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Posts published in “Columnists – Columns from College”

College boys love their caps

Weather: Icy. Very icy. (I just don’t want to fall and die…)
Freshman Fifteen: Actually, I lost weight over Winter Break. But it’s back now.
Classes: Fiction writing, concepts of mathematics, statistics, biology, emotion/cognition, and a student-taught course about the status of females in America.
No. of Times Locked Out of Room: 2.
Pints of Ben & Jerry’s Consumed: 1/2.

One important thing I’ve learned — something that will probably prove to be much more useful than memorizing the base-pairs of DNA but slightly less useful than successfully balancing a sandwich, drink, cookies and fruit all the way from the student center to my dorm — is that college boys love their caps.

Technically, it’s not just caps; any headgear will do. My roommate actually came home crying one night because a frat boy got mad at her for keeping his favorite visor. (Said visor was obtained by my roomie in a poker match that said frat boy supposedly took an entire week to recover from.)

Most of the guys on my floor, including my RA Andy and my friends Ryan and Dave, are obsessively, notoriously protective of their sports caps (for the Redwings, Red Sox, and Cornhuskers, respectively). Ryan is actually quite the prankster, so when we were outlining the boundaries of just what exactly was prank-able and what was not, I asked about his hat. His only response was a glare and a low growl akin to that of a mother lion protecting its den. I took that to mean it was off-limits.

I think the affinity boys have for their hats directly relates to the fact that they don’t have to clean them. Quite possibly the only thing worse than spilling something onto your favorite pair of jeans is having to wash it off. Most college students, boys and girls — though boys are generally much worse about it — dread laundry day like no other. Come Sunday night, that 8-page paper isn’t looking quite so bad, especially in comparison to the pile of clothing that started smelling back on Wednesday. But then again, today’s the last day of clean underwear, so the options are pretty grim either way.

The luckiest people are the kids who go home for the weekends. Sure, they don’t get to enjoy the best part of the week with their buddies, but they also don’t have to sort every item of clothing they own into whites, lights, brights, darks and delicates. The unluckiest people are the mothers of the kids who go home for the weekends.

Actually, in all seriousness, I do feel kind of sorry for my friends who leave Friday nights and return Monday mornings. It’s all well and good to see your parents — I really and trully miss mine — but part of going to college is taking a step away from home. I might be wrong, but if you’re living on a meal plan during the week and mommy’s cooking on Saturday and Sunday, I don’t think you’ve taken much of a step.

And of course, my criticism of those dependencies have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that my own options are so limited. (Nothing at all.) But while we’re on the subject, no I can’t go home, no I can’t give my dirty laundry to my mom, and no I can’t sit and do crosswords with my dad on a lazy Sunday afternoon. To be honest, it’s really weird, if you think about it too much, to realize that you can talk to your parents with a phone, and only with a phone. That the fastest you can get home is in 3 hours, not counting the time it takes to buy tickets and get to the airport. That the people you’ve dealt with day-in and day-out for 18 years are gone, living on their own like they did before you were born, and you’re, to some extent, on your own too.

Yes, very weird indeed.

But when you’re happy, at college and at home, you learn to appreciate being in each place when you’re actually there, and to not miss the other place so much that you get sad. Because if you do let yourself ache and long too much, you’re just wasting your own time.

Speaking of enjoying college life — and not wasting time — I have a picture to email to one of my floor mates. I’m pretty sure he’ll agree that his hat looks pretty good on my pig. Almost as sure as I am that he’ll pay the ransom…

Learning curves

Weather: Wonderful! (And freezing.) Can we say “humidity”? Not in Pittsburgh!
Freshman Fifteen: Um, don’t ask…
Classes: Calculus, chemistry, computer programming, philosophy and a freshman seminar on psychology.
No. of Times Locked Out of Room: 12.
Pints of Ben & Jerry’s Consumed: 5.

