Manifesto-of-Sorts

The semester starts in a week! THANK GOODNESS! I LOVE GRAD SCHOOL!

(I really, really do.)

I’ve been lesson planning, writing, reading recreationally, and getting my life together. It’s always a fun time when “getting your life together” is on the agenda.

Getting my life together involves errand-running and goal-setting. In this post, I’d thought I’d write down a few goals, even though some aren’t really concrete. Some are super vague, and most you can’t check off a list.

So this reads more like a little manifesto, I think. Unless I’m getting the definition of “manifesto” confused with something else. Oh well.

So. During this school year, this semester, and this life, I vow to…

  1. Stand taller, speak louder, and cut I’m sorry and I don’t know from my vocabulary. Or at least limit those phrases to situations that actually call for them.
  2. Take failure as it comes and handle it with grace. Accept that it’s a part of the ‘biz and life and everything.
  3. Celebrate every victory, big or small. Maybe with some cake (but not too much).
  4. Work my you-know-what off every single day.
  5. Rest and relax and do what I love every single day.
  6. Read for my craft.
  7. Read for my enjoyment.
  8. Send snail mail to people, because I’ve realized I love writing letters and I want to spread more ink-smeared magic.
  9. Smile more.
  10. Say, “Yes!” more.
  11. Say, “No!” when it’s best for me.
  12. Find so much joy in the opportunity I’ve been given to learn and teach and write.
  13. Go to [restaurant that is famous in college town], because I feel like it’s essential to the whole experience of living in [college town].
  14. Maybe exercise some. (Really, Kaila. EXERCISE SOME.)
  15. Take pride in my work, take pride in the process, and take pride in the ideas that pop into my head. Because sometimes I have some good ones.

I hope everyone is having a happy day. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch Kids Baking Championship. Baked goods and cute kids = a winning combo for television.

Ha. Okay. Goodbye now.

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Goin’ For an MFA–Reflections from my First Year

This post also contains a sprinkling of advice–even though, you know, I still feel like a newbie at this whole grad school thing. Ha. Enjoy!

So! You’ve been accepted to pursue your MFA in creative writing. Woohoo! I’m proud of you, internet stranger!

Now, if you’re anything like me, you are scouring the internet for advice/experiences/blog posts/etc. by people like me, people actually in an MFA program doing the whole grad school thing. You’re nervous, excited, anxious, happy, free, confused, and lonely (thanks T-Swift), all at the same time!

I was in your shoes a year ago. I had no clue what I was doing, so I Googled incessantly and nightly trying to figure it all out.

That’s why I’m writing this post. I hope my reflections/ramblings can give you some insight before you start, especially if you are like me–let me tell you, I am not kidding when I say I had no flippin’ clue what an MFA entailed.

Here goes nothing! Please enjoy this list of things/feelings I experienced during my first year as an MFA candidate.

Imposter Syndrome

Every moment. Every day.

You’ll feel like you don’t belong. Like they let you in on accident. If you’re semi-fresh out of undergrad (me) and your classmates are older and more experienced, you’ll feel so naive and clueless during a workshop. Maybe you won’t know what to say, how to do the workshop thing. I didn’t. I had no experience prior to the MFA–I was a literature major, so I just analyzed the heck out of really old novels and poems and plays but never asked how/why a story worked.

So every workshop felt like a whole bunch of “What the heck am I doing here? Can I DO THIS? Can I say this? Will I sound stupid?!”

My advice to confront imposter syndrome? Just roll with it. Truly. After a full year, I still feel unsure of myself as an artist most of the time, but isn’t that with everything? As I enter my second year, I’m trying to embrace this uncertainty. And after talking with my cohort, I can almost guarantee you that almost everyone deals with this feeling. An MFA program can be an intimidating/competitive place, but just know even the best feel like imposters.

Solidarity!

Criticism–& Lots of It 

Oh, gosh. I was prepared for all the criticism, but, then again, I was in no way prepared for it all.

Ha. Haha. You and your stories will get torn to shreds at one point–even the most talented writers in our program have endured a horrible workshop. I’ve suffered a few, I admit. The worst is looking at written comments after the fact and reliving the humiliation.

Okay, okay. It’s not that bad. It just depends on your perspective.

Every bit of criticism helps you become better, helps your stories become stronger. We’re all just here to become our best (and maybe, I don’t know, get published and get tenure-track positions one day, yes?), so every little bit of constructive criticism helps.

