Five Thoughts Every College Student Has Their First Semester (and what I’ve learned from mine)

By Tianzhen Nie

Distinguished Young Woman of Hawaii for 2015

1. How did I get here?



Growing up in one of the worst public school systems in the nation, I was pretty sure I’d missed out, academically speaking, but I didn’t realize just how bad I had it until I came to one of best public universities in the country. Most people on my floor can converse in another language (if you’re my roommate and can’t, then you’re the exception), while some started their own companies, or did other incredible things, such as bike across America or perform in Carnegie Hall.  The first two months of college, I was perpetually in a “meanwhile, I like to eat Pringles and shop online” slump, asking myself three times a day how I’d ever managed to get into UNC.
Nonetheless, there’s a saying that people in college are likes ducks—on the surface, everyone looks like they’re gliding, but in reality, they’re all kicking frantically beneath the surface. The longer I’ve been in college, the truer this statement has become (unless it’s finals week, then nobody looks like they’re gliding).  You’ve got to remember that you’re just as good as anyone else out there, or else you wouldn’t have made it this far in the first place.

2.I have no idea what to do with my life.


give up meme

Don’t get me wrong, I had my life completely planned out before I got to college–I was going to major in Environmental studies, minor in Chinese, go to law school, become an international environmental lawyer and live on a farm with my three horses (I’m kidding…sort of).  Then I joined a first year career perspectives group (to help you figure out what you wanted to do with your life) and my plans completely turned upside down.  Or to be more specific, I turned my plans upside down by looking into new majors, minors, grad programs, all during midterms week of course. (why, Tianzhen, why?)
And now? Well, since I haven’t found a more suitable option for myself, I’m still an Environmental Studies, but I’m not so bent on having life the way I’d envisioned it.  70% of freshman come into college as a biology major, and only 30% of sophomores are still committed to being one, so if you change your mind midway well, just know that you’re not alone.

3. I want (insert current craving)


blog meme Tianzhen 2

It’s true, you don’t know how good you’ve got it until you don’t, and your mom’s cooking and a properly working refrigerator are at the top on that list, although you’ll soon find yourself at a loss for plenty of other things.  Need a cute purse to match your outfit for dinner? Too bad your sister’s closet is a several hour drive away. Curious about trying out that homemade face mask you read online? Forget about trying to find all the ingredients you need in that pathetic shelving unit you’re pretending is a pantry.  Need to vacuum the floors? Unless the girl next door has one (which thank God, she does), you’ll have to walk across the street to borrow one.
And let’s not even talk about food.  At least three nights every week, my roommate will turn to me in desperation, silently imploring me to give the verdict as to whether she should order in, or go to the dining hall, or do neither.  And this is coming from a girl with an unlimited meal plan! All I’m going to say is, the starving college student stereotype is definitely more than just a stereotype.

4. “Do I really need to study?”


blog meme Tianzhen

For those of you high-flyers in high school, coming to college might just be the Achilles heel to all your motivation for continued success (hint: that was me).  After all, you’ve spent 12 years of your life working toward the grand prize of College, and now that you’re finally here, you’re wondering what to do next.  Or, maybe you didn’t study super hard in high school anyways, and are still wrapped up in the fantasy that you can have the same attitude in college (pro tip: this is a BAD IDEA).  Or maybe you worked so hard all semester that you were pretty much guaranteed to get an A in this class as long as you pulled an 87 on the final, so you got overconfident decided not to study as hard and ended up getting a 79 on the final and an A- in the class (hypothetically, of course).
Moral of the story? Listen to Shia and (hopefully) you’ll get that 4.0.

  5. “This place is weird”



When you’re an out-of-state student in a school whose population is 85% in-state, not to mention the only person from your state that your peers have ever met, well, to say there’s a bit of a culture shock is an understatement.  But even if you don’t find yourself among people who have no idea what spam musubis or poke bowls are, college is still probably very different from what you grew up with.  For one thing, the population composition is probably not going to be what you’re used to, although ‘what you’re used to’ is going to differ radically from person to person.  Having grown up in a place dominated by Asians and Pacific Islanders, it’s still a shock for me to live where white people are actually the majority.  On the other hand, my roommate, who’s grown up in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains rural North Carolina, has never had an Asian friend until college, as her entire high school only had two Asians.
All this has made me realize just how important my cultural heritage and my home really is to who I am today.  Maybe it’s cliché, but it’s only since I’ve been away from the culture I’ve known and the traditions I grew up with that I’ve become more aware of who I am and what I believe in.  And for that College, my poetry, music, and I thank you.



“You know X or Y or Z?


When you get to this level of academia, you realize that the social circles are really quite small.  For example, this guy in my Chinese class from Idaho knows Washington’s DYW Rose, who was his childhood friend.  But since he’s also a Coca-Cola scholar, he’s friends with Pennsylvania’s DYW Cat, and of course all of us DYW’s know each other.  It actually justifies Facebook stalking when you’re looking at someone’s profile and seeing all the mutual friends you never knew you had.
Tianzhen Nie is a college freshman at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina . Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, Tianzhen was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Hawaii  for 2015. Learn more about Tianzhen here!

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