Before I left for college — or maybe sometime during the 26 hour road trip up to Pittsburgh — I asked my dad if I could write a column for his paper while I was at school. He of course said yes, but seeing as I was his little baby girl going away for four years, I probably could have asked for a small island off the coast of Africa and gotten it. (I decided to put that on my Christmas list instead.)

So in the true fashion of a college student — or a journalist — I’m turning this little composition in late. Very late. I’ve already been here at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) for an entire semester…

And I love it!

I moved in on a Tuesday, met my roommate, and then spent much time deciding just what my parents needed to buy for me, since, in the Hoffman tradition, we’d left a good many necessities at home. While they were slugging through Target with 800 other freshman parents, I was playing 20 million ice-breakers and listening to 60 speeches per hour about CMU, “healthy student life,” and my future. This was all part of our week-long Orientation, which is a lot like summer camp but without the bonfires and bugs. My favorite activity was probably House Wars, a big competition between the freshmen in all the dorms, which does absolutely nothing to “orient” you to the school but was definitely what made me fall in love with CMU. (And who won? Why, my dorm of course!)

Classes began the following week, and after a couple very productive meetings with my academic adviser (and his Labrador pup Butterscotch) I managed to create a schedule that wouldn’t kill me. My favorite course was chemistry — if you knew me, your jaw would be on the floor right now — because my professor is just cool beyond belief: for the first month he blew something up in every single lecture! I mean, how can you not enjoy a class that produces fireballs bigger than your own body? (Yes, he did indeed set off the fire alarm, but only once!)

I learned that all college students live and die by their cell phones, and Free Nights and Weekends is a gift from the heavens. In the first couple of weeks I could walk around at 8:59 p.m. and see all my floor mates getting out their phones, ready to dial right on the turn of the hour. One guy even went so far as to say “I could lose my arm in a horrible accident, and no one would know about it until after 9 p.m.”

In addition to cell phones, email and AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) have allowed me to keep in touch with the people I miss and care about. I even taught my dad — at his request — how to use AIM before I left so that we could chat every now and then while we were both working late at night. It’s obviously not the same as getting to see each other, but it’s close: his jokes are just as corny over the internet as they are in person.

So far my biggest problem has been the lack of edibles. See, our meal plans provide for plenty of “food,” but what use is having lots when none of it’s any good? And if anything actually tastes decent enough to swallow, it’s safe to assume that it contains 10 times the amount of fat you’re supposed to consume in a week. So although I was determined not to gain the infamous Freshman Fifteen… Uh, let’s just say that I got an unanticipated wake up call.

Another effect college is having on me that I certainly did not expect is the revival of my love for sports. Almost every night the guys on my floor are crowded around the television rooting for some team or another, and slowly but surely they’re sucking us girls there with them. I’m now hopelessly compelled to watch playoffs and shout at the TV screen when things don’t go my way. Soon I’ll be that crazy college student waving the foam finger, throwing popcorn at the opposing team, and shouting obscenities at the referee.

Dorm life is both exactly as I expected and nothing at all like I imagined. My RA — Resident Adviser, the non-freshman who lives with us and helps us through our first year — is beyond awesome. He organized trips for our floor every weekend for the first month — and one of the perks of being a poor college student is free/reduced admission to most of the museums, stadiums and other venues. Thanks to those forays into the city, we managed to bond pretty quickly and we all get along well. Occasionally our closeness turns against us — in other words, “drama” arises — but for the most part, we have each other’s backs, teach each other the things we don’t get out of class, and goof around. (A lot.)

Basically, the things you really learn in college are the following:
– How to nap properly.
– How to take care of a lot of drunk people with limited resources. (Parents, if you love your kids, don’t put chocolate in those care packages; we need paper towels, trash cans, and Febreeze!!)
– How to write an 8-page paper in 4 hours, when you were given 4 weeks to do it.
– How to not get sick when your roommate does.
– How to hear the word “FREE” from across campus.

So that, in a nutshell, is my college experience so far. It’s only 300 years late, but hey, a girl’s gotta sleep, right? : )