As a class goes on, you learn to filter the comments–you almost know whose comments you can “trust,” and you cling to their advice, their margin comments.

A little piece of advice? Find friends you can commiserate with. If you have a bad workshop, it almost always helps to laugh about it afterward with a friend. Make fun of yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously. We’re all in an MFA program to learn and get better–why stress so much when you come up short?

(P.S. I’m still trying to actively live my own advice–HA.)

Speaking of Friends

Find you some. Be social, at least a bit. Talk to people in your office, if you have an office. That’s an order.

During my first semester, I wasn’t so keen on being social. I felt too busy, too overwhelmed. Also, my dog had stomach problems and big vet bills, so that didn’t help.

My second semester, however, I did stuff. With people. Usually just dinner, and, toward the end of the semester, game nights, including a round of Dungeons and Dragons.

Side note: I had no idea how fun D&D could be. Holy cow.

Anyway.

My point: friends can help you feel not so alone in all of this. All of my friends are in the English department, creative writing or otherwise. We all share the fourth floor of the English building as TAs, we all teach sections of Comp, we all come from different walks of life and different parts of the country/world. It’s a wonderful feeling to talk to people who are going through the same things you are–you learn from your friends, you have fun with your friends.

My advice: just talk to people in your classes. Go to mixers. To pizza nights. To readings. Don’t be afraid to say “yes.” Know when you need to say “no,” but, man. Say “yes” every once in a while. It could lead to some awesome experiences.

Me Time: Take Some

Friends are essential, but so is a little thing called “me time.”

If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel like your whole life is consumed by the MFA–there is so much to do between writing, preparing to teach, teaching, office hours, obligations such as readings, meetings, etc., and writing center hours (at least if your program is like mine, with funding etc.). The MFA is a job, so it makes sense that I’m talking about a little work/life balance.

Find hobbies outside of your field. This is proving difficult for me–I love reading, I love writing, but I know I need something away from it all. Walking my dog and cooking dinner–in that order–have become my solace. I listen to music (mostly musical soundtracks because I can’t seem to break away from storytelling completely) and podcasts, and I tie up my shoes and strap in Ellie (dog) and we set off around the block. When we return home, I make something simple for dinner (all while listening to music or a Podcast still), and I either sing my heart out or laugh out loud to whatever Podcast I’m listening to (usually @GilmoreGuys, because I’m still obsessed with Gilmore Girls). This time away from the books, from students, from grading–from thinking–helps so much.

Find something outside of the MFA that you enjoy. The MFA is not your whole life–it’s what you do, not who you are.

Ha. I’m so cheesy.

Submit! Submit! Submit!

The MFA is your chance to spend 2-3 years on your craft with the guidance and help of your cohort and professors. Why not actively try to get published in the meantime?

When I say “submit,” I mean to submit to literary magazines, contests, journals, etc. I’m saying this because a year ago I definitely had no idea what this whole “submitting” process was like–I couldn’t tell you any small presses, magazines, etc. Remember: me = clueless.

Get a Submittable account–it’s free, and you can easily discover new opportunities and submit to places and keep track of your submissions all on one site! A ton of journals only operate through Submittable, so it’s almost essential. Also, if you want to invest a bit of money, get a Duotrope account–I believe it’s $50 for the entire year, and it is wonderful. You can search journals based on acceptance rates, etc. You can also search for individual magazines and check your chances of acceptance and see how long it takes on average to hear a response.

I’m guilty of checking Duotrope every day. It’s probably unhealthy, but hey.

Once you start submitting, be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. Also, be prepared for rejections galore. Don’t worry–it’s normal. Although it can hurt, every rejection feels like a step towards an acceptance.

My philosophy? Submit without abandon, often and plenty. You never know what will come of it. In my first year, I have been published once, and I’m always hoping another acceptance is around the corner.

Enjoy

And, in true Kaila fashion, let’s end this post on an extra-cheesy note!

While pursuing an MFA can be stressful, intimidating, and competitive, it’s been such a great experience so far. I’m surrounded by ambitious people just like me, by people who love to discuss their art and books and other nerdy things. I’ve tried to soak up every minute of academic bliss–sometimes I pinch myself because I realize I’m still a student, one of my favorite things to be. I get to walk around on a campus that’s buzzing with potential and dreams not yet realized. I get to teach students just starting their own journeys, see them grow as college students and as writers. I get to become the best writer I can be, and I’m surrounded by accomplished faculty who are on my side. I get to write fiction; I get to be completely immersed in worlds and characters I create. I get to attend readings by accomplished authors and ask them my questions, pick their brains.

