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? : )