Columns, Opinions

Okin ’19: Embrace uncertainty, first-years

Staff Columnist
Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Before I left campus first semester freshmen year, I got my cartilage pierced. For those of you who don’t conform to the true-rebel lifestyle this implies, “getting my cartilage pierced” refers to the life-altering moment of a shiny needle and a shinier stone sliding into the upper crevice of my left ear. It was so crazy, it was so Brown. It was exactly the symbol I hungered for at the end of my longest time away from home, one that would broadcast my identity as an infinitely successful and gloriously happy first-year Brown student to others and to myself. But after the deed was done, as I looked into the dirty mirror of that Thayer Street studio, I already understood a truth: No amount of holes in my ear would reconcile the fact that my first semester at Brown was nowhere near as fantastic as I had dreamed it would be.

I’m a junior now and wish I could tell you that every day spent on College Hill is a perfect one. But even as the self-proclaimed biggest fan of Brunonia, I can’t. But I will offer this to students who are now wrapping up their first semester: Hang tight. While I can’t promise you that collegiate life will improve, I can tell you that your first semester, and each semester beyond, will inform your perspective and expand the breadth of your college experiences. When you come back to school for the spring semester, campus will not be the unknown place you were thrown into this fall. Buildings will have effortless nicknames and Courses@Brown will make a lot more sense.  Even if it there are only a few recognizable faces — perhaps classmates, neighbors or fellow club members — they will paint your walks to class.

It’s this tighter reign of Brown that will grant you confidence in the decisions you will make on campus, the ones that will develop and expand your experience on College Hill. With this sense of command comes a heightened sense of conviction in the validity of your choices: what you study, where you spend your free time, who you spend it with. Don’t underestimate how empowering simply knowing more about your own college experience can be.

At the same time, appreciate how there are so many activities and resources and clubs you have yet to try out or even hear about. Joining a sorority at the beginning of my second semester was a rebirth of my freshmen year, a totally new endeavor for me. It invigorated me, introducing new trajectories I hadn’t even considered. This experience occurred after my first semester, and there may similarly be undiscovered areas of your collegiate life that reveal themselves later. The knowledge you gain from  your first semester will grant you the confidence to approach them.

To the first-year who feels intimidated by the beginning of a new semester, you are not alone. Coming back from winter break is a strange moment where everyone starts over. Shopping period is a show with many, many plot twists. Whether it’s your first year or your fourth, chaos ensues as you start to doubt the perfectly constructed course cart made in November. In adding and swapping and dropping classes, there can be a sense of community amidst confusion. Moreover, we permit this momentary mayhem for the sake of allowing ourselves the chance to enrich our lives at Brown. If you felt lost this first semester, consider how temporary disorder might provide you with an enhanced perspective when approaching future college experiences.

My collegiate life has been measured by the number of Northeast Regional trains taken and the book annotations scribbled and the hours spent waiting in the lunch line at the Ratty. It’s been measured in the pounds gained and lost, the tears comforted on the Main Green, the stunning walks and late-night conversations had. Very literally, it’s been measured by the time I’ve spent on this campus, learning it, complaining about it and admiring it. Hang on if you feel lost — with every new class taken, event attended and person met, your life at Brown will expand, swelling up with every new decision made. And this could be exactly what you need.

Rebecca Okin ’19 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to

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