It’s fantastic.

Enjoy your MFA experience. Don’t stress. You got this, internet stranger.

Thanks for stopping by. Now go kick some you-know-what!

For more advice/posts from fellow MFA candidates, check out the blog “The MFA Years.” It’s a wonderful; I’m pretty sure I make up half of the traffic to the site. 

The End is Near

The end of the semester, that is.

GUYS. I’m almost done with my first year of graduate school. What the heck? This time last year I was searching for apartments online, and now I’m published (just once, but it’s a start!), have a semester teaching under my belt, and I’ve made such great friends with people in my cohort.

I also don’t feel as clueless–I felt so clueless at the beginning of all of this. I had no idea what I was doing (and I still don’t sometimes), but gosh darn it, I’m DOING this grad school thing. That’s something!

I think I have a handle on things? I think?

And while the end of the semester is certainly near, I have so much to do in such a short period of time. But it’s all good–really. Sure, I’m stressed, but who isn’t? I’m so lucky to be in graduate school, to be learning so much. And I mean SO much.

My brain has grown three sizes at least.

(And, yes, I know that’s not how the acquisition of knowledge works.)

Here’s a little list of some of the things I’ve learned during my first year of my MFA:

  1. Grad school is a lot of work and requires a TON of multitasking. My time management skills have DEFINITELY come in handy! I know this seems like a “You think, Kaila?” kind of point, but there is truly a difference in the workload between undergrad and graduate school, at least in my experience. If you happen to be thinking of pursuing your MFA in creative writing, it’s a good thing to know you will be doing lots and lots and lots and lots of work. (Which is awesome.)
  2. I know very little about fiction writing, but I’m learning so much every single day.
  3. Teaching is so much more than the time spent in the classroom. I knew this before coming in, but you really don’t know to what extent this is true until you actually teach.
  4. Teaching is great and I love it. It’s also stressful, but the great stuff outweighs the stress stuff.
  5. Cooking at home is such a stress reliever AND a money saver. Oh my goodness, I have learned the greatness that is eating more meals at home!
  6. “No homework days” should not be spent feeling guilty about not doing your homework. Savor it. Rest up. (I’m still working on this one.)
  7. Library book sales are an incredible thing and they happen once a semester. Buy all of the books!
  8. Taking your dog on long, long walks helps you destress, helps your dog release some energy, and makes for a productive evening of work.
  9. Making friends with your colleagues means that classes are fun, offices are fun, everything’s fun. 
  10. I love school. I knew that, but now I’m pretty sure I want to stay in school for as long as possible–teaching or otherwise.

As I finish up my last bit of writing and grading for the semester, I can’t help but be so grateful for this opportunity to learn and work on my craft. I can’t wait to see what the next couple of years bring.

 

 

 

Grad School Update and the Disney Stuff That Gets Me Through it All

Geez. Long title.

If y’all don’t know, I’m pursing my MFA in creative writing (fiction concentration).

It’s crazy. I’m crazy. You’re crazy. Wait, what?

Grad school is tough, but I’m learning so much. I know, know, you guys are probably like:   “Kaila, you’re at school, of course you’re learning a lot.” But learning is not always a given, I’ve found.

But I am. I’m learning. AND I LOVE LEARNING!

As a budding fiction writer, I’m learning that not all I write can be about sunshine and rainbows and happy happy happy. Of course, there could be moments of happiness, or there could happy(ish) undertones to literary fiction. But happy doesn’t always make a good story, and I’m finally finding my groove when it comes to the themes I want to tackle. (You’d think I’d know this by now, but hey. I’m admittedly a novice when it comes to making up stories.)

BUT. I feel like my writing is already improving by leaps and bounds. I’m constantly working on my stories–before class, after class, at home, in the student union, in bed, while Ellie chews on my feet. I’m either thinking about writing, actually writing, or editing writing. I read, too. Not much for fun, but I still make time for a bit of recreational reading. Workshopping is scary/tough/disheartening/empowering. But I’m learning to love the process.

