80: Choose Wisely

80: Choose Wisely

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

Choose Wisely

Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.

~Author Unknown

It’s a day everyone looks forward to, some with feelings of anxiety and dread, others with excitement and anticipation. I, personally, could not have been more excited.

It was my first day of college, and not a regular, run of the mill college, but one in downtown Chicago. After living in the suburbs my entire life, the idea of becoming a “city girl” was polluting my brain. I would take the subway and hail cabs. I would know all the trendy little spots and be a regular at their functions. I would be cool and mysterious at times and open and flamboyant at others.

This was it. This was the beginning of the rest of my life. It’s amazing how quickly what I considered a most promising beginning could turn into what was, by my standards, one of the most traumatic events of my life.

I should have made some assumptions from the weather. It was like one of those way too obvious foreshadowing scenes you read in books. It was overcast and dreary. It was late August, and despite being only 7:00 A.M., it was already hot to a stifling degree, and the humidity was oppressive. There was a stench of staleness in the air. Obvious overtones aside, I was still optimistic.

I drove my brand new car to the train station in an excited hurry. The train ride seemed to drag on indefinitely, like when you were younger and the week before your birthday could not pass fast enough. Looking back, if I had known what awaited me at the end of that ride, I would have appreciated the slow train.

It started right as I stepped off the train, or should I say, tumbled off the train. As soon as I set my foot down, I knew it wouldn’t be good. As I felt myself falling, my arms flailed out searching for anything to help me regain my balance. My left hand caught hold of something, and out of reflex, I clung to it with every ounce of strength in me.

Unfortunately, what I had caught onto was another passenger’s bag. Not only did I fall completely out of the train, but I brought an innocent bystander down with me. My initial state of shock quickly turned to complete mortification as several passers-by glanced, snickered, and continued on their way. I stood up, by this time a quite unnatural shade of red, offered a hand and a quick apology to my unfortunate companion, and scurried on my way.

Continuing on, I found myself in an unusually empty subway car. After looking around, I knew why. The ground had several random wet spots in an array of colors, some complete with unidentifiable chunks and pieces. The ads that lined the top of the car were for services such as 1-800-AM-I-A-DAD and cheap legal services with slogans like “We’ll come bail you out.” The graffiti that decorated the plastic seats and dirty windows was from killing, stealing, ruthless gangs. I was slowly beginning to see exactly how out of my element I was. I could not get out of there fast enough. When my stop finally came, I all but ran out onto the platform.

As I looked around, I could physically feel my excitement turning to dread. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. I had been to freshman orientation, but I was too busy socializing to really pay attention. I followed a group of fellow students up a small flight of stairs ready to be greeted by the school I had been looking forward to attending for several months. Instead, I was greeted with one of the most depressing sights of my life. During orientation, I realized the campus was far from attractive, but then it was sunny.

Now, in the gloom of the approaching storm, the place seemed to be crying out to some all powerful force to take it out of its misery.

The landscaping was wilting in the sweltering heat. The mismatched brick of the buildings, ranging from white to almost black, stood out against the green-tinged sky. The windows, on the select few buildings that actually possessed them, were all of a foot wide, tinted dark brown, and in desperate need of a washing. The skeletons of a complex system of skywalks that had been long ago removed remained attached to some buildings, boarded up with plywood with ominous phrases such as “Danger” and “Positively No Admittance” spray-painted across them in faded orange paint.

I hurried to class, and opened the door to lecture hall F3. Because I knew lecture hall A1 was for the largest classes, I purposely chose the section in F3 in an attempt to get a smaller class. I was ten minutes early, and there were already well over 100 people waiting. I tried not to look stunned and give away my freshman status. I took a seat at the end of a row near the middle of the room. As the class grew, so did my astonishment. A math class with roughly 200 people was above and beyond my expectations.

I have been described as a social butterfly, and with so many opportunities to talk, I almost didn’t know where to start. I decided to try the girl next to me. She reminded me of a friend from back home so I felt a sense a familiarity.

I started simply. “Hi!”

She looked up and looked back at the picture she was so intently drawing on her desk. Still, I tried again. “Um... have you bought this book yet?”

This time, the look she gave me spoke volumes. She returned to drawing on her desk, and I dropped it. I attempted one more conversation with another kid and it went much the same way, only this time, instead of finding vandalism more enticing, he chose the imaginary lint on his shirt. I was stunned. Never in my life had people so rudely rebuffed my attempts at conversation. I looked around, and slowly and sadly came to the realization that none of the 200 people were talking with one another.

I wanted to cry. I continued through the day just going through the motions. My two other classes were strikingly similar to the first.

Even the one hour cafeteria break didn’t show any promise of the year I had envisioned. I rode home in a daze. I was too disappointed for words, like a child who has just found out the truth about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny in one day.

As soon as I got home, I started looking into transferring schools. Some might think I was overreacting, claiming everyone has a bad day and that just happened to be mine. I had a gut instinct, though, that I could not ignore. That was just not the place for me, and I knew it.

I was frustrated with myself because I knew it was a mistake that I did not have to make. There was a long list of steps I could have taken to prevent spending a year at a school I could not stand, including a visit to the campus or an evaluation of my real reasons for choosing that school, but because of that day, and several others like it, I can truly appreciate the path I set up for myself when I made my decision to transfer. It made me realize the importance of being in the right atmosphere and the right environment. After I transferred, I was happier than I had been in a long time, I can honestly say I owe it to that first horrible day of college.

~Megan Foley

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