Entering the real world

When my parents said that I had to graduate early, I wanted to cry. College is advertised as the best four years of our lives — afterward, it’s a downward spiral. At least so we’re told.

Naturally, I’m terrified.

In fact, I try not to think about it, even as my finals preparations are interspersed with job applications. Still, as the winter graduation ceremony approaches I can’t help but wonder: Am I ready?

Honestly, I don’t know.

Looking back, I have realized that the College of William and Mary has tried hard to prepare us for real life.

Take the Units, for example: We should see them as trial runs. If we can survive living in those, we’re ready for the 12-by-12 foot apartments some will call home upon landing that dream job in Lower Manhattan — although admittedly, Colonial Williamsburg is a far cry from Times Square. We can dodge horse droppings, no problem, but dodging a New York taxi is a skill few of us have mastered.

I think that I can learn, however.

That, to me, is what college is all about: exploring new interests, testing our abilities, taking on challenges. By the time we receive our diplomas, we should sound like the Little Engine that Could: I think I can, I think I can.

It begins the moment we step foot on campus for freshman orientation. All of a sudden, we’re thrust into a brand new environment filled with strangers.

Most of us, I’m sure, experienced some degree of anxiety. Would we fit in? Would we make friends? Those same questions come up when we think about entering the real world, but this time, we know we’ll be okay.

The College doesn’t let us get too comfortable. According to the Reves Center for International Studies, 45.7 percent of undergraduates study abroad, and I think most people will agree when I say that experience, more than any other at the College, prepares us for life beyond campus. Even if we do study abroad through a College program, chances are we won’t know our fellow travelers. It’s freshman year all over again, except this time we’re in a foreign country. Everything is new: language, food and social customs.

It was abroad that I learned the extent of my capabilities. I could master a new language. If I got lost, I could find my way again. I could navigate crises: missed flights, sketchy neighborhoods, the looming threat of malaria and dengue fever. And most of all, traveling abroad reminded me that the world is a big place. It’s so easy to get trapped in Williamsburg that sometimes we forget that fact.

As far as preparing us for the real world goes, our academic courses are secondary. They’ve improved my writing and analytical skills, but only a handful have changed me: A workshop in creative writing, for instance, gave me an intimate look at the hopes, fears and struggles of my peers. A class on social exclusion instilled in me a desire to fix things. Adventure Games taught me how to rappel off buildings, a very useful talent.

College courses can, however, force us to master life skills such as time management, even though most of us are currently scrambling to finish term papers that were assigned, well … a long time ago, and multitasking, as we’ve juggled classes and homework, clubs and sports, part-time jobs and social lives.

So, back to the original question: Are we prepared for the real world?

In reality, we won’t know until we’re out there, no matter what alumni say. Of course, there will be a period of adjustment as we move to a new place with a new job and the responsibilities that come with it. And then there’s the momentous task of figuring out what to do when we don’t have mountains of homework each night.

Am I ready? I don’t know, but I say bring it on.

Email Samantha Farkas at sbfarkas@email.wm.edu.


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