My blog’s taken a backseat, I know, but I’m changing that right now. I miss talking about Disney on the daily–okay, I actually haven’t stopped talking about it, but the subject isn’t as much of a priority anymore. At least in my daily life. I gots school and work and stuffs. Sometimes I tell the students I tutor in the writing center that I worked for Disney (they see my stickers on my laptop), and that’s always a fun icebreaker.

Anyways. Here’s a list Disney things helping me get through my first year of my MFA:

  • Music. Always. Currently been loving the new Duck Tales theme song–Donald’s my favorite, so listening to this while I put my makeup on is a way to start the day, let me tell ya.
  • Club Mickey Mouse! Those kids make me smile! It’s sad that I’m so old that I call 16-18 year-olds kids. Ha.
  • My apartment is so cute, and it’s filled with mostly Disney crap. I’m just now figuring out where to display my Tsum Tsums. Once my living room is sort of decorated, I need to take some pics and show you guys. I love it.
  • I bought Bambi recentlyso that was nice.
  • The anticipation of Coco and The Last Jedi. Goodness I can’t WAIT for both!
  • Ellie. She’s my dog, but she’s got a Disney name, so it works. She got fixed the other day, poor baby, but she’s doing great.
  • My backpack. My Vera Bradley Disney print backpack actually broke (darn zipper), but my student union carries the JanSport DISNEY COLLECTION! I died of happiness inside. I bought the print with Mickey and Donald climbing up a mountain; I’ll insert a link to a photo here.  (Ignore the horrid price tag, I was desperate and it was cute, okay?!) Donald’s face cracks me up and makes my heart happy.

There you have it. A quick list of Disney stuff I’m loving.

I’ve missed you, blog. I’ll try to write more often, because you make me happy.

See ya real soon!

Encouragement

Today, around 10:00 a.m.

Hi, blog! Long time no write. Well, I have been writing, just not for you. Which is dumb, but I’m remedying this problem right this very second! Yay!

Grad school has been a whirlwind so far. Truly. I’ve loved it, but it’s been an adjustment. Ellie and I are finally settling into a little routine (I think), and I’m really good at heating up Lean Cuisines and Stouffer’s French bread pizza.

Right now, my stomach is in knots and I’m just a nervous bundle of energy. Today, I turn in my first bit of fiction for one of my classes.

I’m so terrified, guys! I just hope my piece is sort of up to par with all the PhD and the second or third year MFA students in my class. I just hope that my school didn’t let me in by accident, and that my professor and my fellow students won’t read what I wrote and say, “Holy cow, where did this girl come from? How did she manage to get here?!” I know this is a common thought and fear among grad students–“imposter syndrome,” it’s called–but I hate it! I hate thinking I’m not good enough. I hate thinking that other people might think that I’m not good enough.

Isn’t that silly?!

Here’s where the title of this post comes in: encouragement. I’m going to write a bit of encouragement to me and to all of you.

Dear You,

Maybe you will be horrible. You might not be good enough. There’s always that chance that you won’t be good at something. There’s a chance  you’ll fall flat on your face. 

(Wow, strong start, am I right?)

BUT. Even if you are horrible, why is that such a big deal? If you want to be good at something, just put your head down, work like you’ve never worked before, and you’re bound to get better. You might never be the best, but gosh darn it, you can be your best!

(So much cheese; I cringe. But I’m a huge fan of all things cheesy.)

What you wrote is your very best at this moment in time. That’s all you can do. Take the criticism, take the feedback, and then run with. Get better. Work at it. Keep your optimism and grit and your stupid little Pollyanna smile. 

(I smile a lot. Former cast member probs, I suppose.)

You got this. Work! Know that you won’t always get gold stars, and embrace that feeling of uncertainty. You get to work at what you love to do, and you’re going to get better. 

Sincerely, 

Me.

annnnnnddddd….

Today, around 4:29 p.m. 

UPDATE: The class went well! I did a happy dance in my car before I drove home! I got some great notes and good feedback, and everyone was so nice. I’m happy to be here, and I’m so happy to be learning from such talented writers.

My anxiety has been lifted (for the moment, at least), but the bit of encouragement I wrote this morning is still relevant. I hope it helps you, because my little pep talk really helped me “buck up” and embrace my fears. If I acknowledge my anxieties, I can face them head on and accept them. Why stress about being good enough? What’s the worst thing that could happen?

I hope you have a great day, my friends. Do your best today and every day.

