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Wiegel: Life lessons of the college years, after all

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By Zach Weigel

zachary-weigel@uiowa.edu

It’s hard to believe that in two short days I’ll graduate from college. I vividly remember walking into Hillcrest Residence Hall for the first time astonished to learn that more than 800 people lived there. That’s more people than live in my entire hometown. Gulp.

Yet there are many more things I learned in my college years. As the Hillcrest experience highlights, a huge part of college is learning to live in a new environment. You have to learn street names and building locations. You have to memorize a new address. You have to learn where grocery stores are and which ones fit your budget. You have to find a place to get your haircut. You have to do laundry yourself. No mom there to guide you or do it for you.

Then once you move out of the dorms and into an apartment with some friends you met freshman year, you enter a whole new realm of learning how to live on your own. And chances are you’ll probably gain a greater appreciation for the dorms before long because although having an apartment can be great, there’s also a learning curve involved. You learn that living with roommates can be frustrating, even if you think you’ll all get along just fine. Some like it cleaner than others. Some will eat your food and then pretend like it never happened.

Another thing you learn living on your own is how to cook. You either get everything ready made from a restaurant or dining hall, or you take cooking into your own hands. And if you want to save money, you take cooking into your own hands, learning a lot along the way. You have to put together a grocery list, find the time to go to the store, prepare your food, and then deal with the dreaded dishes. Not quite as simple as walking downstairs and grabbing some food from the dining hall.  But hey, it’s all part of the learning process.

Moreover, apartment living brings you closer to the “real world,” and this means you lose some of the security you’re accustomed to. Despite what my small-town upbringing led me to believe and despite what relatively coddled life in a dorm teaches you, the world can be a tough place. The neighbors might “turn up” every day of the week, blasting music. It’s just something you got to learn to deal with. People also might steal your bike if you leave it outside, even if you lock it up, and people also might break into your apartment and steal your TV. Once again, frustrating as it is, these are just a few elements of the “growing up” part of college.

Because your college experience isn’t just about getting an education. Yes, it may be the primary focus of your four (or more) years, but academics are only a small part of what you learn in college. There are much larger, perhaps much more important things you learn during college. Some of the things you learn will toughen you up and rob you of your childish innocence. Still, others things you learn will open your eyes. And through it all, one thing is certain. Your college years are your formative years. They teach you things you never knew you had to learn and sometimes wish you didn’t have to learn. College does more than prepare you for getting a job. College prepares you for life.

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