Then and Now

My first semester at the University of Iowa was not what I was expecting. Socially, emotionally, and physically things shifted from my last summer at home. As this semester closes out with a week of finals, I’ve been reflecting on what worked well this semester and what didn’t, and I’m making a plan for what to change next semester.

This semester, I found a group of friends. They’ve been a supportive and fun group of people that I am grateful to have had this first semester. We did ocasionally spend too much time having fun. The group is often over at our dorm room during the day and late in to the evenings for “study-parties,” which start with school work but rapidly deteriorate into conversation and a trip to the Clinton Street Market for unhealthy snacks.

Next semester, I’m going to be mindful of the homework I have to do and create an environment that is conducive to studying and healthy living. I will keep food in my dorm room that is healthy, like frozen veggies that I can steam in the microwave for snacks. I have class every morning at 8:30am, so I’m going to set a bed time like the ones I so despised growing up, because I want to make it to those classes and be successful in them. I want to create a morning routine that incorporates a light yoga practice, a large cup of water, and a healthy breakfast, if I’m hungry.

This semester, I was timid in the way I approached student organizations. I would skip meetings if I had too much homework and I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet people in clubs. This coming semester I am going to attend more meetings of the student orgs I want to join. I want to become an important member and make friends in those groups. I plan to try out for the club soccer team, continue in the cross-country club, and contribute more to Fools Magazine.

The same goes for classes. I had high hopes at the beginning of the first semester that I would make the majority of my friends in my classes, but it turns out people aren’t keen on talking in large lectures.

Next Semester, I am going to be talkative before and after my classes and I’m going to reach out to my peers and invite them to hang out, to go to dinner, or to get a cup of coffee. Most freshmen on a college campus are looking to make friends and expand their social circle. I’ve found this semester that you are more likely to make friends if you invite people. You can’t sit around and wait for an invitation, you have to put yourself out there.

Last Semester, 


I was a bit too excited about the “all you can eat” plan at the dining halls. I often ate healthy foods like fruits, salads, occasionally sandwiches, but my portions were way too large, and I would leave the dining hall stuffed. My sweet tooth would sense the dessert station and I’d grab a cookie or two on my way out.

Next SemesterI’m going to be mindful of my portions and not overfill my plate. I’m going to put healthy foods on my plate first: vegetables from the salad bar, fruit from the deli station, and then I will add the main course. I’m also going to stick to a vegan diet, which I had before coming to college. I fell out of the vegan lifestyle as the semester progressed because of the availability of delicious non-vegan food. I feel my best when I eat a plant-based diet and I will utilize the resources available to me in the dining halls to maintain that lifestyle.


The first semester here was adventurous and educational and I wouldn’t change anything if I was given the chance. It was educational because I know that I can do much more to set myself up for success. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my choices and how I can do better to create healthy habits now and for the future. Thank goodness for winter break. For now, I will relax and enjoy time with my family. But I’m ready for next semester. I know it can be even better than the last.


Triple Majoring and Resources

I don’t change majors, I just keep adding them. As of now, I’m an English and creative writing major, a history major, and a religion major. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was nine. In high school I learned history like a story, and it appealed to the reader in me. In those history classes, I realized how interesting and formative religion has been in history and my own life. So here I am, three majors deep. My schedule next semester consists of: Intro to the English Major, Intro to the Creative Writing Major, Intro to the History Major, Intro to the Study of World Religions, and Rhetoric (a required course for all first-years).

College has definitely been a time of experimentation academically, socially, and emotionally, and I think wanting to pursue three majors is evidence of that. It has opened opportunities to me that have piqued my interest and I’m finally able to study what I am passionate about. Unlike high school, there is an incredible amount of freedom in college. As a student at the University of Iowa, you have complete autonomy over your schedule. Every student has a number of general education and elective courses they must complete; alongside those you can add courses that interest you.

And if you’re like me, and find the scheduling process and figuring out your required courses confusing, there are always friendly, helpful advisors you can meet with at Pomerantz Career Center. They are there to tell you which classes are fun, which classes you’ll have to put your back in to, and what you need to take to graduate on time.

