A couple weeks ago, my boyfriend's mom told me about the hilarious-yet-so-true 2016 Mindset List created by Beloit College. This annual list provides a look at the cultural touchstones shaping the lives of students entering college this fall. This year's list -- for the class of 2016 -- had me feeling very, very old. According to the list, students entering college this fall don't remember tan M&Ms (what?!). They've never needed (or seen) an actual airline ticket (I miss those). The idea of a hardcover encyclopedia is foreign to them (oh, the hours I spent at the library with those in grade school!).
Those things (and many of the others on the list!) sound crazy to me, but then I took at the 2005 Mindset List (for my graduating class) and I imagine that those who had already graduated years before me probably would have thought my graduating class was also quite astounding (especially "They have never experienced a real recession," which was true back then...). Reading my own list and imagining it being read by someone much older than me made me realize how -- despite our annually Beloit-depicted differences -- we're all very much alike. We all enter our college years with "more" than the year before us -- more technology, more innovations, more ground-breaking history having happened in our lifetimes.
Each new year comes with new breakthroughs, new history, new collective experiences. But with all that newness comes the same back-to-school mindset that has clouded the minds of every new student -- from kindergartners to college freshmen. The back-to-school mindset is a mix of excitement and fear, worry and thrill. A new school experience is exciting -- so much to learn and experience -- but it's also frightening as well -- so many new faces and places. And the back-to-school mindset doesn't end when school is over. It's with us any time we start a new job or embark on a new adventure. It's the mindset that we take on every time we're on the brink of something new, something both thrilling and a little bit terrifying.
Though this back-to-school mindset can hit us at any point in our lives, it seems particularly daunting to college freshmen who, for the most part, aren't only going to a new school but who are also leaving home for the first time. Here are some tips to help them (and anyone else facing a new environment that's both exciting and scary) stay positive:
5 Tips for a Positive Back-to-School Mindset
Be open-minded. When entering a new environment, it's essential to keep an open mind if you want to make the most of it. Things in the new school / job / etc. are bound to be different from what you had experienced before, but try your hardest to hold off judgments. With an open mind, you may find that the newness is not only different, but better. And even if you don't find that to be the case, with an open mind, you'll at least be giving the new place a chance. (And there are many other benefits from having an open mind!)
Embrace the newness. Newness -- whether it's a new school, a new grade, or a new job -- is just as exciting as it is terrifying. If you're heading back to school or heading off to a new job, embrace that excitement. Soon enough, that feeling will fade. That new place will become simply a backdrop to your everyday experiences and the memory of your first day / week / month will grow hazy. Celebrate the experience of being somewhere new, with new people. As scary as it is at times, the thrill that comes along with it is something you should embrace.
Smile + Say, "Hi!" Silly advice? Perhaps. But a smile or a "Hi!" goes a long way when you're in a new place. Other people may also be new and will appreciate your gestures of kindness. For those who aren't new, they probably aren't sure whether or not to make an effort with someone new. A smile is a small thing but it can have a big impact on your back-to-school mindset. Not only will it open up communication with others, but it will make you feel good. As Buddy the Elf said, "Smiling's my favorite!"
Show enthusiasm. Nothing's worse than someone new who seems like he or she doesn't want to be there. Even if you're scared or unsure or don't feel like you know as much as those who have been there for awhile, don't hold back your enthusiasm. Ask questions. Give answers and feedback. Join in. When you're in a back-to-school mindset, it might be tempting to hold back and wait until you feel more comfortable. Don't wait. Dive right in and show everyone how happy you are to be there.
Give yourself time. No matter where you're experiencing a back-to-school mindset -- a new job, a new school, even a new grade -- it will take time to adjust. Give yourself time to get used to the place and the people. Don't expect to feel at home all at once. It's okay to have a bad day from time to time when you're getting into the swing of things. Don't let those bad moments get you down. It will take time, but eventually the back-to-school mindset will be replaced and you'll feel settled in. Give it time.
Adjusting to a new school -- or new environment in general -- is difficult for most of us. While there are few of those wonderful, gregarious people who thrive in brand new situations, most of us struggle to find our place, to get to that point where we feel as if we are meant to be there. It takes time, but it will happen. Every time I started a new school or new job, I was nervous. I felt out of place and wasn't sure whether or not it was the right fit for me. But eventually I found my place and those memories of the first days (filled with so much uncertainty!) became hazy. The hazier those memories become, the more I want to hang on to them, recalling the excitement that comes with a new desk, a fresh pen. You never get that scared-but-excited feeling back so embrace it while it lasts -- and do what you can to make your back-to-school mindset a positive one.