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Before you even get to college, it is important to think about what kind of experience you’d like to have. As a college student, you will have the opportunity to tailor your experience to whatever you want it to be. College is like a buffet restaurant; everything you could possibly want is laid out in front of you for you to choose, but it’s up to you to decide what your meal will look like. Out of the millions of things to choose from, you’re only going to be able to do a fraction of them. This is why it is important to plan ahead about what you want your experience to look like.

The college experience is made up of many different parts, and as a student, it is up to you to figure out which of those parts you want to include in your experience and to what extent (e.g., either a little or a lot). When making these decisions, it is important to remember that every choice comes with tradeoffs. Some decisions are exclusionary – picking one may automatically exclude you from picking another. When I arrived at college, I already had an idea of what I wanted from my college experience.

Coming to Yale, I knew that academics were going to be important, but even in high school, I never let one aspect of school consume my life. Academics would be a big part of my college experience, but they would most definitely not be the entire experience. In my understanding, college is more than just tests and grades – it’s about growing up, having long talks at night with friends, and learning important lessons outside of the classroom or seminar room.

Taking Time to Stop and Think

Perhaps the best part of college is the freedom and flexibility. If you have time to think about what you want from your college experience – great. If you don’t, don’t worry about it too much; you’ll have plenty of time in the weeks and days leading up to orientation.

As time goes on, college will change. Your friends will change, your views will change – a lot of things will change just in the first year. In fact, don’t be surprised if you’re a completely different person by the time sophomore year comes around. After all, self exploration is a central part of the college experience

As your values, views, and friends change, it’s important to stop and think. Every month or two, just take some time to reflect. First and foremost, think about where you find yourself. Ask yourself, “Am I happy with my friends? Do I enjoy the activities I participate in? Are there other things I want to try before graduating college?” These are serious questions, and if there are new things you’d like to try, things you’d like to leave behind, or friends that you feel are not as great as you initially thought – change.

Your college years are meant to be dynamic – a wonderful mix of highs and lows, joy and sadness. But at the end of the day, what matters most is that you used this time to grow as a person.

Some Things on the “Buffet”

College is an abundance of choice, and many first-time college students may feel overwhelmed by the newfound freedom of choice. Of the many things you can do to customize your college experience, two stand out in particular. The first is joining Greek life, and the second is studying abroad. For me, the decision to take part in these two aspects of the college experience has been not only interesting but also quite the journey.

I knew I wanted to study abroad even before starting college. I did not know when, but I knew most people studied abroad during either spring of sophomore year or part or all of junior year. But a few weeks into freshman year, I was already thinking that I’d never want to leave, despite my initial enthusiasm for going abroad.

Studying abroad during the term is a big undertaking. It means leaving behind everything that’s familiar – your friends, family and comfort zone &ndash and coming to terms with the fact that the lives of everyone you leave behind will continue on without you. At Yale, the idea of missing out is what scares most people and keeps them from studying abroad. At first, this is what held me back, but then I realized a few things.

First, I realized that I would never have a better time to study abroad than at college. I also realized that I was only growing older, and the chances of doing something like this would only decrease with time. Second, my friends would be my friends no matter our distance. If our relationships were as strong as I believed, then we’d be close no matter how much time and distance passed between us. Third, I still wanted to study abroad. I wanted to jump on a plane and go to a foreign country, where I would immerse myself in the culture in order to learn about a part of the world that I knew little to nothing about.

Reflecting on these issues was really important in helping me come to a decision. Now, that’s exactly why I plan to study abroad my junior year.

As for Greek life – this one may be a bit more surprising, especially if you were to take one look at me, as I’m probably the least fratboy-ish guy out there – my decision to join was equally interesting.

La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc. (LUL) is a small cultural fraternity at Yale. During freshman year, I was intrigued by the idea of a joining a brotherhood, but since I was still in the process of adjusting to college, I did not give much thought to pledging.

When sophomore year came around and I was a little more settled, I considered this possibility more seriously. During fall semester, the fraternity held several interest meetings where we had the opportunity to ask questions and speak to the hermanos, or brothers in Spanish, about the fraternity and their involvement in it. This is what sealed the deal for me; I knew then that I wanted to become a part of this professional organization.

Fall of sophomore year was important for another reason too. I decided to come out the summer before. For those of you who don’t know, Yale is nicknamed the “Gay Ivy.” Honestly, I knew nothing about that aspect of the university’s culture, and coming out made me want to define that nickname for myself. However, during this time, my priorities got a bit shuffled, and my academics subsided into the background. Looking back, I don’t regret it, as it was an essential part of my college experience for both my academic and my personal growth. But I knew I couldn’t continue putting my education on the back burner. A semester of fun and exploration was more than enough.

I knew I needed to find something to keep me grounded, and this is where LUL came in. The primary focus of LUL is academic success. We focus on giving our members the tools necessary to succeed in institutions of higher education. When I learned that this fraternity was unlike any other I’d ever come across, I knew I wanted in.

I pledged and became a brother a few weeks before this post was published, and already, I’ve become a part of such an amazing community of men and brothers who I know are always there for one another.

Greek life, depending on your campus, can be very different, but the essence of it remains the same. Joining a Greek organization means adding a different kind of food to your tray in the “College Experience Cafeteria.” I decided this is what I wanted for me, and so I made it happen this semester.

College is such a transformative period. The transformations that take place can come from a wide array of experiences, or “foods” as I call them. As you progress through college, it’s important that you constantly ask yourself if the food on your tray is what you really want. For me, the two newly added items are LUL and studying abroad. Though their addition inevitably meant dropping a few other items, it was something that I wanted to do, and now I can’t wait to see how they shape the rest of my time at Yale. Remember, college is only a snippet of time in the grand scheme of things, so it’s important to make the most of it, not just in a few instances, but for as much and for as long as we possibly can. It’s why reflecting often is important.