficult classes and signed up only for extracurricular activities I considered serious.

But slowly I did begin to let stability seep into my life. One Friday night my Jewish suitemate suggested that we all go with her to Shabbat dinner. Though the three of us who came with her were all non-Jewish and had absolutely zero idea what that meant, she promised there would be food, so naturally we went.

The dinner had white tablecloths, three courses and Challah bread. At some point in the middle of dinner, the rabbi stood up on a chair and announced that Shabbat means to stop. He encouraged us to take time to sit and have a nice meal with friends.

We soon made Friday night Shabbat a suite tradition. It provided something to look forward to and a much needed break.

Sophomore year I was able to incorporate some of these stabilizing forces into my extracurricular activities. I joined the club volleyball team. I was shocked to find how nice it was to have a few days a week when I could stretch my legs and worry about nothing more than whether the volleyball landed in the court.

I also decided to start a job teaching swimming on Saturday mornings and soon found it a good way to anchor my day. Not to mention I enjoyed talking to kids who had yet to understand the phrases, "problem set" or "175 pages of reading."

Another important thing that creates stability in your life is making good friends. In high school, you often come home to your parents who ask you about your day, But in college, instead you come home to your roommates.

They will be there to scold you when you do something bad and hug you when you get an internship. They will celebrate holidays with you and declare it a movie night when you desperately need a break. They will be there both to help you fix your computer and phone when they break the week before finals.

So if I could go back and tell my freshman year self one thing, it would be that small things that help stabilize your life in college are not for the weak; they are for the sane.

Far from detracting from the other experiences that I wanted to have in college -- like writing for the newspaper and taking the classes and major that I wanted -- I was much more energized to tackle these projects when I was not pursuing them 24/7.

My roommate freshman year once said that homework in college is like cleaning dirty laundry. Not only does it tend to pile up, but you literally can never be done with it because you're always wearing something.

She is completely right. With the endless stream of work that college produces, it is imperative that you make time to anchor your week.

College, like laundry, will never come to a complete halt. But you can, and if you want to make the most out of college, you will.


Monica Disare, who was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette, is a junior at Yale University majoring in ethics, politics and economics. She can be reached at First Published October 3, 2013 4:00 AM


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