Processing Your First Semester

Thanksgiving and the holidays can be exciting and busy: There's always that one last assignment and test to do before the break hits, before we get to spend time with family and friends. And yet I've always found time at this point in the semester—usually on the car, train, or plane ride home—to reflect upon everything that has happened since the first day of school. It wasn't until my first Thanksgiving break at college that l could catch my breath and begin to realize how much I had learned already—about college and myself.

A couple of things became clear for me while reflecting on that first fall on my way home. 

First, a syllabus isn’t just any handout. As a first-generation college student having come from an urban high school, I didn’t really know what a syllabus was for and was constantly surprised when my classmates not only seemed to be weirdly synchronized during class discussions but also could always divine when there’d be a test. Case in point, I showed up to my first midterm ever completely clueless that we had a test that day. 

Something else I learned was that, shockingly, I had to study—and I had to figure out when exactly I was going to get that done. You see, my first semester coincided with my wanting to read a lot of Anne Rice novels, and that really cut into my study time, which was especially hard because I had barely studied at all in high school. Having the freedom to organize my time completely on my own was great, but I only wanted to do the things I felt like doing and ignore those that weren’t compelling to me. 

Why am I talking about these experiences? At the dean’s office we see many students going through similar things as they transition to college. Part of our job is to assist you resolve these transition issues by helping you reflect on your experiences at Georgetown. Part of your job is to take time out, slow down, and think about how your life has changed—and will continue to change—as you move through the curriculum.

What did reflection do for me? It allowed me to understand myself, what I already knew or could do, and how that self-knowledge could help me succeed. Firstly, I realized that I had really good, solid academic behaviors. A syllabus is a big deal, but you know what? So is going to class, paying attention, taking notes, and doing the reading. That “stealth” midterm was a shock, but it didn’t destroy me. And I never ignored a syllabus again. You might be asking: “you did the reading? What happened to Anne Rice?” I noticed that my friends were doing their reading, which made me at least consider putting those novels aside. So there’s another lesson: surrounding yourself with good people who work hard—and have fun as well—is crucial to doing well and feeling good.

But that’s not enough. After all, friends have their own lives and own matters to attend to. What kept me going? I had to figure out for myself why I was supposed to do my school work beyond the obligation. What did Oedipus’ story have to do with mine? Not very much: except learning not to blind myself (figuratively, of course) to my own story and my own agency within it, which has been one of the most important and defining ways in which I view my life and the world. This lesson about not being blind to my own circumstance is what reflection during that first semester taught me about school, myself, and the relationship between the two. How will you reflect upon your experiences at Georgetown this semesters? What will you learn about your experience here? And how will it teach you about who you are and who you would like to become?

—Assistant Dean Javier Jiménez