Trials and Tribulations of the First Semester

By Anja Hermann

Welcome to Zeeland! You made it to this distant “village” known as Middelburg near the edge of Europe, whether you took a 2-3 hour journey via the NS train, a ride in your parent’s car or took a 6-24 hour flight. You have arrived at this small place that some of your friends at home may pronounce as “Middleberg”…. (speaking from personal experience).

Hopefully everyone has settled in their rooms that, intimidatingly enough, will be your living space for the next three years. It may take a month or so until you’ve got all your books in the bookshelf, an actual bed frame and some cabinets in that (at least for now) pristine kitchen of yours. All of it can feel like a struggle, but you will realize later that getting yourself and your belongings over here wasn’t, in fact, the hard part. Getting used to your new environment is.

Most of you coming fresh out of high school, or from other adventures, will have the perception that your first semester will be like ‘a walk in the park’ when it comes to making friends and getting down to studying, but I’m going to break it to you now – this is not necessarily the case for everyone. You may have the phrase “college will be the best time of your life” ringing in your head, however that statement might not seem very accurate in the first semester. It may also not occur to you now, but you could feel a tinge of homesickness halfway through, you will miss your local dumplings or French baguette, you will start to wonder how different it would have been if you had chosen to go to ‘that university’ instead of this one and more. So how will you make it through to the end of the semester? Well, on this account I would like to present the relevant experiences that may come your way and the tips on how to survive the next four months. (If you’re a 2nd semester or above and have allowed the summer to eradicate any existing memory of UCR, then please, for your own sake, feel free to read along too).

1. Dependence before Independence
Before you reach a certain level of independence, you have to go through a phase of dependence. Like a newborn, your surroundings and the people in them are unknown to you. It is, therefore, inevitable that you will feel a ‘clingy’ attachment to others for some kind of support. This ranges from advice on how to ‘hit the books’, to help with finding your way around Middelburg or getting laundry and groceries done. Generally, this dependent phase will shift into growing independence.
Another kind of dependence that can be experienced in the 1st semester is that on a professor. The grading system (and the general system at UCR) is likely different from what you had, and you may find yourself asking the professor for the same things twice and asking for rechecks on that draft just to be sure you’re doing it right. This is all normal behavior; however, don’t feel like you have to nail everything the first time! The first semester is more about getting accustomed to everything. Try your best, but accept the fact that you might make mistakes.

2. Homesickness and the two dimensions: Home and university
In my first semester I strangely felt like I had an alternative version of myself living at home (Hong Kong). A clone of myself that eats dinner at 19:30pm and discusses matters with family over 4 mugs of tea, instead of one. The immense contrast between the environment I was used to and the environment here allowed for a kind of deception of the mind: I felt I was living in two dimensions. This was all caused by homesickness, which can, at some point, hit you. Its intensity and timing varies between people, but it can leave an unsettling kind of isolation. At that moment, it may feel difficult to reach out to people to talk about your feelings, and you may therefore prefer to stick to yourself. Nevertheless, I would advise you to try to be as social as possible and try to join activities to get your mind off the subject. If you’re more introverted, writing a journal can be a good alternative escape from your concerns.

3. The doom and gloom comes soon: Winter Depression
I don’t believe this is a topic that is usually touched upon, as most of UCR students come from cold places in Europe, or the Netherlands itself. However, I would like to mention it for those who are home to tropical and subtropical regions of the world and have no first-hand experience with having ‘dinner at 16:00 in the afternoon’ (i.e when the sun sets in the winter). Many students experience a rock-bottom drop in energy levels in the first few days of cold weather, but after a week of adjustment this returns to normal, except for those who experience winter depression. This depression (also called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – haha) could stay with you until the semester terminates, as it did for me. You will feel very tired and wistful mostly all the time and it may feel like 19:00 is 2:00 in the morning. If you do experience this, then buy vitamin D tablets, try to get some light therapy, and always talk to someone. In general, don’t be afraid to alert someone about any type of depression; people are always willing to help.

4. You, the sleepy, unmotivated sloth
Have you ever finished a class and gone home to take a 2-3 hour nap? And then questioned why you feel so exhausted and so sloth-like? Don’t worry, it’s normal. It is not necessarily just your classes that tire you out, but the new information your body and brain constantly needs to register: the climate, the various new faces around you, and the unfamiliar classroom setting. There is not much of a solution for this other than to not feel so concerned that you are not doing ‘enough’ and that you’re being ‘lazy’. I promise it gets easier over time!

5. From competition to insecurities, from insecurities to passion.
We are human beings, and when we join a community or group (in this case, UCR) we establish ourselves in some social hierarchy which can create a competitive atmosphere where the aim is to ‘win the professors heart’ or to be the best amongst the rest. Remember what was said in convocation ceremony? Don’t do this. Although it may seem that it cannot be helped, the thought will encourage insecurities in yourself and will make you believe that you are not ‘good enough’ to be here. If it at some point you do feel like this, attempt to change your aim: don’t make it your goal to be the best or to be good enough amongst the others, but rather, change it to being the best version of yourself by appreciating every piece of knowledge and every chance of growth that comes your way.

This all sounds ominous, I know. However, most UCR students perceive the 1st semester to be the hardest, including myself. Once you surpass the first 4 months you’re in for the most exciting roller coaster of your life which ends before you know it.


Anja Herrmann, Class of 2021, is a Politics and Human Geography major from Hong Kong, China.



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