Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2020

A letter to my freshman self

By NATALIE WU | May 21, 2020

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COURTESY OF NATALIE WU

Dear freshman self,

I know I’m not actually writing to a seventeen year-old me in a parallel universe. I can’t turn back the clock to relive the highs of my Hopkins experience or correct the mistakes I’ve made. However, I hope that this letter might be useful to incoming and current freshmen. 

So for the sake of the story, let’s pretend that you — freshman me — are reading this. 

When you arrived on campus in August, you had no idea what college was really about. You went to a cut-throat high school where success was defined by the number of Advanced Placement courses and Executive Board titles you racked up. You thought that the University experience was a continuation of that established trend.

You thought every waking minute had to be spent on coursework, and if there was none, you would create your own. You didn’t have time to waste making friends with your floormates in Wolman. The only pleasure you could afford was an episode or two of anime before you went to bed. As your Wolman suitemate accurately described, your first semester was nothing but “academia and anime.” 

You were lucky to attend a high school that prepared you for the academic rigor of a top ten university. However, it didn’t prepare you for the other challenges you would face during this new chapter.

Let me tell you about them now.

You’ll miss home and envy your classmates who take a train up to New York for fall break. You’ll feel lonely your first semester, when you no longer have the social circle you spent seven years developing. You won’t know how to handle the loss of close ones, whether they be family members who passed away or roommates whose friendships ended on less than amicable terms. You’ll also experience your first love and heartbreak. 

And of course, you will graduate into a pandemic and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

I know this sounds depressing, but I promise it’s not bad at all. As cliché as it sounds, you needed these negative experiences to grow into the person you are now. 

You’ll learn that the university experience is not solely about academic achievement. You’ll learn how to make new friends and rely on them as they become your new family. You’ll learn how to appreciate the time you spent with, and the lessons you’ve learned from, people who leave your life. You’ll learn how to be empathetic and forgive those that may have hurt you.

These are all skills you’ll need to navigate the unprecedented uncertainty you’ll face two months before graduation.

Now, let me tell you about some of the pleasant surprises along the way.

You’ll shed the image your peers from home have carved out for you and create your own. You’ll quit almost all the clubs you joined freshman year because they were dopplegangers of the same clubs you did in high school.

Instead, you’ll use your newfound independence and clean slate to discover new passions.

You’ll stumble across a Japanese martial art called aikido one day and fall in love with it. You were never allowed to go anywhere near martial arts as a child because you were too small, too unathletic and female. However, you’ll discover that you love the thrill and shock from other’s when you knock a male twice your size off his feet.

In short, you love to prove people’s first impressions of you wrong.

You’ll also find your creative outlet in stand-up comedy. You’ll make new friends and find a community through the Stand-up Comedy Club (SUCC). Through stand-up, you’ll learn how to be self-deprecating yet confident. You’ll learn how to handle rejection and recover from it, how to take constructive criticism from people invested in your success, and how to believe in yourself. Nothing beats the feeling of making strangers, whether they be two-hundred students throwing foam tomatoes at you or a dozen community members at a bar off campus, laugh at you. 

The activities you enjoy now are not the ones you thought you enjoyed in high school. In fact, they’re the ones you never expected to enjoy.

Now, I want to give you a few pieces of advice. These are things I would have likely done differently if I could do it all over again.

Namely, you shouldn’t pursue a double major in Environmental Science and International Studies. You should listen to the nagging voice in the back of your mind that is telling you that you’re only choosing this because it’s within your comfort zone. Don’t take a generic political science class in which you’re guaranteed an A. Instead, challenge yourself with a coding course, or be practical and consider professional development courses.

You’ll find those skills may come in handy when looking for a job.

Your friends know that your favorite band is Green Day because their songs are rich in symbolism and coming of age messages. 

If I could quote one that will summarize your college experience and hopefully keep your spirits up, it’s this: “I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment to come. I’m destined for anything at all.”

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