Lessons from my Future Self… for the Younger Me

bunche-hall
Bunche Hall at UCLA: where all turning points of my college career occurred.

FROM THE DESK OF: Nina

I received an email from my alma mater’s International Institute alumni network this morning. Included in this email was an invitation to reach out to them if my organization had an internship/job opening that I would like for them to promote to current students or fellow alumni. After checking out the website, I decided to create an alumnus profile.

The first page requested basic info. First name, last name, year of graduation, and so on. The next page was slightly more involved, asking for extracurriculars, activities, etc. But the third page.. the third page asked about my current role, my motivations for choosing my current path, my future goals, and my advice to current and future students at the International Institute. This is where things got interesting.

One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “If you knew then what you know now, what would you tell your past self?”. It forces people to juxtapose the past with the present, think about their personal growth in a nutshell, and share with you a micro-glimpse into their life experiences. In all the years I confronted others with this question, though, I never really thought to use it to confront myself. This changed the second I started thinking about what to write for that third page of the alumnus profile. What do I tell those current and future students? What would I have done differently in college, and if so, how do I write about this without sounding mopey or remorseful? Or better yet – would I have done anything differently in college if I knew what I know now?

In the end, I gave a very simple response to that question on the profile. I didn’t want to pour out my heart and soul to the entire alumni directory (… yet, at least). But since this blog is the place where I am free to share any thoughts that cross my mind, I fortunately do not need to filter my response to that question here.

That said, here is a list of key pieces of advice I would give to college-aged me.

“If I knew then what I know now, I would…”

…not return home for at least the first two months of being away at college. This may sound a bit rebellious, but take it from me, the ultimate homebody: adapting to an unfamiliar environment is incredibly difficult when when you keep throwing yourself back into the familiar and comfortable. If I had spent less time dwelling on my homesickness and re-channeled that energy towards soaking in my surroundings, I think it would’ve been a lot quicker for me to acclimate to college life.

… take better advantage of my school’s athletic facilities. I wish my lazy butt actually valued physical activity in college that extended beyond walking to and from class and the dining hall. My school’s gym had pools, tons of exercise equipment, fitness classes, a rock climbing wall… plus, every so often we’d get bonus pro athlete sightings on campus (read: Real Madrid practicing at the North Athletic Field and Ron Artest – pre-Metta World Peace days – shooting hoops at the SAC). What was I thinking?

… take advantage of research/study opportunities. I always took for granted just how much incredible research and discovery went down on campus. Like, say, that one time a group of scientists led by Dr. Leonard Kleinrock casually facilitated the birth of the Internet at Boelter Hall. #NBD. That could’ve been me, am I right…? (… maybe not. That was in the late ’60s. But a girl can dream.)

… study a little harder for that one business law class I took. You know how you always remember those classes in which you struggled much more than you initially thought you would? Well, for me, this was business law in my junior year of college. This was one of the most useful classes I could have taken in university, and some of the intuition and habits encouraged in this course still resonate with me to this day. Unfortunately, I happened to take this class during the busiest quarter of my college experience, and ended up getting a less-than-stellar grade… but if I had taken just a little bit of time to slow down the extracurriculars so I could squeeze in more studying for this class, I think I could have really done quite well. Ah well, guess we learn from our mistakes.

… make a better effort to keep in touch with my professors and TAs. I often forgot this fact in between decoding their chicken scratch on the board and figuring out how to not sink in their sink-and-swim approach to teaching… but my professors in university were some bloody brilliant minds. Equally as brilliant were the TAs who deciphered these professors’ teachings – without them, I don’t know how I would have survived college. I’d like to get in touch with some of them and see what they’ve done since their TA days. I am sure some are now professors as well, at this point. I’ll think I’ll reach out to them and see if I can re-connect.

… still study abroad. This is actually the one piece of advice I included in my alumus profile. Granted, I understand I need to check my privilege, and that studying abroad is no cheap activity to undertake – but making study abroad a mandatory part of my educational experience was, by far, the best decision I could have made in college. Going abroad teaches you lessons that the textbooks don’t teach you: real-world problem-solving, resourcefulness, creative communication, cross-cultural cooperation… I could go on and on with what you learn from immersing yourself in the unknown. If I could go back and do this again, I 100% would.

So, would I change anything about the experiences my younger self has had? Maybe not. But I certainly think there are things I appreciate now, in retrospect, that I took for granted then. And I hope I get another chance to take advantage of those things sometime in the near future. Guess it’s time to hit the books again. #hellogradschool #hereIcome

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