There are so many avenues to explore new topics. One of the events on campus that I attended this semester was hosted by a couple of graduates of the Iowa Writers Workshop that ended up working in television. It was fascinating to hear about their day-to-day lives and what it means to apply creative writing to film. The speakers were engaging and had a great time talking to the students. Likewise, I’ve attended readings at Prairie Lights. At those events, authors from all over the world read their work and answer questions. Students, teachers, and Iowa City residents nestle into their seats with coffee, tea, or wine, and listen to authors read. It’s like adult story time. It’s one of my favorite activities to attend in Iowa City and there are readings most every Thursday and Saturday.

A lot of my experiences hover under the liberal arts umbrella, but all you have to do is scroll through the Facebook page of your college to find events that sound interesting to you. Invite a friend, take in the experience, and let your world grow just a little bit bigger every time you do something new.

Every Monday

It is nine in the morning and my roommate is rattling around the medicine cabinet. The light from the window falls across my face, and I curl into a ball.

It’s a quarter past nine and I’m beginning to feel guilty for lying in bed. I get up. It’s cold and the abrupt change from warm to cold makes me angry. I brush my teeth and notice that the medicine cabinet is gross from toothpaste and other unidentifiable sticky substances. I should clean it, but I don’t.


I go for a wog, which is something between a walk and a jog. The earbuds fall out of my ears, so I let the Podcast Serial play out loud. I find a nice residential area to run. Two miles                          out, two miles in.

It’s ten thirty and I’ve showered and dressed. I should sit down to study for my midterms or write one of my papers. Instead, I go to Catlett to get food. I make green tea and munch on items from both food groups: parent-approved and not-so-parent-approved. While in the dining hall I sit by the window and when I look up from my book or philosophy reading I take a breath and thank the river.

It’s a quarter past twelve and I walk to my first class, a discussion section for Theatre and Society. When I open the door to North Hall I always peek my head around the corner, curious what the inside of Wild Bill’s Coffee shop looks like. But I remember that class starts soon, and I don’t have the money to buy coffee. I descend the two flights of stairs to my classroom. It is white with 20 some desks inside. I sit by the window and wish the blinds were open. When the TA arrives and takes role I make sure to contribute to the discussion at least once. I take the reading quiz, and usually miss one question.

1:30. I walk back to Catlett to get lunch with a couple of friends from the class. We talk about the upcoming test and all the things we have to do this week. An anecdote from our lives before college and one from our time at college, commentary on the food, and we disperse.

It’s 2:30 and I’ve been staring at my keyboard for the last 10 minutes and waiting for inspiration to strike. It doesn’t. I get up and go to the bathroom, rifle through the snack bin. All that remains is a bag of green tea and a can of green beans. I sit back down.

At 3:15 I pack my bag and walk to Schaeffer hall for my creative writing class: Writing Commons. The teacher arrives and for an hour she has my attention. We pick apart the words of an author and then workshop two students in the class. During the final 30 minutes of class I check my watch four times. The professor has a cold and lets us out early.

I walk to Biology Building East and sit on the concrete ledge outside. I write a body paragraph of my history paper before my philosophy lecture. The wind shakes my computer screen and the setting sun makes a silhouette of downtown. I walk into the lecture early and find a seat in the back, despite my front-row tendencies. I can see the screen better from the higher seats. The professor’s lecture is clear and follows the reading I completed yesterday. I leave content with myunderstanding of the topic.


When I walk back to the dorm I pass Basta and the street smells like shrimp. My friends are eating dinner and I meet them. Afterward, we go to our dorms and finish old assignments. I rewrite the slides to my Theatre Lecture and call it progress.

I wash my face and brush my teeth. I make another mental note about the state of the medicine cabinet. I go to bed.

Bobby Pins

My mother helped me get dressed before dance recitals. She shaded my eyes in blue and painted my lips red. She pulled my hair back into a bun, secured it in place with a dozen bobby pins, and hairsprayed all the flyaways into place.

One recital, however, we forgot the bobby pins at home.

In a panic, we used an entire bottle of hairspray to keep the bun on my head for two minutes of choreography.

Before I went on stage I kept my hands firmly planted on my head, hoping the spray in my hair would dry but not attach to my fingers. My peers danced on stage with confidence, and I followed slightly behind the music, holding my neck still during the performance.