 

 

Adventures

I just want to share this photo of my pup, and I want to caption it with one of my favorite puppy (and adventurous people) quotes of all time:

Behold, the cutest photo in this world, taken by my sister (follow her at @klemsonphotographydesign on Instagram, people!):

untitled-7

And here’s the caption:

“There’s a great big hunk of world out there with no fence around it. Where two dogs can find adventure and excitement. And beyond those distant hills, who knows what wonderful experiences? And it’s all ours for the taking, Pige.” 

It’s from Lady and the Tramp, and I absolutely love it. And I love little Ellie’s face in the photo–it’s like she’s saying, “Oh! There it is! The biggest and prettiest world I’ll ever know…I’m just…kind of…frightened. Can I go? Will I go? Should I go?”

And, if you’re like me and Ellie, you might think these kinds of things right before you embark on new adventures. I’m about to begin grad school and a graduate teaching assistantship and a new life and in a brand new town and have to meet new people and do new things and shed fear of failure and experience apprehension and step out of my comfort zone all over again so…yes. These thoughts and feelings are quite relevant at the moment.

I’m human–of course I’m afraid of failure. I’ll be working on an MFA in creative writing and I’m already nervous–will I be horrible? Can I keep up with my fellow writers?

Will. I. Fail. Miserably?!?!?

I hope not. And if I do, hey. It’s cool. It’s fine. I’ll be okay. I’ll just work harder and find my way and my place in this big, fence-less world.

There is a great big hunk of world out there with no fence around it, so new adventures will always be limitless. I’m excited to try my hand at this new venture–let’s write stuff! Lots of it! Let it be horrible or wonderful or kind of okay! Either way, it’s a start and a new beginning, and I love those suckers.

You ready, Ellie?

 

 

Writer

I recently changed a few bullet points under the “about me” category.

First: “recent college graduate” transformed to “graduate student in creative writing.” Yes, you read that right! I’ll be heading back to school in the fall, and I am thrilled to continue my education. Who knows? Perhaps a doctorate is in my [distant] future?

I like school, okay? Let me stay forever.

Second: I changed “aspiring writer” to simply read “writer.”

Because I realized something.

I don’t have to wait until I’m a “grown-up” to fully realize my “grown-up” dream. And heck, I am a grown-up! Painfully so. I’ll be 24 in less than a month, and that’s scary. And kind of cool. But mostly terrifying.

You see, reader, I’m a writer because I write. I am not published in the sense that I have novels under my belt, but I write. A lot. At least I try to.

I do have a few articles published in a local magazine, and that’s cool. I’m so grateful for  the opportunity to contribute to a wonderful publication. But I still have a hard time considering myself a full-fledged writer.

But I am. And now that I’m realizing it, I’m so excited about my future and all the possibilities yet to be.

I write stories before bed! Fiction! And I love doing it! I’m using exclamation points because I think I found what I love to do! Making up stories to fill our dark little world with hero[ines] and characters that came to be because I used my brain muscles and created them out of nothing!

Now, yes, eventually I’d like to be semi-successful in this writing endeavor. But I can’t become successful or good at anything without a little elbow grease and a whole lot of doing.

And the doing–the writing, the doing the writing–makes me a writer. It’s the same concept as running. I’m currently training for a half marathon, and the act of running makes me a runner.

I’m slow as dirt, and it’s hard to wake up early before work to “pound the pavement.” (That’s runner’s speak.) But I run, so I am a runner.

I’m a writer, I’m a runner, I’m a dreamer. And I love and cherish all of those titles.

Have a magical day, my friends.

 

 

 

College Grad

I’m officially a college graduate.

I have completed my Bachelor’s degree in English (with an emphasis in literature) and I can say I’ve learned so much over the course of my education–I can analyze a poem in a heartbeat, write an essay in [hours] flat, and dissect books in order to discover the deeper meaning hidden within their pages. Being an English major was like an identity, a comfort. It’s so weird to say that I’m not an English major anymore. I’m a”has been.”

I don’t get the chance to walk in an actual ceremony due to my participation in the Disney College Program. I think I’ll manage. I’ll be near my beloved castle, so I think the trade-off is more than fair.

Imagine my excitement when my mom surprised me with a graduation cap and supplies to decorate said graduation cap:

I chose this quote because I absolutely love the song. I’ve actually never ridden Disney’s Carousel of Progress, but I know of the song and I absolutely love its message. It’s so optimistic: “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day. There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, and tomorrow’s just a dream away! Man has a dream, and that’s the start. He follows his dream with mind and heart. When it becomes a reality, it’s a dream come true for you and me!”

