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Lessons from our freshmen selves

It is almost 10 p.m. on a cold Sunday evening in December, and I am walking across the quad on my way home from a (somewhat frantic) Principles of Microeconomics TA review sesh, the likes of which I’ve never experienced before. It is chilly and dark, and the campus has a general “stressed out pre-finals” vibe about it. I, myself, have a general “stressed out pre-finals” vibe about me. 

It is 2019. And for some reason, all I can think to play on Spotify as I pace around campus is Juicewrld’s “Ring Ring” and Alanis Morrisette’s “Hand in My Pocket.” See the type of nervous and/or angsty vibe I’m feeling here? You can practically feel it. 

Freshman fall had been a whirlwind of an experience. The new friends and relationships, the different culture, the harsher weather — no one adjustment was too much to handle on its own, but the sum of these had thrown me in for a spin cycle (and paying for laundry was completely new). 

Things felt weighty. Like everything mattered immensely. Maybe some of this can be attributed to the sense of novelty that all my experiences carried along with them. I can still vividly remember the series of “firsts” that happened: my first home game, my first tailgate, my first SYR, my first philosophy paper, my first midterms (though I may wish to forget that last one). But even apart from that, I had a sort of first-year chip on my shoulder, not from any wrongdoing per se, but instead from the mere fact that I knew I had to prove myself. I had to live up to that Notre Dame name I had praised so highly in my admissions essays just a year before. There was a good feeling that came along with the importance I felt in even the most mundane of tasks.

My freshman year abounded with small moments that became big because they were indicative of decisions I was making on my own. I began to really consider my priorities and what truly mattered to me, on even the most minute of a scale: what I wore on Friday, if I woke up early to work out this week, the tone with which I emailed my boss or my professors, the list goes on. 

This obviously amounted to immense stress I felt with every micro-decision I made. After all, did “sincerely” accurately reflect who I was as a person, or was “best regards” a better fit? 

This stress did come along with a lot of self-compassion, though, and somehow I was able to be patient enough with myself and allow myself the time and space to make mistakes, knowing I’d have three more years to fix them and really hone my email sign-offs, amidst other things.

Now, a few years later, I’m learning from different mistakes, and the pressure is still turned to a 10. But I’ve noticed I am a lot less patient with myself. There’s an added “you should know this by now,” a judgment that has tacked on with time that is not conducive to a true growth mindset. 

After this reflection, inspired by when “Hand in My Pocket” came on after shuffling my Spotify liked songs while walking to class, I want to make sure my lessons from my freshman self are not merely constructions of nostalgia or an oversimplification of what times really were like back then. I want to make sure there’s something material I can actually take away from 2019 Alexa. 

And I think that every now and then, it’s important to take a step in the shoes of my freshman self, to adopt the viewpoint of my younger, more nervous and turbulent alter ego to remember a couple things.

Firstly, the small efforts we make here on this campus and here in this world matter. Conversations with a professor in office hours, whether or not we did that one reading for theology, the people we wave to on our way to SDH — these little actions and decisions can carry a small but beautiful weight to them that can leave a mark on us and others long after they’re carried out. They can be a reflection of our integrity and of what we value.

And secondly, although even the little things carry a weight to them, it is important to remember that we are human, and we make mistakes. A cliché at this point, maybe, but remembering to not cast aspersions on myself after erring and just allowing myself to take things in stride has made a huge difference in my life.

Now, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to bring TikTok into this column, as I have oft-done (and as is my right!) When the trend of “being the main character” came about, I dismissed it as some sort of appeal to internal narcissism. But now, after going through this vivid flashback or montage of freshman year, I kind of see the light. Things feel nice and concise when we pretend we’re in a movie.

In the spirit of romanticizing our lives, let’s take this first-year throwback’s lessons into our slightly more mature adult lives. We are, after all, still in the freshman phase of our adulthood. 

Alexa Schlaerth is a junior at the University of Notre Dame studying anthropology and linguistics. When she’s not slamming hot takes into her laptop keyboard, she can be found schooling her peers in the daily Wordle and NYT mini crossword, rewatching South Park or planning her next backpacking trip. As an Angeleno, Alexa enjoys drinking overpriced, non-dairy iced lattes and complaining about traffic because it’s “like, totally lame.” Alexa can be reached on Twitter at @alexa_schlaerth or via email at aschlaer@nd.edu.