“Operating without bobby pins” is the theme of October. I have three midterms and six papers in the next three weeks, and I’m using all the resources at my disposal to keep it together. I’m creating self-imposed deadlines for drafts of my papers and starting to review notes two weeks out for my tests by making a study schedule. Every day, however, there is something that knocks me off my plan. I have to go to class, eat something near three meals a day, socialize, exercise, take a shower, study, and sleep.

Stress is becoming a familiar part of life as I approach the middle of the semester, and through the use of the rec center’s group fitness classes, fun extracurriculars, and occasionally taking a moment to breathe, I’m managing it. Extended periods of stress in high school created a deep impact on my emotional state, but college is proving a great place to experiment with routines that work best for me.

A late night study session

Learning how to unwind, cope, and exist as an independent person are part of the college curriculum you won’t find in a syllabus. I’m figuring out how to exist apart from my family, and in this moment that means communicating with myself and those around me about how I can best manage school and life.

I’ve got to learn how to color my eyes blue and my lips red by myself.


I think there is something peculiar about passionate speaking. I think it looks like rising body temperature and the need to take up more space than normal, like red cheeks and wide eyes. People grow and spread their arms, sometimes tripping over words in a hurry to get them all out. These are the characteristics I’ve noticed whenever people speak about why they came to the University of Iowa. We’ve all come with a purpose to this school, be it the advancement of biomedical engineering, the creation of renowned films, or to change the world through interpersonal interactions.

I think there is something peculiar about saying yes when you aren’t sure. I think it feels like pushing off the edge with your toes, like a shaky breath. This week I said yes to a football game, to walking with my head up, to joining intramural volleyball, to lunch with new friends, to trying new writing techniques, to acrobatics on the Pentacrest, to people watching, to appreciating the value of a dream, and to letting my perspective be molded.

I think there is something peculiar about making an impact on someone. I think it eludes a name, a reaction, or an identifiable change. It takes place in the quiet parts of someone’s brain, sifting through their existing schema and asking, where do I fit in? Every interaction has the potential to alter the color of someone’s world, to shift it a few degrees to the left, to change the sound in the streets to something warmer or colder.

Every day I am introduced anew to the University of Iowa.



On Iowa!

On Iowa! is a program the week before classes start that introduces new students to campus and Iowa City. Every hour there are new events to try that encourage people to make friends and explore. During On Iowa! I attended yoga on the Pentacrest, a Coffee Crawl, the Poetry Slam, and a presentation about living green on campus. There were also events like gamers’ night, table top games, a dessert crawl, and late-night bingo.

Kickoff at Kinnick is an On Iowa! tradition to welcome the new students to the University of Iowa. On Friday night the freshmen walked across the Burlington bridge, up the hill, and into the gates of Kinnick Field. We filtered onto the field while the Hawkeye Band threw marching tunes above our heads.

We were instructed to turn to the Children’s hospital and wave. Five thousand hands hit the air. In the distance, I could see three bright lights shaking back at us from the top floor of the hospital. The children waved to us with cellphone flashlights. A murmuring ran through the crowd, and then silence as we internalized the importance of the moment.

Photo by Charlie Neibergall

Kickoff at Kinnick was intended to welcome us to the University, but it was, at least in part, to remind us to look up. For many students, college is the time of self-discovery, the time for the pursuit of their interests, and the time be an individual. The Kinnick wave, however, is to remind us that we should notice the lives of those around us. It is easy to forget that across the river children are fighting for their lives and families are struggling to find peace in a difficult time. We need to support the struggles and celebrate the successes of one another. We need to call our families and ask how someone else’s day is going.

We need to be reminded that life has a larger story to tell when you just look up.

My story here in Iowa is just beginning. For the first time in my life, I’m 850 miles from my family, but I’m not scared. I’m overwhelmed by the literary culture of the city, the friendliness of the students and staff, and the sense of belonging that I’ve already developed.

This week I’ve been walking on uneven ground without the soft familiarity of home to rely on. Each day, I move closer to standing up from my crouched, uncertain stance. Behind me in the distance, I hear my parents shouting their support and guidance as I take this new set of first steps.

Here I stand, looking up, feeling more certain than ever that the University of Iowa is the right place for me.