5 Ways to Take the Fear Out of Your Freshman Year

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It's normal to have concerns about stepping into new territory. Stacey Johnson offers 5 steps to getting over your "freshman fears" and getting comfy at your new college home.

"Will I feel lonely?" "Will I get homesick?" "Will I be able to handle the workload?" "Will I get along with my roommate?" "Can I really make it on my own?" Questions. Questions. Questions. Any high school student who's getting ready for college has dozens of them. And most are concerns about stepping into this unfamiliar territory. While there will be many changes and challenges when you leave the comforts of home and high school, take heart: There are several steps you can take to get over your "freshman fears" and get comfy at your new college home. So if your stomach is doing flip-flops, take a deep breath, relax, and read on.

Step One: Realize You're Not Alone

There's nothing worse than that dreaded "new kid" feeling, right? Everyone seems to be in the know about what's going on—everyone but you, that is. Lindsay Person, a recent graduate of Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, struggled with these feelings when she entered college. "For some reason, I thought everyone had already become friends," says Lindsay. "And that included the other new freshmen! Before I even got to school, I'd imagined students laughing and joking together, and there I'd be, not even knowing what was so funny. But when I was actually standing in the registration line, I realized I was there with hundreds of other students who didn't know anyone, either. Right away, we had something in common." You can get relief by reminding yourself there are others who share the same struggles. As Lindsay found, there's something comforting in the fact that you're all going through these changes together. 

Step Two: Share Your Feelings

Sometimes, just talking about fears can make students feel less anxious. Sharing your feelings with other freshmen might be as helpful to them as it is to you. "I worked through fears by talking and telling my friends what I was going through. I was just learning to be honest," says Lindsay. But while your friends can empathize, they may not have the answers you're looking for. It's important to talk to both those who are experiencing the same feelings and those who have been through it all and survived. Christian colleges provide a great "expert" resource: resident assistants. These older students are equipped with information, training and experience. Plus, they were freshmen not so long ago. They remember what it was like and want to help you. "The RAs in the dorm are really encouraging," says Charissa Engstrom, who spent her freshman and sophomore years at Brier Crest Bible College in Caron Port, Saskatchewan. "They are there to show you around and you can talk to them whenever you want to."

Lindsay suggests taking advantage of another great resource: your college's faculty and staff. "If I had a problem, I could go to my residence life leader, or anyone in administration. I really believe people work at this school because they care about students." Along with college leaders, you can always go to the one authority who's on call 24-7: Let God know what's troubling you. Pray often and pray honestly. You also may want to write those prayers in a journal—a great way to express your fears and struggles to God. Then when these problems have passed, you can look back at what you've written and thank God for bringing you through your difficult time. You should also journal your thanks to God. When times get tough again, you can look back to these prayers of thanksgiving and see how God helped you in the past. You'll be encouraged as you realize he will help you again. 

Step Three: Plug into a Church

One of the most common mistakes freshmen make is neglecting to get involved in a church right away. After all, you are in a totally Christian environment, right? Nick Pokswinski, a senior at Simpson College in Redding, California, understands the importance of finding a home church. "As soon as I got there I got plugged into a church," he says. "It gave me an opportunity to work with junior highers, a ministry I really love. I've also enjoyed getting to know the church's youth staff." Everyone needs the support of a church family. And getting involved in a local church will help you move more easily into college life. (For practical tips and insights into the importance of church involvement, see "Jump-start Your Church Search," on page 80.)

Step Four: Get Involved

The best way to get over your fears and get comfortable in your new surroundings is to get involved right away. Christian colleges offer a wide range of activities for all interests. Like to sing? Join a vocal group. Good at soccer? Check out the team. Interested in a Bible study group? Find out when and where they meet. Nick felt the need to get involved in a tight-knit group as soon as possible. "The guys' prayer group I got involved in had a big impact on my spiritual life," says Nick. "The group gave me accountability with several guys." The sooner you feel a part of something, the sooner you'll get over your fears and start enjoying your new adventure. You'll also begin to build some great friendships. (For tips on building friendships during those first weeks on campus, see "Fitting In" (page 32). 

Step Five: Give It Time

Any new experience can be unsettling. Though it may not seem easy, the best thing to do is give everything time—and this includes your yo-yo emotions, your roommate who leaves dirty clothes all over the room, your prof and his daily pop quizzes, and the high school friendships you're missing. When Charissa started college, the whole experience seemed pretty cool—at first. To her, it felt like being on vacation or at summer camp. But in time the fun part wore off. "I was far away from home and started missing my family," she says. Even though she became lonely and homesick, Charissa decided to give it some time. But she didn't simply sit around and hope things would get better. She spent time with fellow freshmen and kept herself busy. In time, she adjusted and gained a more realistic picture of college life.

Like Charissa, it's important to realize your feelings can often fool you. Because you're excited about your new surroundings and experiences, you may get the feeling that school is heaven on earth. Then, when the newness wears off, it's easy to swing the other way emotionally. It can suddenly feel like the school is the worst place in the universe. But the truth is, the school hasn't changed. You have—at least your feelings have changed. It's important not only to recognize these feelings, but also to realize they often give you an exaggerated view of life. Sure, enjoy the high points. But realize the low points also will come and pass. Just know God remains faithful, and he doesn't change. Time will give you a more realistic sense of what college is really like. As for all those fears? You'll be amazed at how soon they'll begin to fade. In a year or two, you might even find yourself telling a freshman, "There really isn't anything to be afraid of." And you'll mean it, too. n

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