Kelly Ann Gonzales graduated cum laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University in May 2014 where she studied Hotel and Restaurant Management with a minor in Legal Studies. She is currently a freelance writer, hospitality professional, and entrepreneur. She is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Alpha Female Society, Business Relations Manager for ConZerge, and a travel and food writer and contributor for the lifestyle guide Small Chick Big Deals. In her spare time, Kelly enjoys golfing, sailing, skiing, reading, and cuddling with her Labrador Retriever. You can follow Kelly on Twitter @BoBellerz and connect with her professionally on LinkedIn.
I first entered college four years ago, and I just graduated a few months ago. I still remember the day I moved into college, bright eyed and hopeful for all the adventures my time at university would take me on. Everyone older than me who graduated from college or were currently in college would constantly tell me about how “these were going to be the best four years of my life!” Of course, college would soon become the best four years of my life up until the point where I am now: graduated with honors and gainfully and happily employed.
What no one told me was that college was also going to be the worst four years of my life. There were so many nights where I just felt confused, out of place, and downright lonely. By time the time I turned twenty-one, as a senior in college, I was literally out every night during the week and the weekends. I would be out partying or with friends, just trying to have fun while still making ends meeting with cheap alcohol and other cheap thrills.
What seemed like legitimate entertainment at the time soon revealed itself as mere distraction. The only time I truly felt emotionally, spiritually, and mentally fulfilled was when I studied abroad. After I studied abroad my junior year, I felt completely disinterested in the mundane ins and outs of life in the United States. I preferred the people and the lifestyle I had while I was abroad. I just felt like people across the pond “got it”, that they understood how I felt and what I wanted.
Meanwhile, my American college friends and counterparts were so busy drowning themselves in distractions which my European friends had become accustomed to. In the U.S., I felt like I couldn’t go to a party without being expected to get drunk out of my mind in order to have fun. When I went out abroad, you were looked down upon if you couldn’t take care of yourself. Throwing up and being a complete embarrassment was not well-respected or seen as “cool” when you were surrounded my people who had been legally drinking since they were teenagers.
The biggest takeaway I took from my time abroad was that I learned how to have a higher standard for myself, for my friends, and for relationships. I didn’t want acquaintances that I would make small talk with at parties. I wanted real conversations and relationships which took time to mold and a certain amount of care to upkeep.
College will be full of ups and downs, as life always is, but just know that if you ever feel like you don’t belong or that no one understands you, there are people out there who do. You will find them and they will find you. It may not even be on your campus, and it may take days, months, even years until you find these strangers who become friends. It may be of a friend of a friend you meet one day at a coffee shop, or, like me, it could be 3,000 miles away with someone who speaks broken English but who you will learn valuable, universal life lessons from. I wish you all the best on the journeys you will take, both physically and mentally, and know that you will come out grateful for the opportunities and stronger from the struggles.