Niketa Brar: Uncertainty in university life

It takes me six and a half hours to fly home. And then it takes me five hours and twenty minutes to really fly back home.

Some point after the summer camp-like adrenaline rush of freshman year wore off, the reality of living in D.C. for eight months a year set in. My family’s residence in northern California started feeling less and less like home. Yet the yearly rotation through roommates and dorms made it hard for D.C. to feel like a true home either.

And so I realized: I am, and will be for the rest of my undergraduate career, an urban nomad.

Sure, I don’t set up tents in the middle of deserts. I don’t go months without interacting with civilization. And I probably couldn’t survive more than a week without electricity.

But I do live an unpredictable existence. I know how to pack up my life each May. My major(s) stay about as stable as the color on a mood ring. And I’m not averse to submerging myself in foreign cultures.

Like a nomad, my future is vaguely defined and has plenty of room for errors, mishaps, pleasant surprises, unpleasant surprises or anything else nature (or I) choose to throw my way.

I may cross paths with an unexpected sandstorm that knocks back graduation a year. I may find refuge in an unknown love and pursue a new career interest. The prospects are endless and there’s no shortage of ambition.

But where this uncertainty felt like opportunity was knocking down my Lafayette suite door freshman year, recently its connotation has morphed into something a little less welcome. As a slew of my historically successful friends dropped out of or took time off from prestigious universities lately, the thrill of opportunity has suddenly been tempered by the fear of disappointment.

As my friends found in their experiences, the pre-collegiate adrenaline rush has worn off and-as often happens the morning after – reality has set in. In my efforts to provide some semblance of support, I started probing to see what happened to my friends. Very quickly, I realized that these people hadn’t changed. They were still the same incredibly intelligent, inspiringly passionate and undoubtedly able individuals I’d previously known. But the endless nature of the undergraduate work had worn down their motivation. In this expansive desert, they’d lost their sense of direction. And for the first time in their lives, they were alone in finding their way back to civilized adulthood.

But they managed. One friend chose to move back in with family. Another chose to move in with a boyfriend. The third managed to stay in school, with the help of some compassionate professors.

I’m sure they will all continue to be just as successful as I have always imagined them being. But by listening to what they experienced and comparing what happened to these three incredible scholars, I asked myself why I’m still here.

Chances are, if you have not thought about dropping out yet, you will soon enough. According to 2005 statistics from the Education Trust, 21.6 percent of GW students did not finish their undergraduate degree in six years or less. Even while removing the percentage of those individuals who eventually finish their degrees, this is an alarming statistic.

Between academic pressures, internships and extracurricular engagements, college life can obviously be overwhelming. And with finals season approaching, it is not about to get any easier.

But as I navigate the plethora of opportunities between E Street and K Street, I somehow manage to stay out of the quicksand – for no other reason than the caravan I’ve got backing me up.

They are my roommates, my classmates, my presentation partners and study groups. Without this support, the stress of the journey would overtake the potential for success, creating a mirage of endless failures instead of accurately reflecting the probability of accomplishment.

These friends keep me grounded, motivated and doggedly determined to take advantage of my opportunities and not let them overwhelm me. And thanks to them, so far I have been lucky enough to do just that.

Call it the sophomore slump, senioritis or whatever unnamed phase us juniors supposedly go through, the lull in college life is inevitable. It’s not easy making it through, but luckily it’s a hell of a lot easier if you’re not alone.

So reach out to your friends. Make those long trips to Gelman a little less painful. Reassure your roommate that her class is worth something. And realize that while this vast expanse of opportunity is undoubtedly intimidating, it also presents one of the most exciting and unique times in life.

Not knowing what lies ahead can be incredibly scary. Yes, mistakes will be made. But so will accomplishments. And in the end, it’s the success that we will remember.

-The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs and public policy, is a Hatchet columnist.

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