Most of us have felt that sinking discomfort from time to time: I’m not in the right place. This isn’t the right fit. What am I doing here?
For many college students, this is a cyclical question that comes and goes with the expected flow of the academic years and progress toward fulfilling a major. This can be particularly significant during sophomore year, when you’ve finished the “honeymoon” phase of your four years and you understand enough about your college life to really start to question it. Like the infamous “Freshman 15,” the “Sophomore Slump” is well known for a reason: it is a common occurrence and can have a major impact. For most, it is a phase to get through. For some, it leads to transferring to another school or to dropping out of college entirely.
I want to share a couple of my own stories about feeling like I had to move on, and what I decided to do about it.
I first felt the strong sense of “I’ve gotta get out of this place” during my final year of high school. I started looking at colleges, and, among all the other criteria I considered, one of the most important factors in my decision was the very-real sense that I needed to get out of Colorado. I needed to start over. I can’t even really say how I knew this so strongly at the time, but I will say that I had a sense that I absolutely needed the geographical distance from friends and family if I was going to become as awesome as I wanted to be. That sounds like kind of a callous thing to write, but it’s true: I felt I needed to find a new context for my education and my social life, and the chance to use college to completely start again. So I did. The only schools I seriously considered were out-of-state, and when I arrived on the University of Oregon campus I had the overwhelming gut feeling that I had found my new home.
Nothing was wrong with Colorado, or my experience there up to that point. But I knew with every bit of my mind that I needed to move on. Of course this was somewhat difficult to explain to many of the people I knew and loved, but it was also something I did without hesitation. Because in the end, when you know something has to be, the best thing you can do for yourself is to make that thing happen.
Lucky for me, I chose a college that was an amazing fit. My Honors College involvement gave me a smaller context within the larger University, and I felt challenged and supported by my peers as well as the faculty I encountered, pretty much right from the start. I was excited about my classes and busy with other activities as well. I had great friends and felt like I was getting my academic trajectory all figured out, right down to choosing a major at the end of my freshman year. It all felt pretty much like I had hoped it would: like I was in charge of my destiny and was having a great time getting there.
But then sophomore year arrived.
I can’t really explain what was so tricky about my second year experience, beyond saying that things weren’t new anymore. A couple of less-fun classes and a bit of familiarity with the people and places suddenly meant I didn’t feel like I was leaping through college with wild abandon. I felt like I was kind of seized up and stuck. Don’t get me wrong—I was still having a great time in many ways, and my sophomore year was a really important one. I was still moving forward. But I was no longer in love with my school, my context, or my plans.
This is probably when a good number of students decide to transfer. I had a strong feeling of “I need to go. I need to move.” There were lots of things pulling me to stay, and lots of reasons I felt happy and fulfilled. I didn’t want to feel dissatisfied and antsy, but that’s how I felt. I needed to look for something new.
So I studied abroad. The spring quarter of my sophomore year, I went to Valdivia, Chile for a life-changing four months of study and travel. It was an amazing experience (as studying abroad is supposed to be) and had a massive impact on who I was and what I wanted to do with myself, both as a student and as a person.
It also made me realize beyond a doubt that I wanted to stay at the University of Oregon—that I wanted to add to my UO experience, rather than leaving it behind.
There are good reasons to transfer schools, and I hope to someday soon feature a guest post here on the subject. But I’m extremely glad that I didn’t make that choice. I’m glad I found a mental space and social/academic route that made the school I chose the right place to be for the duration (and even beyond, since I stayed for a Master’s right after graduating). But I’m also glad that I had the long moment of doubt to really examine my choices and choose to stay. I graduated from the UO not because I started there, but because I decided to stay.
And now… Leaving Ireland
I came to Ireland over two years ago to do a second Master’s degree through the Mitchell Scholarship. I packed two big bags and made a lot of plans: to travel around Europe, to study Human Rights Law, to find a great internship or two, and to have as many interesting cultural and social experiences as I could. When I graduated, I decided to stay in Ireland, and to move to Dublin where the majority of the work and social opportunities were centered.
I had my first “real” job here in Ireland.
I had travel experiences I never dreamed of.
I met great people, as friends and colleagues and as fellow creative types.
I started projects that I’m excited about beyond my wildest dreams.
And now it’s time to go.
Ireland has been good to me in so many ways. It’s also been a bad fit in some ways (perhaps I’ll write more on this sometime later, although my post “What is Foucault” gets at some of the academic reasons I wasn’t fully comfortable here).
The biggest reason I’ve decided to go is that it feels like it’s time to go. I am enormously grateful for what I’ve done and learned here, and reluctant to take my leave of the people and places I’ve come to love. But it’s time. And so I’m packing my bags, saying goodbyes, and turning my hopes and plans back to Oregon. It turns out, that’s where I’ve been happiest. It’s where I’ve fit the best. It’s the home that has brought the greatest opportunities and the most consistent sense of myself as a mover and shaker in this world.
And so I’ve decided to go. I have mixed feelings, but mostly a sense of relief that I’ve made a choice that feels right and good to me.
For any of you balancing at a similar decision-making point, I wish you all the best. It’s a tricky place to find yourself and it can be both exhausting and deeply frustrating. I hope you find your way clear to a joyful decision—whether it’s to stay or to go, I hope you decide something that feels right.
And for anyone thinking, “Man, I was hoping that choosing a college would be the last hard decision I had to make in a long while…” Well unfortunately that’s not really how life works. But I will say that you will almost certainly become more and more equipped to make these decisions, and better able to learn from and creatively adapt to the challenges and opportunities that come your way.
Stay or go, it’s your life. Make sure that, in the end, you’re happy with how you’re deciding to live it.
Please leave any comments, feedback, suggestions, or stories in the comments box below. I would love to hear from you!