THE BLOG
12/29/2014 11:51 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What I Learned From My First Semester in College

Douglas Freer via Getty Images

My first semester at the University of Pennsylvania has just ended. I'm flying back home, and I don't know what to think. It's been such a journey from the moment I stepped on campus all the way to today. Time flew by so fast. New students orientation, first day of class, midterms, fall break, more midterms, thanksgiving break, finals, and boom, it's done.

It's nice just to be able to sit here, pause for a moment and appreciate everything that has happened this semester because in between the first day of class and final exams were moments when I would ask myself, "how could this be possible?" This first semester I just had can't be put into words. The combination of the classes I took, the people I got to meet, the events I attended, the experiences I went through, and the environment I was surrounded by, just made it so unique and so different.

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Penn's Breathtaking Locust Walk. Taken from Penn's Student Activities Council website.

College was different. College wasn't what I expected. It's so hard to explain until you've actually experienced it. Every day I spent in college during this first semester opened me up to whole new perspectives. It was such a big jump from the comfort zone that I had in high school. There were many moments when I didn't understand what I was doing in such a foreign land; it seemed as if I was in a videogame, trying to unlock the secret that would defeat the ultimate boss called life. Many times, college was everything I had wished for, and everything I had not.

"With great power, comes great responsibility" .....and your greatest power is time

Here in college, you suddenly get so much freedom. You suddenly have the choice of going to class or not going to class. You have the choice of going to an event or studying. You have the choice of working on a project, doing your readings, grabbing a midnight snack, or going to sleep.

I personally never had this much freedom. I suddenly had access to all the resources I've always wanted--expert professors, a gigantic library, people from all over the world, incubators, laboratories, restaurants, everything. I suddenly had so many choices to make. And this is when I realized that college, and even life in general is all about making choice because at the end of the day, the greatest asset we have here on earth is our time, and how we choose to spend it -- we can't do everything.

College is an opportunity cost .....and so is everything else in life

Never has been the opportunity cost of time been more evident for me than here in college. You'll quickly realize that everything you do has tradeoffs, and you're now always thinking about the future. It's funny because college is this weird place and time; it's like the last step before the "real world". Given this, you're handed this big responsibility to know what you want to do, to spend your time wisely, to enjoy your youth, to meet people, to get good grades one last time. You try; you try to constantly make the most out of college, figuring out a way to balance academics, sleep, social life, extra-curricular activities and your sanity until you realize that you only have 24 hours in a day.

"In all the things you do, all the classes you take, in the clubs you join, in the internships you apply for, in how you spend your time, you want to be looking for the best return on your investment based on what you want to do with your life," was one of the best advice I got this semester. We can't take all the classes or join all the clubs or intern in multiple companies. But we can choose to commit to becoming the best version of ourselves. We can choose to grow as a person, and take baby steps towards our goal. Or we can choose not to; we can choose to enjoy the eccentricities that only college can offer.

College is the best time to learn .....because nobody cares if you fail

It's so easy to get caught up in preparing for our future career that we forget that college is the best time to learn. Never again will you have access to all these classes and resources.

College is the best time to pick up new skills, to challenge yourself, and to take classes that you never thought of taking. It's only in college when it's perfectly fine to take an Acting or Drawing or Philosophy class you've always wanted to take, and be able to tell your parents that it fulfills a 'requirement'.

College is best time to learn because nobody cares. Nobody cares if you fail. Nobody cares if you take a Philosophy, Acting or Drawing class. College is the time when you realize that it's okay to be different because out of the 10,000 students in your school, there's a high chance, you'll find at least one person who is just as different, just as crazy as you, and you may just find him in that Art History class you went to college for.

We all have our own beliefs and perspectives ....and that's not such a bad thing

College is this very interesting place where you are thrown into this rice bowl mixed with ingredients coming from hundreds of different places. It's just so interesting how college brings together people from all over the world, with such diverse experiences, beliefs and dreams. It may sometimes be hard to understand why certain people are so different. But if you try hard enough as I tried to, you realize that for every action a person makes is a reason that stems from the first 18 or 20 or 22 years of his life.

And by meeting all these people who care so much about what they believe in, you suddenly learn how to stand up for what you believe in as well. You learn how to forge your own character, and not just be a conformist. You learn that it's okay to be different, and that it's okay to be you because being different might just be the best thing you have to offer.

It Takes Time To Achieve Great Things ......but college gives you the time and freedom to get good at something and work towards your goal.

Nobody started out as an expert. Some people may have been born with some natural ability, but it takes time to get good at something. It's so easy to forget that anything worth it in life takes time to achieve. It's so easy to get intimidated by your peers and see how everyone is so smart and so amazing at what they do. But you have to realize that they didn't get there overnight.

In college, it's not so uncommon to meet that guy who has built 20 different social networks or iPhone applications or that girl who is working on a research that will cure cancer or that guy who just got his company acquired. But the one common thing they all share is that they all started from nothing. You think they're superhuman until you realize that they wear the same pants as you; they eat the same food as you; and they have the same 24 hours a day as you do.

And I think the sooner you realize this, the sooner you will be able to start working hard towards your own goal, one step at a time. College gives you this flexibility and time to work on a passion project without much trade-off, so go for it.

The Future of the World is very exciting ....and the person you sat beside in that boring lecture might just be the person who changes the world

'What will the world look like in 2050?' was the prompt we were challenged to write about for our globalization class. This is when I realized that the future is so exciting. There are so many possibilities. It's hard to imagine where exactly I'll be 35 years from now. It's hard to imagine what role my present actions will play in who I end up becoming.

And I think this is the greatest thing that my first semester has taught me--to be open to the possibilities, and to learn how to say yes when I would've said no because you never know what can happen in the future--that one event, one person or one moment can make all the difference.

One year ago, I made the decision to say 'yes' to applying to college and that decision is what has led me here today. But honestly, I'm just glad to be flying back home, knowing that home will always be the place where it all started, and that college is just another part of this journey.