How could that song not put a smile on your face and a can-do spirit in your heart? I thought it was perfect for a college grad. I’d like to think that every morning holds the opportunity to do something wonderful, something great. Every single night holds the promise of a brand new start in the morning, a “great big beautiful tomorrow.” I just love it.

Yesterday we had a little graduation party, just me and my family and a little bit of cake. My mom surprised me with a huge Mickey Mouse, my future boss, and I am just in love with him. He’s so soft and cuddly, and I know he’ll make a great companion in Florida. So far I have a slew of companions: my old Donald Duck, purchased on my very first trip, my Sorcerer Mickey purchased in Minnesota at the Mall of America, and now my huge Mickey to commemorate my graduation. And my Tsum Tsums. Can’t forget those little guys.


My mom surprised me with one more precious thing: This journal with one of my favorite quotes.


I can’t wait to record special memories of my time as a Walt Disney World cast member.

Thank you for everything, college. It’s been pretty awesome to say the least. You’ve equipped me with more than enough to make it in the real world (hopefully). Along with analyzing poems, I’ve learned to analyze situations and make pretty sound decisions. Because of all the literature I have read, I am now more empathetic to the world around me and the different cultures that inhabit my surroundings. Because of the papers I have written, I am able to communicate effectively and passionately when need be.

College, you have been a magical experience. Now it’s time to go make a little magic (quite literally) for others.

College Tips from a College Senior

I’m entering into my senior year (technically) of college. I’m actually debating on adding another major, so I could still be in it for the long haul. That doesn’t mean I haven’t learned a lot, however. Now I want to pass on some of my knowledge– no matter how incomplete and imperfect it may be–to you!

I know how scary everything can be. New places, new faces, new teachers, new experiences. “New” can be scary, but “new” can also be wonderfully exciting! I’m here to help ease your worries and help get you excited about all the new stuff you’ll inevitably encounter.

Without further ado, here are some of my tips to conquering college–we’re not merely surviving here.

Have A Motto/Mantra 

This just got really cheesy really quick. Let me explain:

My freshman year of college, I was scared out of my mind. I had a volleyball scholarship and something to prove to myself, my coaches, and my friends and family back home. I also just wanted to have fun and find myself; I was ready to figure everything out and really make it on my own. I was moving pretty far away from the comfort of my hometown, and I was terrified of the homesickness that I was sure would inevitably come. I wanted success at this college thing, and I wanted it now.

Here’s a secret: nothing worth having comes easy. But that doesn’t mean your enthusiasm should change.

My mom emphasized this as we had endless talks leading up to my departure. She said she didn’t give a rip roar if I played or not, or if I was perfect coming out of the gate. The only thing that should matter was my effort and my enthusiasm. Momma whipped out a copy of a newspaper article about my grandpa (a football coach in his day) with the headline: “[Grandfather’s Name]: Hard to Discourage.” She said not everything would be peachy keen, but I had to try my best to be “hard to discourage.” Effort and enthusiasm.

I wrote “Hard to Discourage” underneath an old photo of my grandpa and hung it in my dorm room. That single saying got me through rough practices, lonely days, and tedious study nights. It truly helped me transition from the effortless halls of high school to the slightly more laborious college classes. “Hard to discourage” reminded me to tackle each day with a vigor and a vim; I was hardly homesick and really made an effort to be the most upbeat, enthusiastic version of myself each and every day.

Choose a motto that means something to you and cling to it for dear life. It can help you focus on your goals and help keep you grounded when you’re trying to figure out life on your own.

Find Your Niche

The glorious thing about college is that nobody cares what you do. I don’t mean breaking the law and all that jazz. I mean something much more authentic; I truly think college is a place where being the version of you in which you are undeniably yourself is a little bit easier.

The moment I stepped into my first English class (I’m a proud English major) I immediately felt at home. I can talk about books with my English peeps, about musicals and other nerdy things, and just truly be myself. I’m a girl who loves to read and talk about my obsession with Disney and Idina Menzel and Sutton Foster and Parks and Recreation and Gilmore Girls. I feel like I’ve found a group of people who will listen and reciprocate the love. Our English club meetings are a blast: pizza and literary talk and nerdy tangents. My heart’s happy just thinking about it.

