Fresh Perspective | Looking Back at my First Semester

Fresh Perspective is a biweekly blog about typical first-year experiences made strange by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Julia Smeltzer, Staff Writer

It’s Tuesday, Aug. 11, and I nervously swipe my Panther Card to get into my dorm room for the first time. I walk into the room as my voice echoes off the wooden furniture desk and wardrobe. The walls are tall, beige, and bare, and the room feels hollow. I anxiously look around and wonder how I would make this place my new home. 

Now, over three months later, I have filled that room with memories that I don’t want to leave behind as the semester draws to a close.

It’s crazy to think that I am finishing off my first semester of college in a week. The first few weeks of the semester felt so long — I remember thinking that we had so much time ahead of us until the holiday break. Now I don’t know where that time went.

Living on campus this semester in the midst of a pandemic has altered my expectations for my first semester of college, but looking back, it wasn’t that bad. At first, I resented pod week and got mad at any RA who yelled at us for doing something wrong, but as the semester chugged along, we all learned to adapt to this strange time to be a college student. By the end of the semester, I developed a really good relationship with my RA and enjoyed spending time with her.

I was initially bummed that I wouldn’t be able to walk around campus to classes and instead had to sit in my dorm room or the library to learn over Zoom, but I enjoyed online classes a lot. I got to do things on my own time and in the comfort of my own room. I had a more flexible schedule and was able to better balance school work and my social life. Even with online classes, I feel like I performed well academically and was able to maintain really good grades. If anything, I am more excited about my classes next semester. Though it will be a little harder, I have picked more classes for my major that make me excited to learn.

I even exceeded my expectations for myself by being able to write for The Pitt News, which I never thought would happen, especially as a first-year in my first semester. I enjoyed and looked forward to sitting down either in my bed or at my favorite table in Hillman and letting time pass by as I wrote about things I was passionate about. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to share my stories and experiences with people who are going through the same things that I am, and it always feels surreal when I have my friends and family tell me they love my blog posts. It makes me feel proud of everything I’ve been able to accomplish this semester.

One thing I learned in the past three months is that college comes with extreme highs and lows. Even though I was doing so well academically and with my writing, it was really hard for me to fight those internal battles in my head. I underestimated how much college would impact my mental health, and I wasn’t ready for when it hit really hard. I hit a breaking point a couple of times in the semester. The stress of school and the fear that I wasn’t doing well enough took a toll on my mental health. I became socially and academically burnt out — I let all my feelings bottle up and waited for the eruption to happen.

I could feel my anxiety, self-esteem issues and my relationship with food get worse as the semester went on, and I struggled with allowing my friends to help me. I spent days where I wouldn’t move from my bed and would just lay there all day, mentally exhausted. 

I went home for a couple of days in October, which helped me rest mentally and prepared me to finish the semester off strong. Looking back, I really battled with my mental health, but I feel prepared and confident for the next semester with the resources I have at my feet when I do feel myself slipping down into a pit.

Another thing I underestimated this semester was how the strangers on my floor would so quickly turn into my family. There aren’t enough words to describe how much these people mean to me and how close we have all become. If I had decided not to live on campus this semester, I would have missed out on some of the best relationships of my life. I have made a lifetime of memories in these short three months with these people. We have done it all together — spontaneous adventures to get food late at night, movie nights, and trips to the South Side and Downtown. 

But my favorite moments are when we hang out in someone’s room for hours. We don’t even have to be talking, just spending time with each other has become so valuable. These people have helped dry my tears, put a smile on my face, held me when I needed them to, and have given me the best three months of my life. 

Despite the highs and lows of the semester, I have witnessed myself grow and learn. The person I was three months ago isn’t the person I am today, and I have become a better version of myself. I have learned independence, responsibility, and the importance of friendships, and I started to really carve out my passions in life beyond the next four years. I exceeded the expectations I set for myself and can leave for two months feeling proud of myself. Even though I am so excited to go home for the holidays and see my family and friends — and have a nice mental break from school — I will miss the family that I’ve made here over the break.

As my first semester comes to a close, there is a lot to take away from it. I am even more excited to come back the spring semester and see how much more I can accomplish and what Pitt has in store for me.

Julia Smeltzer writes primarily about mental health and self-care. Write to her at [email protected].