If I could go back and tell my freshman-year self one thing, it would be: it’s perfectly fine to pace yourself, but don’t get too comfortable!
As a student coming from a non-college preparatory, project-based high school, I knew I would face many struggles in college. I had never taken a midterm or a final before so I didn’t know how to properly study, and I didn’t even realize how reserved I was surrounded by unfamiliar people. I chose to be kind to myself and allow myself to go slow, and I felt it was in my best interest to just focus on school, my new position as a community assistant with Drexel’s affiliated student housing partner American Campus Communities (ACC), and my pre-established relationships rather than immediately rushing into joining student clubs and organizations, and possibly overwhelming myself.
I was also struggling in my major at the time — environmental science — not only because of the content of the courses, but also because STEM is unfortunately lacking in people who look like me; I felt out of place intellectually as well as racially. Given all of this, I pretty much kept to myself and I felt that was the best choice to make at the time.
This backfired, given that I intended to branch out my sophomore year and COVID-19 put a wrench in those plans. During the past year, as we have transitioned to doing everything online, I was aware that many organizations still maintained meetings and activities virtually. However, the mental strain of having my co-op cancelled and entire livelihood turned upside down made it difficult for me to want to participate. Looking back, I wish I pushed myself to at least try, as I’m now a rising fourth-year student with barely any campus engagement under my belt. Fortunately, I am on the five-year track so I still have plenty of time, but I’m transitioning from taking my time to now feeling a bit rushed and anxious about wasting the time I do have left at Drexel.
I found out about the Center for Black Culture (CBC) during a Study Abroad 101 information session this past fall where [CBC Director] Shardé Johnson and Ahaji Schreffler [director of programs in the Office of Global Engagement] both spoke about their experiences travelling abroad and the work they do for Drexel. It was so inspiring to see women who reminded me of myself and members of my family successfully doing what I want to do, especially since there tends to be a stigma about traveling abroad among Black students. I want to help remedy that stigma and promote the importance of being globally minded to underrepresented students who may have never been pushed to think past their immediate surroundings.
I’m elated to have been accepted onto the CBC Advisory Board for this coming academic year, and I have since switched majors and am now a global studies student. I plan to be much more engaged with events hosted by my major on campus in the fall, but this is all to say that I could have absolutely benefitted from at least dipping my toe in one club or organization that interested me my freshman year. None of us can predict the future, so we should do our best to capitalize on the opportunities we have when we have them, because they may not always be there.
I am still actively looking for my place on campus, but where I used to feel stuck and overlooked, I now feel optimistic and seen, and I know this fall will hold many opportunities for me to find community given my board position and feeling more comfortable in my new major. For any other students who may feel similar to how I did during the start of my college experience, I would encourage you to follow your heart: if it’s telling you you’re in the wrong major, don’t stay there just because your friends are or because your parents want you to. Allow yourself to explore. Drexel has almost 300 different clubs and organizations, and nothing is legally binding. Attend an event or information panel here or there where you can fit it into your schedule and just feel it out!
Always remember: you’re not in college to be stressed and busy all the time. This time in your life is designed for you to figure out who you are now and who you want to be in the future. Don’t rob yourself of that by thinking you’re better off alone!
Jaara Ndaw, a fourth-year global studies student and member of the Center for Black Culture 2021–2022 Advisory Board. She can be reached at email@example.com.