Grown-up 101: Ten things I learned outside the classroom my freshman year

By Tianzhen Nie
Distingished Young Woman of Hawaii for 2015


1. Studying: 

If you’re reading this blog and/or have some connection to the Distinguished Young Women program, chances are, school doesn’t come all that hard to you. For the most part, you’re probably able to maintain an above average academic standing in your class, and understand the material without too much difficulty.  College, on the other hand, is an entirely different story: after making millions of flashcards and doing an endless number of practice problems, you still can’t guarantee an A on that midterm.

PicMonkey Collage

2. Being on Time: 

Ever since middle school, I’ve been notorious for being late, to the point that slipping in after the bell rang was no longer embarrassing when the only consequence was a friend’s disapproving nod and a muffled giggle from across the room. That’s not the case in college, as walking into class late means not only the judgment of dozens of strangers but also likely a drop in one’s grades.


3. Staying Awake: 

Spoiler alert: I actually had to take a nap writing this section, because it was getting close to 3:30 in the afternoon. That’s one of my daily off-times, meaning that no matter how much I sleep the night before, I’ll still crash around then.  Fortunately, my down times are generally predictable (usually around 11 in the morning and between 6-8 pm at night), which means if I do have to be productive during those times (i.e. attend an event or go to class), I’ll take a nap or grab a cup of coffee ahead of time.


4. Scheduling: 

On any given day in high school, I probably knew my own schedule two weeks in advance, and always wondered why adults, despite being so much older, weren’t able to remember theirs. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized I could only do that because my schedule was basically the same week in and week out. That’s no longer true—between coffee dates, office hours, and career workshops, I rarely make a decision these days without consulting my trusty calendar app.


5. Keep LDR’s going: 

One thing you should know about me: when it comes to keeping in touch with people I care about, I’m the absolute worst. This semester however, I decided to change that, by setting up weekly Skype dates with one of my childhood friends, whom I incidentally visited over spring break. The benefit of a scheduled weekly phone call is that even if we can’t make that time, we have to let the other person know why, and are thereby still letting them know some of what’s going on if our lives.

6. Traveling by myself/ Public Transportation: 

Since starting college, I’ve traveled to four cities in three states outside of North Carolina, which admittedly isn’t a ton, but it’s far more than what most island kids experience. And since I possess neither a car nor a license, all such traveling has been conducted via various modes of public transportation.  Greyhound, Amtrak, Metro, Uber: you name it, I’ve taken it, and if I haven’t, I now have the confidence to figure it out.  And don’t forget about airplanes: since flying to Nationals last summer, I’ve gone unaccompanied except for a massive pile of luggage through more airports than I can count.


7. Online Shopping: 

Though our school is a mere twenty minutes from the nearest mall, I’ve been there a grand total of one time, and that was only because I’d gotten lost. All the shopping I’ve done since coming to college—and there’s been a lot—has been online, which the empty cardboard boxes under my bed will attest to.  While I can’t say I’m perfect at the sport (especially since my last purchase from Ann Taylor brought more than a few non-fitting items), I am generally pretty successful, to the dismay of my bible study and bank account).


8. Makeup:

 Fun (or depending on your perspective, not-so-fun) fact: When I was fifteen, my mom took me to a makeup salon in China to get my eyebrows, eyeliner, and lipstick tattooed, so I wouldn’t divert what precious little time I had to study to putting on makeup. Fast forward to my senior year, I barely know how to put on makeup, much less did so on a regular basis.  Coming to college however, I realized that even though people come to class in workout clothes and sweatshirts on a regular basis, makeup was one of those things that everyone made sure they did.  The result? Well, let’s just say that the last day of spring break I decided not to put on makeup because all I had planned that day was a ten-hour bus ride, and boy did it felt weird.


9. Gym Equipment: 

Before college, I’ve never stepped inside a gym. What (little) exercise I engaged in were all via sports practices or inside the confines of my home, and the idea of being the only unfit person in a room full of muscular, athletic bodies terrified me.  If not for my gym rat of a roommate, bless her soul, I might still be as clueless about weight machines as I am about astrophysics or biostatistics.


10. Becoming a sports fan:

  • In my four years on our high school newspaper, I wrote a sports article maybe twice, and only ever on volleyball, the one team sport I understood. What, I reasoned to myself, was the point of working to understand a game when our team wasn’t worth cheering for anyways? (To be fair, our high school was actually rather decent at a number of sports, but like I said, excuses.)  College however, hath done changed me, and here’s the proof:
  • Of the hundreds of texts my roommate and I send each other every day, at least half of them are about basketball.


  • Every time I see a basketball player, I pull out my phone and take a creepy snapchat. It doesn’t matter if they’re sitting two feet away from me on the bus or at the table right next to mine in the dining hall, (both these situations have happened, by the way), I must and will take a picture of them.  Or sometimes, when I have the nerve, a picture with them.


  • I now schedule my activities around our games. If for some reason I don’t have WiFi to watch one (as it so happened when I was at UPenn), then I will drain my LTE if it means seeing our Tar Heels crush pretty much anyone we’re up against.  Sweet Sixteen, here we come!

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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