A collection of short reflections on each of my undergraduate years.
This year was a year of transition and change. I moved halfway across the country and dealt with newfound freedom and responsibility. Overall, it wasn't a hard transition for me. I adjusted my academic habits slightly when needed, and fared well. I didn't go crazy with power and stay out all night making decisions I would later regret, laughing at how I didn't have to text my parents where I was and who I was with and when I was coming home. I didn't "reinvent" myself, though I didn't really feel I needed to. Or at least, I didn't want to.
I'm going to be honest: if the next three years are anything like freshman year, I'll be disappointed. I had a lot of fun freshman year exploring Seattle, I met great people, and I fell in love with UW and the Honors Program, and it's these things that make me excited for sophomore year. Maybe freshman year just wasn't what I expected-- I had this picture of me in my dorm room, headphones in, listening to music, lounging in my bed, and being at peace and comfortable with myself. It was a romanticized idea of college that never really came true, no matter how realistic it seemed to be. Don't get me wrong: I never once thought about transferring (except for a minor "BUT IF I WENT TO SCHOOL IN MINNESOTA I WOULD BE CLOSER TO MY CATS" incident mid-Winter quarter). I never once regretted my decision to go to UW. I just feel like freshman year let me down, perhaps due to my idealistic (but not so realistic) expectations. For reasons I don't really feel like divulging here, the first half of 2014 was extremely hard on me and my family, and at times I really didn't feel like myself. Not that I was doing things that were un-Natalie-like, I just felt really disconnected. Maybe it was the academic rigor and pressure Winter quarter brought, the cold weather and general Seattle dreariness, or just the fact that I was still transitioning from High School Natalie to College Natalie, which wasn't the biggest transition, but was a transition to be made nonetheless. I wrote a lot of bad poetry and pretended I was saying something that needed to be said. Maybe it did, and maybe saying it helped. But in retrospect, I just wrote a lot of bad poetry. Spring quarter I hardly wrote any poetry at all (save those in The Triggering Town class, which undoubtedly count, but unprompted and unassigned poetry is always better in my book). I'm still not sure which is worse, seeing as I'm writing this in early September (you call it procrastination, I call it time for reflection) and haven't written much poetry all summer but feel much better than I did in Winter quarter.
Point is, freshman year is over. I handed my dorm keys in with the biggest sigh of relief I've ever experienced in my entire life and headed off to Bellingham with two people who contributed immensely to freshman year's good parts, then jetted to Minnesota to be reunited with cats, family, and friends. As sophomore year draws closer, I can only hope I've made the shift from "overly idealistic freshman" to "mostly realistic with an earned dash of idealistic sophomore" and can approach this year with the enthusiasm it calls for. I have a better idea of what is going to make me happy whilst at college, what will keep me balanced, and what will make this coming year better than the one before it.
Sophomore year was really good. I am writing this reflection near the beginning of my junior year, and I've definitely had time to process the 9 months of my second year at college. In retrospect, sophomore year was really great. But it was also really crappy, at times. Wow, it's almost as if life is a balance. A lot of my thoughts on sophomore year are summarized like this: I found a deep love and passion for organic chemistry, but winter quarter found me overbooked and weirdly scheduled, leading to poor eating habits and nearly passing out in biology lab (unrelated to eating, completely related to the formaldehyde used to preserve the tissues we were working with). I applied to and was accepted into the Berlin Study Abroad program, but the entire process was marked by anxiety attacks and nights alone in my room obsessing over every detail of my application to ensure I didn't get rejected. I had stellar academic success the entire year, but I hardly wrote any poetry that I was proud of and generally felt uninspired and cynical about the world around me. The aforementioned anxiety led me to write an essay for a scholarship (which I received), but I really really would have preferred to just not have anxiety for a good portion of this academic year. See? Balance. Give and take. Et cetera.
But I feel more me now. If that makes any sense. A recurring thought, both sophomore year and now, is that I am really glad not to be Freshman Year Natalie. Looking back on my Freshman Year reflection, there was a distinct dissatisfaction with how freshman year transpired. And how I wasn't quite myself. I wasn't doing anything crazy-- getting into trouble, failing classes, making bad decisions... I just didn't feel like the person I wanted to be. And I still can't put my finger on why, but I know that Sophomore Year Natalie (and so far, Junior Year Natalie) are more closely aligned with my ideal self. I think this happened in part through what I engaged with sophomore year. I started working at the Odegaard Writing and Research Center, and found a wonderful community of writers and peers who I have closely connected with over the past year. I love love love working as a writing tutor, and being a part of this cohort and organization has been a lovely and affecting experience. Likewise, my living situation for sophomore year was stellar-- I lived in a single in Hansee, next door neighbors to Madeleine and Devi, and we made the end of the hallway our own. I loved seeing the trees outside my window, especially when it rained, the coziness of my room and its decorations, and putting my feet up on the heater until my socks singed. I felt at home in little M104.
As mentioned above, I also felt highly engaged in my coursework. It's definitely a challenge to take series classes for the whole year and it does make the year a bit more monotonous, knowing that I would be devoted to a couple subjects for nine months with only a little room to explore electives. However, I did break free of my highly structured degree program and decide to take a Forensic Anthropology class, and as a result, pushed taking the last quarter of biology off-sequence in the fall. This is probably the best academic decision I've made so far in college. Forensic Anthropology was a "special topics" class in the Biocultural Anthropology department, and I assume would only be offered once during my years at UW. I had to take it. And I did. To me, taking this class was more than just making a decision about what courses to take when; it was representative of taking the reigns of my college education and making my UW experience my own. I could have said, "well, I could take this class, but it conflicts with biology and I need to finish that series because that's what my major suggests doing in the spring quarter of my sophomore year!" but I didn't. It wasn't a particularly hard decision for me to make, but it did strengthen my understanding of myself as a student in this huge university, and showed me the benefits of traveling off the suggested path.
I'm afraid I'm veering off the edge into platitudes and clichés, so I'll wrap this up. Sophomore year was good. I became a version of me that's closer to the version of me I aspire to be, and I'm appreciative of this iterative process, which I know is not nearly complete.