The first term can be difficult for many college freshmen. My first quarter away at college was no exception. One of the first classes I took was a lower-division, introductory English class that was being taught by a professor who had only ever instructed Ph.D. candidates before. He ended up using the same syllabus that he wrote for his Ph.D. seminars and expected the same depth of analysis and quality of work from our class as he did from his others.
At first I saw the class as a challenge. But despite being determined to do well and spending a minimum of ten hours on each weekly paper, nothing I wrote seemed good enough. Even the positive feedback I received from my professor always suggested that I was missing a large step in my thought process and, because of the philosophical and ethical nature of the class material, my understanding of the world. The longer the quarter the wore on, the more stressed I became and the more I felt that I wasn’t good enough. In addition, during the months leading up to the start of college, two people who had been very important to me passed away and after being apart from my family for a few months the weight of those losses became heavier.
In combination with the stress of this class, I started feeling perpetually depressed, anxious, and exhausted. I eventually began to isolate myself. Even though I never told anyone, I considered dropping out. That wasn’t what I wanted, though; I’d worked hard to get to college and was proud of it. I wanted my degree both for myself and my family. So even though it made me uncomfortable and went against my desire to prove that I was doing well, I started talking to my mom and a classmate about how I was feeling. I made a point of checking in with each of them every day and gradually began to pull myself out of my rut. The more I talked to them, the more I challenged the way I thought about how I was feeling and was able to push back against my anxiety.
I now see that first quarter as a learning experience. If anything, getting through that time made me feel more capable and confident in myself. I had to figure out how to take care of myself and how to ask for help when I was struggling emotionally. Once I stopped isolating myself and starting talking to other people I found that I wasn’t the only one who was feeling that way. Everyone else in that class was also experiencing various levels of stress and anxiety; we were all just trying to cover it up. Once all of us realized that, we talked to our professor and he lowered his expectations a little. Finding a couple people that I felt comfortable being vulnerable in front of made all the difference, as did taking some time to decompress at the end of each day and make sure I felt okay. So, I guess the moral of the story is to reach out to people when you come up against a wall. Taking care of yourself is so important to being successful in college, so don’t be afraid to reach out!
Genevieve is a first generation college student who currently attends UC Davis, where she is pursuing a degree in Linguistics. She graduated from Pasadena High School in 2015 where she played on the Girls’ Soccer team and became a CAP student. Over the last few years, she has volunteered at PEF’s Summer Enrichment Program and worked as a tutor at SKILLZ Summer Program. This summer she had a wonderful experience interning with CAP. She is now in her third year in college and plans to go to graduate school after completing her B.A. She is excited to be on CAP’s Alumni Advisory Council because she believes in the organization’s mission, has received invaluable support and guidance from the CAP family, and is invested in giving back to CAP and the students they assist.