Creating a positive college experience during a global pandemic

Alma Jorgenson – Opinion Editor

I can’t even count the number of times that my parents told me that they wanted me to have a good college experience. Every time that phrase was mentioned I was ready to pull my hair out. They gave me that advice with no tangible way to measure it, no outline of what a college experience should look like and very VERY different descriptions of what their personal college experience was. Even as I look back on my three and a half years here on the hill, I still can’t say whether or not my college experience was a good one. There are too many things that have really interrupted it: bad roommates, pandemics, and the like. However, there are some things that I can identify that really would help to frame what a good college experience could look like. They are as follows: building relationships with three to four really good friends, getting out in the community, traveling when the opportunity arises, and taking learning outside of the classroom.
During the first few weeks of freshman year it feels like you are simply friends with EVERYONE. I had so many group chats with so many different people. Whenever I would walk in the Caf there was always someone I could sit with. Well that changed. I don’t know if it was the pandemic or just the nature of a college campus, but I lost contact with a lot of the folks I hung out with during freshman year. Plan for that loss.
During my time in college I have really worked on building relationships with just a handful of key people. I know that these friends will be there for me outside of school. Working on building a few foundational friends will probably be more beneficial in the long run than having a large net of friends. My key friends have been some of the most supportive and adventurous people I have ever met, getting to explore the world outside of school with these people is almost worth the tuition itself.
The true highlight of my college years has been working on a dairy farm just outside of Saint Peter. In some ways I am upholding my dad’s legacy of milking cows to get through college – only I got to feed calves. This is something I didn’t expect from my college experience, but it is something that I couldn’t imagine not having. I gained a bonus family. The love and support I got from them is something I will never forget or take for granted. My hope and prayer is that this is one of those relationships that can withstand the test of time.
My mom is always saying “you can’t have too many adults that love you”. This is what I found at the farm. Adults who love me. Cows that give my day a little more purpose. And good, strong coffee.
I cannot imagine my college career without feeding calves. Go out in the community and try to find something like that. Something that can give your life purpose that isn’t tied to this institution or academia. Something that is real.
Last winter I was sitting with one of my close friends, Anna Edblad (also an editor) and I was overcome with a desire to travel across America. She, like many others, encouraged me to do just that. During my travels I had coffee with Native American elders, swam naked in hot springs, sipped fine wine with a good man, and drove through many of our country’s greatest national parks. This is what I have come to understand is the true liberal arts education. We are told that a benefit of being a liberal arts student is that you get to explore a large variety of disciplines. The lessons I was taught in the classroom can’t hold a candle to the lessons I was taught on the road. Liberal arts happen in real life.
While I know not everyone can find a summer job that allows them to travel, there are little things that you can do. Traveling can just be exploring the places around you. I spent many Sundays sitting at the Coffee Hag in Mankato listening to live music, this counts. Camping at a park down by the Minnesota River also counts. Go outside and observe nature happening, take notes. Leave your comfort zone to try new and exotic foods. Even just getting off campus and talking to someone who isn’t a college student can be an adventure in its own right. Living a life filled with adventure is one of the ways you can give your degree more meaning.
Learning should be a major part of the college experience, while some learning happens in class, I would argue that most of it happens outside. One way to do this is to seek out opinions different from your peers and your professors. The act of taking time to actually listen to what someone else believes and supports makes you become more well rounded. It can help shape and solidify your own beliefs, while working to depolarize the world that we have found ourselves in. Through my travels, both in a physical sense and in an ideological sense, I have found that when someone feels fully listened to they are more willing to listen to what you have to say as well. This doesn’t come naturally, I really found that organizations like the Heterodox Academy and Braver Angels create a space that can teach one how to listen.
Seeking out spaces that may introduce you to people who have fundamentally different beliefs can be insanely scary. I have found that once you get to be in those spaces humanity comes out. In my experience people value people more than they value their beliefs. When people, REAL PEOPLE, come together to have real conversations there is space for listening, and space for being wrong. This is real learning. Not being lectured to by some bio prof at 8:00 AM on Monday, but the late night zoom calls with peers from all over the world, discussing the state of things and how we can fit in. Find something outside of school that scratches that itch. Look around and if it’s not the right fit keep looking.
Gusties, I want to leave you with one last piece of advice before I head out to my next adventure; be good to the ones you love, eat good food and get outside.

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