One of the best tips I can give for college success is to take the time to experience people. Often we are so focused on having amazing experiences that usually have to do with activities, places, etc. Those things are great, but it’s also the people who can really make or break an experience. When you engage with other people, you learn things about them, but you also learn things about yourself. I believe this is especially important in college because you will experience frequent changes that will help you grow into the adult you’re meant to be.
College is the first time many people are on their own. It’s also the first time people are really held accountable for themselves and their actions. It’s where people meet and make new friends, try new things, and hopefully narrow down what it is they want to do for the rest of their lives. Experiencing different people along the way can have such an influence on these things.
I’m always the first person to say that I am not a people-person, and that is the God honest truth. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t try in college. I knew that if I wanted to make any friends or have people to talk to then I needed to put myself out there in ways I had never before considered. I usually don’t make the first move, especially when it concerns making friends, dating people, or hanging out, so I like to look for programs/events that will pair me with other people. Two programs at my college that were very helpful for me were the International Student Mentor Program, and the Educational Opportunity Program.
In college, I joined the International Student Mentor Program which paired me with – you guessed it – an international student. I saw it as an opportunity to not only help a new student acclimate to the US and college, but also as an opportunity to learn from that person. For one year, I spent time mentoring a very friendly female student from China, who knew how to ask for help when she needed it, as well as how to indicate when she wanted space. I think it was great for her to have someone to check-in with outside of the other international students, and it was great for me to interact with someone I might not have ever chosen to otherwise.
My most rewarding mentor experience came in the form of the Educational Opportunity Program’s (EOP) Peer Counselor job. Each Summer, EOP hosts a Summer Institute for incoming Freshmen in the program, and they select five students who have previously participated to be peer counselors. As a peer counselor, four other students and I were given a group of Freshmen to mentor. We went through training and taught them what to expect in college, and we worked with them for six weeks throughout the Summer to prepare themselves in the best ways they could.
It was a real challenge to be a mentor to a group of people. When you mentor one person at a time, you can focus on that person as much or as little as you want. The one-on-one interaction allows you to see the many different sides of a person and it seems to be easier to learn from that person. With a group of mentees, you have to work harder to pay equal amounts of attention to all, and you have to know when it’s the right time to give a little more or a little less attention to each person. For example, some people really struggle academically and they might need you to spend more time helping them write their papers than other students would. This was something that definitely happened a few times during my job as peer counselor.
The people I worked with in my peer counselor group, The Twerking Tigres (not spelled like tigers in English) really made the experience one worth remembering. I had to learn how to delegate, pay attention to others, manage a group, encourage and support other people, and make sure they were enjoying their experience. There were times when I had to resolve conflicts, be stern and firm, and provide examples of leadership. It was all really hard to do, but I think I had a great group of students who helped me navigate it all.
So what was it about the people I encountered that influenced my experience? Well, my group was actually very reserved in some ways, just like me. I had to learn to get them to speak up when we were all together, which of course became easier as they got more comfortable with each other. My group was soft and kind, which meant that I didn’t need to resolve internal conflicts, only external, and so we all kept the peace in our group. My group was also a bit unenthusiastic, for lack of a better word. There were times when they just did not want to do planned activities, and I had to learn to exert my authority without being mean or controlling. Overall, my group was easy to work with and that made the whole experience very pleasant.
I learned a lot from being a peer counselor because the students I worked with taught me many things. They had many different personalities, were knowledgeable in different ways, and presented me with challenges both socially and professionally. Most important though, to me, is that the experience was far more rewarding than I even knew at the time.
A few months after the program ended, my EOP advisor told me something that I will never forget. You see, during the Summer program I had a student who had some very serious, emotional issues in her family. One night I was helping her with her homework, and we started talking about her time in high school. She wanted to show me some pictures, and at one point I made a comment on something I had observed that actually caused her to open up to me. This girl was really having a hard time at home, and all she needed was someone to listen to her. Well, I listened. I allowed her to get out everything she wanted to say, to cry as much as she needed, and then to pick herself up and work through it. Little did I know that she told my EOP advisor how much it meant to her that I was there for her. Something like that really sticks with me, and it’s why I am still so happy to have been a peer counselor.
Things I Learned About Myself by Experiencing People
- I love to learn, but I don’t have the patience for teaching.
- I’m not too fond of managing other people.
- I’m likely to engage more in one-on-one situations than with large groups.
- I take life too seriously sometimes, and I don’t let myself relax enough to have fun.
- I don’t let myself get too close to people.
- I am a great listener when someone has a problem.
- I thrive with organization and routine, and get completely frustrated when people mess that up.
- I like giving advice to people.
- I like doing things that make me feel useful and seem like I make a little bit of a difference.
- I like influencing people to use their moral compasses and to stick to their values, even if it means not fitting in with others.
What about you? Leave a comment with your best people experiences or share what you have learned from other people.