Dear Ally,

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Monthly Archives: January 2016

Branch Out to Get Connected

Dear Ally,

It should be easier than ever these days to meet new people and connect with social media, texting, and cell phones, but that isn’t necessarily true. In college, you’re surrounded by people your own age, but it can still be difficult to make friends and you might feel bored or lonely at times, especially the first year. My first recommendation will be to put down your phone and look up. Smile and say hi to people you pass on the way to class, talk to the people you sit next to, and ban all electronic device use during meals.

There is plenty of advice out there on “getting involved” and most of it is about joining organizations related to hobbies, your major, sports, service, or religion, so I’m not going to discuss becoming a part of a group.

Instead I want to talk about putting yourself out there, branching out, and really making an effort to turn your college social experience into what you dreamed it would be or perhaps what you never imagined would happen.

College is all about learning, not just in class, but trying things, going to places you’ve never been, eating different foods, and meeting new people. Maybe an organization is going on an outing, sign up and go. Within the first couple of weeks of starting college, I noticed that Campus Crusade for Christ was going to do a ropes course. Even though I knew no one else going, I went and I had fun. I didn’t make any lifelong friends that day and I didn’t even end up belonging to Campus Crusade for long, but, not long after that, I recognized Mark from calculus at one of their meetings and decided to go up and talk to him and we’ve been friends ever since.

If someone invites you to do something, take them up on their offer. At worst you could be bored or discover you’re not good at something. At least you learned something about yourself. At best you could gain a new interest or a new friend. My friend, Jeff, invited me to watch some Monty Python movies with him and his dorm mates. I wasn’t really into those movies, but went anyway and met one of his friends who I ended up dating. You never know what might come from one chance meeting. My parents met in college because my mom fell down the steps and my dad asked her if she was alright. Your uncle and I started hanging out after he invited me to go with him and some other guys to buy a new refrigerator for our research group in grad school. Talk about a boring sounding outing, but we had a good time joking and goofing around in the store.

It’s good to stay linked to friends from high school. They are having the same experiences where ever they went to college and can offer support, but you may already notice that you don’t feel as close as you did when you saw them every day. You might feel jealous when they tell you about the fun they’re having with new friends. Why not go visit them for a weekend and meet these new friends or invite them to visit you and conquer your new world together?  I took my sophomore year roommate to visit my best friend from high school and it was awesome. I got to see my friend, bond with my new roommate, meet my friend’s roommates, and my best friend and my roommate really hit it off.

Most importantly, you need to talk to people. Actually talk, not chat or text. I’m not the most social person in the world and I absolutely hate small talk and forced, awkward conversations. My freshman year I decided was going to become more outgoing and made myself start conversations, like the one with Mark. It’s a useful skill to be able to talk to strangers and the more you practice, the better you get. I’ve found that I can usually find common ground with anyone after talking with them for a while. The best way to get there is to ask questions, questions about family, hobbies, pets, TV, sports, music or the easiest college conversation starter question, “What’s your major?”

I hope that my advice and stories give you ideas and hope, if you’re still searching for good friends and a place to belong. The main thing is to be patient and keep trying because it takes time and effort to develop real friendships and begin to feel at home in a new place.


Aunt Sarah


Embrace Winter

ice storm

Ice Storm on our campus February 2011

Dear Ally,

Your uncle and I just returned from a weekend trip to Toronto  and one thing I noticed about Canadians is they don’t let winter stop them from enjoying outdoor activities. We went to a park to find some Long-tailed Ducks and there were people playing rugby, walking, running, riding bikes (yes, in freezing temps) and birding (that’s what it’s called, not bird watching).

A male Long-tailed Duck (photo credit to Adam)

Sure, some aspects of winter are rough. I’m not gonna lie, the drive home yesterday in the lake effect snowstorm was horrendous and my drive to work took twice as long as normal today (no snow day 😦  ). However, I think that I would miss winter, if I permanently moved to a warmer climate.

Winter on campus was a fun time when I was in college. There was the occasional snow day, of course, with students sledding down hills on cafeteria trays, having snowball fights, and other snow-related shenanigans.  I remember going out one really cold night with my roommates. Nobody wanted to wear a coat because it’s not like college bars have coat checks, so I was the designated driver and drove my roommate’s car basically just up the hill. I swear we still had to walk almost as far from the place we found to park. The whole episode was ridiculous.

One of my favorite college memories wouldn’t have happened if it never snowed on campus. I was walking by my friend Mark’s dorm, we now had both Calculus part C and chemistry together, and wanted to see if he was home. Normally you’d use the call box at the front of the building (because no cell phones then), but he was only on the second floor, so I thought I’d just wing a snowball at his window and he’d hear the thump and stick his head out the window. It was perfect snow for making a snowball and I threw it as hard as I could, but there was no thump, just whoosh. That snowball went right through Mark’s cracked window and splatted somewhere in his room! I couldn’t have done that if I’d tried! I thought about running away, but I was doubled over cracking up. Luckily Mark thought it was funny too or at least he did once he knew it was me and not some jerks.

So, don’t sitting around wishing you could fast forward through winter. Live in the present and enjoy what this moment has to offer. After all, if we didn’t have winter, we wouldn’t appreciate summer nearly as much and I’d have to go to the arctic to see a Long-tailed Duck.

Stay warm,

Aunt Sarah

Me, Nov 2015 on a birding boat, headed out on Lake Erie

winter birding




Tabula Rasa

Dear Ally,

Happy New Year and Happy New Semester! I thought I’d offer some tips for getting the semester off to a good start.

  • Reflect on last semester. Think about what went well and what didn’t. What would you like to improve and how will you make sure it goes better this time?
  • Clean your room. Take Marie Kondo‘s advice and get rid of anything unnecessary that doesn’t “spark joy.” The less crap you have, the less stuff you’ll have to search through to find something. Send your summer clothes home. Sell the textbooks you’ll never open again.
  • Read the syllabi. Put professors’ contact information in your phone. Schedule class meeting times, exams, assignment due dates, and office hours into your calendar with built-in reminders. Make note of the required course materials and textbooks. Write down questions to ask the first day of class.
  • Get everything you’ll need. Buy your textbooks now to take advantage of used copies and on-line deals. If you don’t need it, you can always return it. Get a binder for each class and enough dividers to separate handouts, notes, homework, exams, etc. Mirror your hard copy organizational system with an electronic version, so you’ll know exactly where to save assignments as you work on them.
  • Plan out your schedule. Look at the entire semester. Set aside time for what’s most important first. Break up big assignments into small weekly goals. Carve out studying time for exams every day the entire week before. Be aware of and plan ahead for heavy weeks with multiple exams or papers due. Block out time to make sure that you get enough sleep and that you can go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. It’s important to schedule exercise and relaxation time as well.
  • Make a good first impression. I already talked about the last class and you should never skip the first class either, it’s the most important class. Sit near the front where you can see and won’t be as tempted to goof off or sleep. If you don’t know anyone in the class, introduce yourself to at least one person and get their contact info. Ask questions to make sure you understand what will be expected of you. If you still have questions, e-mail your professors. This first e-mail also serves as a “test e-mail” to ensure that you are reaching them.
  • Don’t forget to have a positive mindset! You can do it!

Wishing you all the best!

Aunt Sarah