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Important Lessons for The College Freshman

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It’s September 2nd, which means we must tuck our bikinis back in their drawers, slather ourselves in aloe vera, and hang our heads low as we mourn the coming end of summer. This also means that school is starting again, and for incoming college freshmen this brings a whole new kind of dread.

Sure, you’re excited to meet new people, take classes you chose out of your course catalog, and maybe even explore a new city. But there are things to worry about. A lot of them. Maybe it’s that you’re living away from home for the first time, or living across the country. There are more things you need to be prepared for than just athlete’s foot in the communal showers (plastic sandals will take care of that).

As someone who survived four years and two colleges and managed to graduate with all four of my limbs and at least a bit of dignity, I feel I should imbue on you, humble reader, ten important lessons and tips to help you enjoy college safely and happily, from picking classes to surviving alcohol poisoning.

1. Make orientation week count. I skipped a lot of the activities scheduled for orientation week and later came to regret it. I didn’t want to wake up at 9 AM to go on a tour of Boston, but what I didn’t realize is that a lot of people did wake up at 9 AM to go on a tour of Boston and, in doing so, met all those other people who got up at 9 AM to go on a tour of Boston. You’re not going to meet people if you hole up in your room, so go out as often as you can.

2. Taste-test classes. So you didn’t get into that History of Watching TV class you really wanted to take, go to the first class or two anyway. You’ll be amazed at how many people drop out of the class and a space for you may become available. The same goes for a class with a bad teacher. If sucky prof is teaching a general ed class you have to take, visit the same class taught by a different teacher. In my experience, a great teacher can make any class interesting and enjoyable.

3. Just because you can drink an entire keg doesn’t mean you should. I have too many friends who ended up in a hospital after a night of binge drinking to take alcohol poisoning lightly. If you drink a lot and start throwing up, your body is rejecting what is in it. There’s no other way around it. If this happens to you, you need to start downing water like you wouldn’t believe. All that liquid you’re throwing up is dehydrating you and you need to re-hydrate your body, so drink lots of good H2O, and eat some bread to help absorb some of the alcohol.

If you continue to throw up and it feels like you’re expunging your stomach lining, you need to go to the hospital. Don’t worry about getting into trouble. A scolding from your RA isn’t nearly as bad as, let’s say, DYING. For next time, it’s okay to get drunk; it’s okay to drink a lot, but slooooowwww down. You’ve got to find that perfect place where you’re drunk but you’re not dead. It takes practice but it’s worth drinking only one or two an hour to get there.

4. Friends don’t let friends get date raped. This is an even more horrible experience I’ve seen friends go through. The statistics around this are astounding. Something like one in ten women will be date raped, mostly while in college. But this doesn’t mean you’ve got to become a recluse in order to stay safe. First, buddy up. Don’t go to a party alone and always go with a friend who will make sure you stay safe. She should never be out of your sight for more than a few moments. Preferably, one of you will be sober sister, or at least semi-sober sister. Second, never, NEVER go upstairs, outside, in a car, or home with a guy you don’t intend on sleeping with. And even if you do intend on sleeping with him, tell your friend where you’re going and with who. If you don’t know his name, he shouldn’t be in your bed.

5. Just because it’s consensual doesn’t mean it’s safe. Use a condom. Every time. Without fail. Don’t let him convince you not to use a condom. If he says they’re too tight, buy Magnums (it’s a compliment!), if he says sex just doesn’t feel good with one tell him no sex doesn’t feel good either. The only time you should have sex without a condom is when you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship with someone you trust, when you’ve both been tested, and when you’re on birth control. Find your local Planned Parenthood. They can give you STD screenings and birth control, often for free.

6. Stay safe on campus and off. Many colleges have nighttime car services free of charge to students. Find out about yours as soon as you get to school. They will often pick you up within a certain range of campus and escort you home. It’s like a free taxi ride, so utilize it. Also, having the phone numbers for a few regular taxi companies in your cell will definitely come in handy when it’s three AM and all you want is your bed and a huge glass of water.

7. Keep your RA’s phone number in your cell. You never know when you’re going to get lost in China Town or need bailing out of jail. It’s a good number to have in case of an emergency.

8. Ruthlessly use your college’s free services. Now that I don’t have the luxury of a school gym, career, or counseling center, I’m regretting not using them as much. Your tuition is paying for these services, so use them.

9. The most important four-letter word of all time: TUMS. My friend’s carry a roll of Tums with them at all times. Whether it’s to cure you of cafeteria-induced food poisoning or to help settle your stomach after you’ve mixed tequila with beer in an attempt to create an inventive cocktail, tuck this miracle worker in your pocket next to your Chapstick.

10. If you do drugs, do them safely. Drugs are a reality of college. I could just tell you to say no and stay away from them, but that wouldn’t be very honest or helpful of me. If you do choose to do drugs, there is a way to do them safely. Don’t take drugs from someone you don’t know or don’t trust, don’t take drugs alone, and don’t mix drugs. If your friend takes drugs and you don’t, don’t ditch her just because you don’t approve. Be a good friend, stay with her, and have a conversation about why her drug use bothers you after she’s come down.

And most importantly, enjoy yourself. You’ve worked your ass off for the last eighteen years to get here. Have fun!

[Photo courtesy of sobersensor.com]

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