September 5, 2022

PAPPAS | First Semester Jitters

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The beginning of the semester is an adjustment period for us all. Freshmen are supposed to struggle in their first few weeks on campus. It’s almost like a rite of passage. But first-years aren’t the only ones who have to take time to adjust. 

As a junior, this will be my third “first semester” of an academic school year here, and I’d be lying if I said I felt more prepared to take on this year than when I was a sophomore or even a freshman. I urge us all to be kind to ourselves these first few weeks as we navigate new spaces and schedules that don’t seem like our own quite yet. Adjusting to a new semester takes time, so be patient with yourself. You don’t need to create more work for yourself just yet; your professors will do that for you later this month during the first round of prelims. You don’t need to go on four-day benders if you’d rather sleep. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll thank yourself later. 

We all have reasons to be slightly overwhelmed these first few weeks on campus. Many sophomores have relocated across campus, forcing them to abandon the common rooms and dining halls that once provided comfort during their first year on campus. Two weeks isn’t really enough time for the Cornell calves to kick in, making the trek up the slope quite dreadful. Many juniors have moved into their first apartments off campus, entering an advanced stage of adulting that dorm-living can’t really prepare you for. While lots of seniors might be returning to their already-established off-campus housing arrangements, they also have to endure their fair share of start-of-the-semester stresses as they look ahead to a life without Cornell after May. 

Of course, there’s also the initial excitement of a new semester  — of meeting new friends and reuniting with old ones. There’s even the initial excitement of seeing the green check on Student Center, confirming your enrollment in a course that gets you one step closer to completing your major. Regardless of whether or not you’re thrilled for the coursework to start again, all of us are at least a bit excited for the semester to begin because it’s all so very new to us now. 

In this excitement, there’s a desperate hope that this semester will be different than the last  —  that the material will somehow crystallize faster in our brains or maybe even that our professors will be more merciful this time around. Those might not ever occur, but it’s really true that each new semester feels different from the last. A fresh start keeps us on our toes, which is not necessarily a bad thing, until it knocks us off our feet every time we try to walk.

At the start of every single semester here at Cornell, I flounder for a bit, struggling to establish a personal and academic schedule that works well for me. This is partly due to the fact that my course list usually changes considerably during the first two weeks of the semester. I’ll even admit to abusing Student Center in the beginning of many semesters here, adding and dropping classes at my convenience, with just one click of a button. Being able to “shop” for classes in the beginning of every semester definitely has its perks, but enrolling three weeks late into a class that already moves too fast hasn’t necessarily set me up for the easiest transition. 

In fact, this is actually the only semester that I haven’t completely changed my schedule from pre-enrollment period  —  pushing calculus off to my junior year wasn’t one of my greatest moves, but I can’t do much about that now except endure a semester of math. Despite the little movement in my academic schedule this semester, I still found myself overwhelmed these past few weeks, adjusting to new coursework, classmates and classrooms. 

Since every semester seems so very new, it makes establishing a routine across semesters virtually impossible to do. Many of us tailor our personal schedules to the needs of our classes, so a change in course load also warrants a change in our personal and social lives. Do I really want to be in Orgo office hours every Friday from 4 to 5 p.m.? No. Will you find me in Baker Lab drawing sticks and dashes and maybe some orbitals too every Friday afternoon? Yes. Will I be happy about it? No, because I, like many others, am forced to build my own schedule around those of my professors. Scheduling not-so-optional office hours for a Friday afternoon hardly seems kind, but Cornell can be an unkind place for its students. So when Cornell can’t be kind to you, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. 

Isabelle Pappas (she/her) is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Like It Iz runs every other Monday this semester.