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The Observer’s declassified school survival guide

With another academic year comes the day-to-day stress of being a student on the tri-campus: early morning labs, long hours studying and papers that won’t write themselves. Then, there’s adjustments in dorm life, from having a random roommate to feeling the pressure to go out every weekend.

No matter where you are in your college experience, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with balancing everything you have on your plate. As we come to the end of the second week of the semester, The Observer editorial board has some tips on how to make the most of your time academically, socially and personally. 

Ask for academic assistance

If there’s a particular class you’re struggling with, take up your professor on open office hours. Professors are very approachable, especially when you ask for help early. Going to office hours early in the semester can lead to strong relationships with professors, making it easier for them to help you. Beyond office hours, the Learning Resource Center at Notre Dame provides free tutoring for first-year classes such as accounting, applied math, microeconomics and chemistry. If you’re struggling with an essay prompt, you can talk to a peer tutor at the Writing Centers at Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross. If you want to practice speaking another language, visit Notre Dame’s Center for Study of Language and Culture (CSLC).

Become a Google Calendar guru

We’re not saying that you have to become one of those people who sends their friends calendar invites to hang out, but it definitely helps to use some sort of calendar system in college. Writing down all of your deadlines for the semester in advance is an easy strategy to feel on top of your school work. This can help you plan ahead for weeks when you have three exams and two essays due in the span of a few days. Even for extracurriculars, clubs often plan their events in advance, so it’s useful to have a calendar app notify you of things rather than having to remember it all. (And don’t forget to color code!)

Advocate for mental health 

College can be difficult, and ensuring the stability of your mental health after living through a pandemic is crucial. Notre Dame’s University Counseling Center, Saint Mary’s Health and Counseling Center and Holy Cross counseling services  provide students free access to licensed mental health professionals. If you need a ride off campus to access mental health resources, don’t hesitate to ask an upperclassman or a member of your hall staff. Be aware of your own feelings and check in with your friends — whether they look like they are struggling or not. Remember, taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body. 

Email enthusiastically

College can be an intimidating place when you first arrive. The next four years are full of possibilities —  research, study abroad, extracurriculars, work-study jobs, supplementary majors, honors programs and more. The plethora of options can leave you wondering where to start. When exploring these opportunities, remember that all of these people are either your peers or your teachers, and they would be very open to talking with you about whatever you’re interested in. So email that professor who’s researching the anthropology of hip-hop, get lunch with that senior who spent a summer in Jerusalem and reach out to that leader of a club you’ve been eyeing. College is an amazing time to learn the kind of wacky, joy-inducing things adults pay to learn about later in life.

Don’t sleep on dorm life (but do sleep in general)

Living in dorms can get old pretty quick. To have an enjoyable experience, make the best of the time you spend on campus. Be friendly to your roommate(s). Be courteous of the spaces you share with others. Spend time outside your room (and make the most of the nice weather while you still can) so you can meet people outside your hall. You never know where you will meet your best friends.

Pursue your passions

After attending activity fairs, you’ve probably realized, you don’t have time to join all the clubs you expressed interest in. Be realistic about what you are able to commit yourself to. If you have trouble deciding which listservs to unsubscribe from, think about where you want to see yourself at the end of your time here. To which clubs and activities do you want to devote your time? Try new things, so you can find your passions and stick with them. You can always come back to something else if you realize down the road it becomes a better fit for you! It’s never too late to join different clubs. 

Welcome to the tri-campus community! Let’s make it a great year.

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First-year FAQ: A first-year survival guide

Your first year at Notre Dame is hard. It can be exciting, life-changing, terrifying, revelatory, unforgettable and probably every other adjective you can think to ascribe to it, but at the end of the day, it is still hard. When you first arrive on campus, it’s easy to feel somewhat adrift. You’re separated from your parents, you’re thrust into a dorm beyond your choosing and you’re paired with a total stranger as a roommate. Then you’re hit with assignments, anxieties, due dates, social pressures and a flurry of new experiences, some of which you’ll love and some of which you won’t. And what’s more, you begin this journey under the golden dome of one of the last bastions of western Catholicism: The University of Notre Dame (aka Catholic Disneyland). It’s a lot. Every upperclassmen who’s been through it knows it’s a lot. And every first-year going through it alongside you knows it’s a lot. Still, that doesn’t make your first year any less stressful. So, in an attempt to quell some of the expected terror of one’s first year in college, I have decided to compile a set of frequently asked questions, and to answer each of them to the best of my ability––even if that ability is decidedly on the low side.

