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Only The Beginning: Onward State Freshmen Look Back At Their First Semester

Another fall semester has come and gone, and that means a new batch of Penn State freshmen are done with their first full semester of college. Everyone remembers their first few months as a Penn Stater a little differently, and even if it started out a little messy, we’re all grateful for those first 15 weeks in Happy Valley. Our freshman staffers decided to share a few things about their first semester, and reflect on what they learned in the past few months at Penn State.

Claire Going

I learned a few important lessons (the hard way) my first 15 weeks at Penn State. First and foremost, going to class is important, even when it seems unnecessary (I’m looking at you, English 15). I thought no one took attendance in college?

Secondly, one semester in college feels like a year in high school terms. You learn twice as much and meet twice as many people, but also have twice as much fun.

Relationships with friends from home change, but the strength of the new friendships with the people you meet at college fills in those gaps. These are the kind of friends you keep for life.

Don’t bike to class. People will hate you. Go to the football games because they are fun as hell and I don’t even like football. I wasn’t nearly as homesick as I thought I’d be. Don’t tell my parents. I also learned how to live for a week on five dollars left on a meal plan.

People warned me that I’d change my major a few times within my first semester of school, but I have never been more sure of my career goals.

Penn State has so many opportunities and I don’t feel like I’ve experienced even a quarter of them yet, but joining Onward State helped immerse me into college right away and broadened my experiences tenfold. This semester has gone by so quickly. I’m sad it’s already over and that I’m one semester closer to graduation because I never want to leave.

Lastly, my first semester confirmed that choosing Penn State was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Tim Reams

Although I attended the summer session here at Penn State, this semester was my first “real” one away from home for long periods of time, rather than when I had six credits of classes in the carefree atmosphere of a State College summer. To sum up this semester, I would say it went the opposite direction of where I thought it would go, but not in a totally bad way. I faced adversity throughout the entire semester both in the classroom and in my personal life. Despite some tough situations I got myself into, I came out the other end having learned from the mistakes I made. For the first time in my life I didn’t have my mom, dad, and brother right there to pick me up how they always did, and I was forced to grow up in a lot of ways. As much as I thought I knew what independence was in high school, being at college forced a ton of accountability on myself. I was without my normal set of friends, family, and teachers with whom I was accustomed and who all knew how to pick me up and push me to be better, and I felt that absence a lot throughout the semester.

Whether it was an 800-person biology lecture, lack of my mom’s home-cooked food, taking a shower with sandals every single day, or not knowing hardly anyone on campus, adjusting to a completely new setting away from home with all new people, friends, and academic settings was extremely challenging, and despite falling down, this semester proved to me that I could rely on myself to be resilient. College is certainly the opposite from high school in every way like all of the upperclassmen warned me when I left for State, but the adjustment period is over for myself now, and I’ve found that I can have a great deal of success despite the challenges of being in a completely foreign setting.

Maggie Wrobel

I did not want to go to Penn State. In fact, Penn State was the last place I wanted to be. I fought it until the last second, yet somehow I ended up here. But now as I’m writing this, thinking about my first semester of college, I’m filled with that warm feeling in my chest of what I can only describe as pure happiness. Along with this feeling, I also feel nostalgia for my college experience that is already going by far too quickly. College has changed me, Penn State has changed me, and I’ve never been so open to the possibilities of life, or felt so loved.

The beginning of this semester was awkward and I was always sweating. I arrived on campus feeling out of place, like I had just been thrown into a body of water and been told to “swim, dammit.” But as time progressed, I quickly fell in love with this school. I can’t exactly pinpoint when it happened, but somehow I found myself completely happy at the place I thought I would hate. I’m at a point now where I can say I love Penn State, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

My motto for college has been the Flannery O’Connor quote, “Nothing needs to happen to a writer’s life after they are 20. By then they’ve experienced more than enough to last their creative life.” In this semester I’ve learned that college is about experiencing, and you have to be willing to put yourself out there. You can’t be content to feel sorry for yourself, you have to go make your own happiness.

I’ve been taking advantage of as many experiences as possible, and in turn I’ve had an amazing semester. I joined Onward State because I wanted to be involved in something when I came to campus. Through that, I’ve been given so many opportunities to experience life on campus, and I’ve met some of the wittiest, and most entertaining people Penn State has to offer.

It’s been a good semester. A great one, even. I’m excited to see what the next seven have in store.

Nick Weiss

My first semester was a good one, despite the shower sandals and the classic East Halls weekend-morning sink vomit. However, the cups of creamy Creamery cream, new friends, disgusting amount of Smash Bros and doing the news has made up for that and then some. I’m not only excited for my next semester, but for my last semester when I’m sure I’ll be sad to leave, and have accomplished much more. Now, the only way I can tell my two homes apart is by the presence of cats.

Gabriela Stevenson

Despite the lack of sleep I’ve gotten in the past week (thanks, Finals Week), I remember my first night at Penn State very clearly. After wishing my entire summer away, I found myself laying in my new bed, all alone, blubbering like a baby. I knew that I was going to have a great first semester, but I hadn’t anticipated the difficult goodbyes, the long day of packing and unpacking in that East Halls heat, and the feeling of emptiness that comes with any major life adjustment. I wanted things to feel normal right away, like the months and months of mental preparation would actually pay off. I wanted to feel like I belonged at Penn State, and it wasn’t until the day that I stopped trying to force everything into place that I actually did.

Of all the lessons I learned in the last few months — don’t procrastinate, never go to the bathroom without shoes on, burn your Convocation shirt immediately — that was the most eye-opening. I focused on studying, getting involved, and making a new friend every day, and every day, I felt more and more like a Penn Stater.

Penn State’s a big place with a ton of opportunities. Everyone knows that. But not everyone knows that the late nights aren’t always spent partying, or that not everyone you meet wants to be your friend. Somewhere along the way, I got a major reality check, and it only made me a stronger person and a better student. You get out what you put in at Penn State, and I chose to put in my all. Besides choosing to come here in the first place, it was the best decision I ever made.

Sam Panko

Being a first semester freshman really wasn’t as bad as it was hyped up to be. When I got here, I expected a bunch of kids running around with maps, wide eyed, lanyards swinging about, and desperate to befriend everyone they make eye contact with. This was true for a short while but I think everyone settled in quicker than at least I expected. However, I live in North and I feel like my experience settling in was probably a lot different than most freshmen due to the fact that I’m not in East or Pollock.

Being the socially awkward, introverted person I am, making friends proved to be a little difficult, especially since most of my classes were quite large, which was something else I’ve never experienced before. I’m glad I got involved with clubs early because it made me feel like I was jumping right into being a part of the university and helped expedite the settling process. As time went on, friendships slowly formulated and it made college life a lot easier. On top of the friends I made, I made two more best friends — Domino’s Pizza and Wings Over. These places cured the random moments of hunger I would have at 1:30 a.m. studying and on days where sleep just wasn’t happening.

I wasn’t surprised with the simplicity of doing laundry at school but, any time I told my parents that I had just done the wash, they thought it was a miracle that I was able to do so. I sure did miss my hometown, my family, and my friends but I also never realized how much I would miss some good New Jersey pizza and a nice Taylor Ham egg and cheese. So far I’ve learned that in college, the Wi-Fi always seems to be against you, staying up until 5 in the morning isn’t so taboo, ANGEL is actually the devil, Penn State sporting events are the best sporting events, professors are cool people, and you’re never alone because as a freshman, everyone is in the same boat. Now with one semester down, we only have seven to go fellow freshmen. Let’s make them count.

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Posts from the all-student staff of Onward State.


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