Life lessons 101: from freshman year to the real world

Life lessons 101: from freshman year to the real world

There’s a certain energy that takes over a college campus in the weeks leading up to the first day of school: a buzz of  opportunity and optimism, a feeling that this is a brand-new start. Subletting a room on the street that borders Columbia University for the month of August has meant I’ve been surrounded with that blend of enthusiasm and anxiety, those packed-to-bulging bags from Bed Bath & Beyond, the nervous smiles and falsely confident hugs goodbye.

Christine Amorose on the first day of her freshman year at California State University, Chico

At 17, I didn’t understand why anyone would want to go skydiving or go to Asia; I swore that I would spend a year studying abroad in France: in some ways, I wouldn’t even recognize myself at 24. However, I’m very much that same girl who gets most excited and most stressed out over the little things, who hates being late, who doesn’t believe in going out in public in pajama pants.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to the day pictured above–my very first day of my first year of college at California State University, Chico. There are some choices I would change, some actions I would take back, some glorious moments I would just want to relive: here, the lessons I learned then and continue to live.

First-year rookies on the Chico State women's lacrosse team in 2005

You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. 

The photo above of is of the four “Whitney rookies”: the first-year lacrosse players who lived in Whitney Hall. Today, every single of one has is currently living abroad or has lived abroad: studying in Italy, coaching lacrosse in Berlin, working in the Peace Corps in the Gambia. We were weird, fun, focused: those girls taught me to take myself less seriously and to push myself beyond my notions of what I was capable of, on and off the field.

Be careful in choosing your friendships. Don’t get trapped in friendships that are convenient but meaningless–the mean girls who live down the hall, the guys who are always down to party but who disappear once the beer is gone. Find the ones who are passionate and enthusiastic, who make you want to become a more interesting and exciting person to be around.

Christine Amorose and Kate Brennan in May 2006

No one cares about your GPA in the real world. 

I spent entire days in the library, entire evenings hunched over textbooks, making flashcards, writing essays. I was serious about school, and it paid off: I graduated magna cum laude and was named the top student in my department. I don’t regret taking my education seriously, but I often sacrificed fun and friendship for better grades. After your first job, your grades will help you very little. What will help you is your network: the people who are willing to recommend you and go to bat for you, the ones who let you crash on their couch and use them as a mailing address.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in blogging, to think that getting a post written and edited and scheduled is the most important thing in my week. It’s easy to sacrifice my real life in exchange for this online self I’ve created; sometimes, it’s just as important to shut my laptop and go out for drinks. Your work is only one part of your life: don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s the most important. 

Christine Amorose while playing lacrosse for the Chico State Wildcats in 2006

Get involved. 

There are plenty of things, nights, drinks that I regret about college. What I don’t regret: playing lacrosse. Working at CAVE, our student-led volunteer organization, and Tehama Group Communications, our student-managed public relations agency, and The Orion, our award-winning student newspaper. Joining a sorority.

The more you do, the more things you try, the more people you meet–the more you get to know yourself. You get to know what you like and what you don’t, what excites you and what bores you. Don’t be afraid to quit things you don’t like, and don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never done before. Never try, never know, my Rastafarian rock climbing teacher drawled as I panicked on the side of a cliff in Railay this year–and as I pushed myself up to the top, I realized he said it better than I ever could.

Florence, Italy in 2006


One of my favorite trips of all time was the 10 days I spent in Italy with a mix of friends from high school and college. We sipped watermelon cocktails while watching the sun set over the river in Florence, we drank local beers on the beach in Sorrento after spending the day floating in the Mediterranean. We saw countless churches and statues, indulged in unbelievable quantities of pasta and gelato and learned what it’s like to travel as “grown-ups”.

Go with your friends, go by yourself. It will force you to grow up and be responsible, while reminding you of just how young and free you are. You’ll capture moments, create memories, strengthen friendships and trust yourself more. Read this gorgeous article on why you should travel young if you have any doubts.

What do you wish you could go back and tell your 17-year-old self? 

  • I wish I could go back and tell my 17-year-old self a bunch of things like: Don’t waste time on people who don’t matter, to not sweat the small stuff, to forget NYC and study abroad for a semester and to have double majored! A college freshman wants to follow his/her dreams and not always major in what’s the most practical. Tuition costs the same, so why not double major? Would have studied business and/or international relations if I could go back…

  • Cat

    I’ve been out of school for five years and have lived since in Spain. It’s amazing to reconnect with people I went to school with and see what they’re up to, but I always get the same response: You did what you wanted, and you’re happy with where you’re at. I didn’t intend to like teaching English or start a bilingual relationship or even stay in Spain for more than a year, but I think the advice you give would have saved me some time and given me more confidence at 21 to stand up for myself when people doubted my choice. Excellent piece, C.

  • I have many regrets over the last twenty years or so. Most are not regrets about things I did, but regrets about my inactivity. Not living abroad. Not getting married. Not having kids. I would jokingly make the Zen like comment that I was like water and flowed where the universe took me. It was short hand for being lazy and afraid to take changes.

    The most important lesson I’ve learned is that none of those regrets matter. I can’t change the past. I can only change the current day. The only decisions I can make are the current ones.