I’ve heard Notre Dame is extremely rigorous academically, and I’m a little intimidated. What can I do to prepare?

This question is frighteningly common, and I think it’s important to dispel the prevailing idea that academics at Notre Dame are overwhelmingly strenuous, or that first-years may not be ready for the challenge. Prepared students should find the workload manageable, and, more importantly, if you have been admitted here, you deserve to be here. There is no reason to panic if you suddenly receive an assignment or challenge you haven’t encountered before. You can do this! But, in case you do find yourself struggling, here are some tips from my experience to help you along the way:

First, get a planner to help organize your day. Start by marking off each assignment’s due date, each essay’s due date, the dates of each exam, the dates of each lab, the times for office hours, every group project meeting, writing center meeting, advisor meeting, internship interview, Rector meeting, social events, dorm party, call to your parents, intervention for your friend’s roommate, stress-induced headache, unexpected panic attack, OCS meeting and OCS sentencing and then organize your free time in case you find it prudent to occasionally take a stroll around the lakes or scream interminably into your pillow. 

Second, do not underestimate the positive impact of a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, due to academic pressures, mounting workloads and the urge to excite one’s social calendar, sleep can be difficult to come by for many first-year students. Fortunately, there is a handy technique that we Fighting Irish have been using for decades. While doctors generally suggest you sleep eight hours a night (56 hours a week), it is not always practical to spread your sleeping hours evenly across each night of the seven-day cycle. As such, one tried and true method suggests that a weary college student sleeps a little under four hours each night, before subjecting themselves to a party-induced coma for 29 hours from Saturday night at 3 am to Monday morning at 8 a.m. Ta Da! 56 hours a week, and you wake feeling fresh as a daisy!

Third, take a deep breath now and again. Weirdly enough, it really will be okay. 

I’m not particularly religious. Will I feel as welcomed here as my Catholic peers?

While Notre Dame’s reputation has been infallibly built on its academic excellence, moral rectitude and epic football program, some eagle-eyed students might also notice that Notre Dame is actually a Catholic institution. In fact, Our Lady’s campus is home to 57 different chapels, as well as being littered with countless statues of notable Catholic figures such as Mary, Jesus and Lou Holtz. Still, can’t we all feel accepted at this institution regardless of our personal beliefs?

Mostly! Ultimately, Notre Dame is a respectful, open-minded community for learning. The Catholic roots serve as a guide in all of the University’s actions, but they are not what define the school––rather, it is we, the student body, who define Notre Dame. That said, if you have an aversion to Catholic imagery, you’ve made a catastrophic error in school selection. 

How important are the dorms really? Does it matter which one I’m placed in?

I suppose this varies by person, but personally, my dorm will one day be the centerpiece of my obituary. 

I’m nervous about getting a random roommate. What do I do if we don’t get along? 

Ah, the randomized roommates. Notre Dame’s most confusing source of pride. While the process is inherently a gamble, many Domers past and present report finding lifelong friends in their first year roommates, often rooming together again in the years that follow. But then, of course, there are the odd mismatched roommates here and there. No doubt, in your first year at Notre Dame, you’ll hear a number of completely baffling roommate horror stories: the kid who can’t sleep unless Motley Crue is playing at the unhinged volume of a space launch, the kid whose rejection of private property extends to your personal belongings or the kid whose once youthful rebellion has accidentally made them permanently nocturnal. Unfortunately, you can only hope you’re not forced to room with your soon-to-be worst enemy.

Still, if you and your roommate aren’t best buds, that’s fine too. You don’t need a lifelong bond to cohabitate effectively, and if worse comes to worst, you only really need to be in your dorm room when you’re sleeping. There are so many friends to be found at Notre Dame. Don’t be discouraged if the kid on the other bunk doesn’t happen to be one of them. 

What are Parietals?

A cataclysmic bummer.

Is there anything else I should know before I start my freshman year?

Don’t freak out! College can be stressful, but it can also be the absolute time of your life. Put yourself out there, and get involved in as many things as possible. You only get four years here (actually I’m on track for five and a half, but that’s beside the point). Make the best of it, and don’t forget to have fun! I think I speak for all upperclassmen when I say we are so excited to welcome you to Notre Dame!

Daniel Lucke

junior

Aug. 29