Find what interests you and find that group of people on campus who have similar interests. Often they’re within your major. Sometimes there’s an obscure club that you feel inclined to join. Don’t worry about what’s “acceptable” by societal standards–I believe most of those don’t exist in college. Go out and be yourself and find people who love what you love. They are there; it just takes a little bit of looking around.

Know You’re Not Alone 

Every single college freshman is scared. Just know that you’re not alone in this process–far from it. Your friends from home are going through the same thing. Take comfort in this unspoken solidarity; It’s a comfort to sit next to your classmate who’ve you just met and just revel in the knowledge that your experiences could be adding up; chances are they’re scared about the same thing. All college freshmen are in it together–they’re all trying to figure out how to work the laundry machines, eat a decent meal in the cafeteria, or sleep while their roommates are snoring. Take comfort in knowing that every college senior (like me) went through exactly what you’re going through and survived. You can do this. I know it.

Accessorize Accordingly 

My favorite thing about back-to-school has got to the be the fresh school supplies. I love seeking out pens with Disney characters on them, a new planner, maybe a fresh laptop cover. Get excited about the stuff. Who doesn’t love stuff?!

Work Hard and Love It

You’re going to college to get an education, first and foremost. Find a major you love. I know it’s weird, but I truly love the feeling of planning, drafting, and writing a paper because I love my major. Hard work becomes easier when you know you are truly enjoying every second.

Strive to do your best in the class room. You won’t regret the headaches and the studying when you have that 4.0 at the end of the semester.

Relax–Take it All In

Do everything you want–football games, all-nighters with some pizza involved, trying out for a university theater production, anything you want. You’re only a college freshman once, so really go after everything with a newbie-esque enthusiasm. Try everything (lets keep it legal, here), do everything (legal, people!) and be anything you want. This is your fresh start. Your college experience. And, as the Division II NCAA slogan suggests, “Make it yours!” 

Now that I’ve written the most cliché college post ever, I want to wish everyone a happy “back-to-school.” If you’re a college freshman, just know that everything will be ok. Sometimes the worst part is the anticipation of all the “new.” Instead of worrying, embrace it. You only get to anxiously anticipate your freshman year once, so you might as well enjoy it.

The Perks of Small College Towns

I love where I go to school.

The school is small, the town is small, and the class sizes are small. I’m sure many couldn’t learn to love all the quintessential quaintness that I have come to adore, but I could care less.

I like to believe I live in my own little version of Stars Hollow (if you don’t get this reference, go watch Gilmore Girls NOW). Everyone is so friendly that it’s slightly insane. When I’m driving down the street, strangers will almost always nod their heads and raise a finger or two (no obscene gestures here) in the typical friendly small-town manner. I always drive off and think, “Do I know them?”

Our college is the heart and soul of our little town. It’s incredible–the town loves us and we love the town. Flyers for events going on at the college plaster the windows of Main Street’s many small-businesses. Except for a few fast food restaurants, there are only local eateries. On each table in most places, a card informs what is going on in the town and in the college during the month. You need to plan your busy schedule and litter it with social events? Head to a local hotspot and browse the many quaint events going on in the community.

Guys. It’s so much like Stars Hollow, and that just makes me incredibly happy.

Homecoming is an event, I tell you. The whole town gets involved. Main Street shuts down for the parade, and student athletes become celebrities for the entire week.

Bliss. Pure bliss.

No, I didn’t choose a huge university famous for a rowdy student section, or an expensive Greek life, or classes the size of my entire university. Don’t get me wrong; I think a huge college experience would have been great in a different way. Instead, I chose a home away from home, a place where everybody knows your name (at least in my English department, anyway). I chose a place where I could play the sport I love and get involved in the student body. I chose a town that backs the university one hundred percent. I chose a home that makes me feel as if  I am safe constantly driving me to participate outside of my comfort zone.

Will I stay here forever? No. Probably not. I have very big dreams to pursue, and who knows where those dreams will take me. But this small college town has been the perfect experience for me. I love feeling like a bigger fish in a smaller pond–I’m succeeding, I’m thriving. Even when I become a teeny tiny insignificant fishy in the immense pond I like to call adulthood, I know that I will be prepared thanks to the supportive small college town that I have chosen.

The NCAA Division II’s slogan used to be “I chose Division II.” I love it. I really did choose this experience, and I’m better for it.

I can proudly say, “I chose Division II,” and I have loved every second of my college life.