  • Oh man, I don’t even know where to start! 17-year old was a completely different person to 23-year old me, and I don’t mean that in the good way — I was painfully shy and stuck in a two-year relationship that I didn’t realize was sucking the life out of me.

    To be honest though, I wouldn’t change that much, because I always knew I was going to travel and everything that happened back then has led me to where I am now, and I can’t complain about that. My only advice would be to take more classes outside my major — in the real world, you can’t easily take a Politics Through Film or History of Irish Literature or Psychology of [random subject] class, and I really miss those.

  • Melanie

    Great post. If anything, I think I need to act more like my 17 year old self. I do sometimes get too wrapped up in work and the seriousness of life, and really, I just need to go outside and do something with my friends who remind me that work always gets done in the end, and that life is about having FUN!

  • travellingbelle

    The words of wisdom, if only we new what we do now when we were 17, life would be so much different! I guess the benefit is that if we did, life would be pretty boring! http://www.travellingbelle.com

  • camorose

    I absolutely loved my journalism course and have found it super useful–but I sometimes wish I had majored in something less practical. When else would I have had the time to devote four years to studying philosophy or women’s studies or psychology? Glad I took a few classes here and there, but would love to have done more! Double majoring would have been a brilliant option.

  • camorose

    Gracias! It’s sometimes the hardest thing to simply follow our dreams and do what we want, but it definitely pays dividends.

  • camorose

    Very true. No use in worrying about the past, but must instead focus our attention on the present and how we can change our future.

  • camorose

    So true! Some of my favorite classes were ones in my women’s studies theme and in the psychology department–wish I would have explored a bit more with those sort of non-GE/journalism/marketing classes.

  • camorose

    Ha I am SO much more laid-back in some ways and so much less reckless in others than my 17-year-old self–think I’m slowly improving toward a nice balance 🙂

  • camorose

    Haha so true–I wouldn’t have nearly as many good stories 🙂

  • travellingbelle

    Yup! And think of all the things we wouldn’t have learnt if we new what we did now, then… I wouldn’t have learnt what a hangover was or how to drink responsibly (actually i’m still learning those lessons!!) http://www.travellingbelle.com

  • Has anyone ever told you look like Ellen Pompeo of Grey’s Anatomy? Your picture with Kate totally reminds me of her. =P Anyways… I wish I was involved a bit more in college too. Getting to know more people coming from different backgrounds never hurts. =)

  • I wish I would have looked into different internship opportunities more seriously and used my summertime more wisely. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I realized I could have worked at essentially any company in any country in the world through an internship…

  • A very inspiring and insightful post. There are some things I would change from my years at Uni (most of them related to the excessive partying), but the one thing I’m most proud of was the amount of travels I did. I think I took every chance I had, to go somewhere new. I studied in Spain and Germany, took a 6 months internship in Zurich and, in between, traveled often to wherever I had a friend – be it Reims, London, Paris, Geneva… My motto was: if I’ve got a couch to crash on, there’s nothing stopping me.

  • Gina

    Love this. I can so relate. A few of my closest friends to this day are girls I met my Freshman year of college. We lived on the same dorm floor and decided to study abroad in England together the following year. We can’t remember who came up with the idea or how we decided on the England program, but off we went, and my time overseas with those girls changed my life forever.

  • Krystal

    I wish I had read this article three years back

  • camorose

    Haha if I had a dollar for every time I said I’d never drink again…I’d be a millionaire! 🙂

  • camorose

    Haha I haven’t heard that one before–but I do have a pretty familiar face, everyone seems to think I look JUST like someone they know 🙂

  • camorose

    So true! I definitely took advantage of most of my summers–I studied in Paris for one, worked at a newspaper in Colorado Springs another–but it would have been awesome to live in a big city and work for a crazy cool company!

  • camorose

    So true! My senior year of college was the first time that I started to take advantage of friends abroad–I had a friend studying in Ireland, and as soon as her plans were finalized, I booked a ticket to visit over Thanksgiving break! Best way to travel when you’re young–free tour guide AND a free place to stay!

  • camorose

    Ahhh love that story! I wish that I had followed through on my plans of studying abroad my junior year–could have had so many European adventures with my friends who studied in Italy! But that’s life–no regrets, have to keep making memories now!

  • purplekat99

    What what! UWS pride! Must be something in the air, when I spent the summer in NYC doing an internship in 2004, I subletted a room on 115th x Broadway, a block from Colombia. Awesome neighborhood!

  • camorose

    That’s pretty much exactly where I am–super fun neighborhood to explore!

  • jennaebert

    pretty sure i missed this one!! this post is aawesome!!

  • What a great post, as always, Christine! I think it’s amazing how much you have things figured out and how good you are at putting it into words!

    I think that each of these things you mention is definitely a reminder to someone, for me it’s to remember that just because I’m in the working world in full force right now, that doesn’t mean that work is my life. It’s such a small part of who I am.

  • camorose

    Awww glad you liked it–can’t wait to see you and explore NYC together 🙂

  • camorose

    Oh my gosh I totally DO NOT have things so figured out–but thank you for saying so! I’m starting a job on Tuesday and I’m really aiming to have a balance more than anything–and to remember what’s really important 🙂

  • Traveler

    I want to have sex with you



  • camorose