A year ago, I was getting ready to go to college 900 miles away from home. When the day finally came, I wasn't one of those girls who teared up about leaving home for the first time. Instead, I unleashed an entire waterfall of salty tears from my eyes at the airport. Following a perfect summer at home in a suburb of New York City, I didn't feel excited or even amenable to the concept of relocating to the Bible Belt.
Ultimately, I realized that I was either moving to Tennessee or pursuing a career among the plethora of minimum wage positions that became available at the end of summer. The latter not being a viable option, I embarked on a flight to Nashville with my mother who insisted I "give it a chance." To which I retorted, "But, they're all right-wing homophobic, racists down there!"
Upon arriving in the world capital of country music, cowboy boots and BBQ, I raised my eyebrows at anyone who dared use the word "y'all" in my presence. I called my parents multiple times per day updating my list of complaints about the South and people from the South. I blamed my parents for everything that ever occurred since they suggested I apply to college down South -- a suggestion that I admittedly never rebuked.
After two months of nonstop complaints about college, my dad finally suggested I have a conversation with a counselor from the Psychological Counseling Center. He had spoken to someone "very, very nice" over the phone, but I had to call and make the appointment myself. "Was she southern?" I asked fretfully. "Yes! You have to stop being so judgmental," he said.
Judgmental? I couldn't believe my dad was calling me judgmental -- the worst possible insult. I considered myself a person who embraced people from all walks of life -- gays, lesbians, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists! I love everyone, but wait a second... I walked around Nashville judging everyone with a southern accent who liked country music and used the word "y'all" in casual conversation as a homophobic, racist, right-wing nut job who no doubt shoots Mexicans on breaks from drinking whiskey and Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Shoot. My parents were spot on. I wasn't enjoying college because of my constant scoffing at... everyone and... everything.
After talking to a lot of other people who took a long time to transition to college, I realized that happiness in college has more to do with oneself rather than one's surroundings. Most colleges are big and diverse enough that everyone can find their niche if they throw themselves into campus culture with energy and an open mind.
In the second semester, I joined a sorority even though I had formerly judged sorority girls as shallow, future housewives. I met ambitious girls from all over the country with both similar and different views from my own, and became fast friends with all of them. I got lots of advice from older girls on courses and career paths. Suddenly, girls all over campus looked out for me.
After putting my raised eyebrows and smirks away, I went from miserable to really happy, from detesting country music to putting Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson on my playlist. I wouldn't consider transferring for anything, and I even thought about staying in Nashville for the summer. I recommend that incoming college students keep an open mind and a positive attitude. My mom was right. "Give it a chance."
Ultimately, these are my tips for parents advising their kids on how to start college off right:
1) Encourage your kids to keep an open mind.
Being close minded at the beginning will close a lot of open doors.
2) Do not criticize their university.
This will only justify any complaints and make the transition harder.
3) Encourage your college student to talk to his or her classmates as often as possible.
Everyone is looking for a friend in their first semester of college, so the fall is a great time to get to know as many people as possible.
4) Encourage your college student to get to know his or her professors.
They are really interesting people and an excellent resource. Office hours are a great time for some one-on-one time, and most people don't attend making it really easy to stand out.
5) Point out all the interesting activities like intramural sports, political groups, campus publications and greek life on campus.
Staying active and involved is a great way to meet new people.
6) Help your college student look for an off-campus job if he or she goes to college in a city.
This is a great opportunity to become a part of a new city, plus most college students have plenty of time to succeed academically while also working off campus.
7) Don't worry about the Freshman Fifteen.
Unless fifteen extra pounds will put your college student in the morbidly obese category, don't let fifteen pounds ruin their mood or self-esteem.
In the same way that volunteering at your child's school makes you part of a community and helps you make friends with fellow parents, volunteering at your local library, homeless shelter, or with a civic group will immerse you in a new community that includes neighbors and empty nesters.
Did you know that Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't start writing books until her children were grown and with kids of their own? Take advantage of your empty nest and get involved in something that you have wanted to do and previously did not have enough time to do. Take a class, play a sport, or find a hobby.
If you've only ever done poorly paid part-time jobs while the children were at home (or if raising kids for 18 years was enough full time work in itself!), now you've got the chance to have a fresh start. Or you may have an ambition to run your own business -- the 'encore career' movement is rife with fresh faced entrepreneurs over 50. Now is the time to discover what passions live within you and pursue them to the bank!
Now that you're not responsible for getting a kid to school at 8 a.m. five days a week, explore the idea of exploring. Rejoice in the freedom you haven't had in years and see the world. Feel like seeing the pyramids? Versailles? Living in Costa Rica for a <strike> year</strike> week? Step to it amigo!
If an empty nest means anything, it's privacy. Rejoice in your long-deserved break from acting like a parent and act like an adult. Whether you're married or single, take the opportunity to reignite the sputtering spark in your relationship or get out there and carve out for yourself a love life worth living. It's true what they say, sex IS better after 50.
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