As soon as I graduated from high school, I shipped off to Basic Training in Ft. Jackson, S.C. I enlisted in the Army National Guard when I was 17 and saw it as an opportunity to challenge myself and continue my grandfather’s legacy of service. I was challenged physically, emotionally and intellectually for six months.
Right after I finished training, I went on to Oregon State University — home of the Beavers, though I’ve still never seen one. College was filled with adventures and great memories as well as trying times. I hope that these tips and experiences help prepare you for what’s ahead. The book that held the most importance when getting through it all was Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” If you haven’t read it yet, it’s a good read for all ages and has made me resilient and futuristic as I hope some of this advice does for you.
What You May Face in College:
1. Losing your mind.
During my first full year away from the sunshine of beautiful Hawaii, I experienced seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s a type of depression that is related to changes in the seasons. This is definitely relevant for Asian Americans coming from sunny states or Pacific Islanders who aren’t used to the lack in Vitamin D (sunshine) that affects serotonin levels. Many people think of it as the “winter blues.” For me, it meant lying on the floor face down for a day at a time not knowing why I was so depressed. After looking more into it and talking to my school’s health center, I rented my first Happy Light. Light therapy is one of the remedies that worked best for me.
Mental health is critical for your success in school and in life, so don’t avoid facing the issue. To prepare for this and other problems that might arise, remember to exercise regularly, get checkups every six months (something that’s difficult for college students), “sleep your way to the top” — Arianna Huffington’s way of reminding us that sleep is important to our success — and have a balanced diet.
2. A slap in the face.
You’re an adult now, and adults face intimate and scary realities. I hope no one faces physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, but realistically, we need to be prepared for ourselves and our friends during this time of transition. According to the Asian and Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, “Approximately 1 in 4 women in the United States report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend in some point of their lives.” The statistic for Asian women is almost double that, falling between 21 percent-55 percent. The API Domestic Violence Resource Project defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behaviors used to gain power and control over a dating partner, spouse or relative. It is not an isolated incident and can include verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, economic or physical forms of abuse such as: threats, slapping, choking, name calling, insulting, rape, blaming the survivor for abuse or controlling money.”
Be prepared to witness this in your college career, and be even more prepared to take action against it. Identify domestic violence and immediately seek professional help or recommend it to the person in need. There are a number of local and national resources for you to tap into depending on your comfort level.
3. Choosing between eating and paying your electricity bill.
Getting a grip on finances is going to be a major “make or break” for you in school. Get help early and seek out reputable resources (I recommend Mint.com). Financial planning should be a part of your daily routine.
NBC News released an article in 2014 titled “Data Shows Duality of Asian America: High Income, High Poverty.” Many students fail to finish school for financial reasons, including AAPIs. Because I chose to go to a private high school, my parents weren’t able to contribute to my college fund. I sometimes worked three to four jobs at a time and was fortunate to always have enough. Finances were a major stress point for me in school. Don’t let money hold you back, and don’t dig yourself into a rut — your credit score should be your friend, not your foe.
Finally, know what kind of loans you’re taking out, and if you do need financial support outside of FAFSA and scholarships, talk to your credit union and ask for advice and loan rates.
Advice I’d Tell My Little Sister:
1. Be comfortable, but know your boundaries.
Get outdoors! Meet new people! Live! You are four years away from potentially working a full-time job until you’re 65, so have no regrets on how you spend your time now. BUT, and you must have known this was coming, know when to say NO. Do things based on your values and not on the values of others. Some choices in life are irreversible (drunk driving, use of narcotics, criminal behavior, etc). Demonstrating your character in college will prepare you for more difficult choices in life.
2. Figure out how to make a difference.
Most people immediately think of volunteering, for me, it was leadership. Being a senator for the university, serving on the board of local nonprofits and representing the school as a part of the Student Foundation not only gave me great speaking points for job interviews, but also a community of like-minded people, the opportunity to make change and learn critical professional skills.
One of my proudest days at Oregon State University was when my resolution calling for the review of a contract with the Department of Defense prompted the administration to ensure that over 119 military students at OSU received Federal Tuition Assistance, which amounted to $535,500 annually in aid. Don’t doubt that you can make change at any level, and don’t forget that service is rewarding.
3. See the world . . . or at least the rest of the continental USA.
During my last year of school, I traveled to a new state every month for conferences, workshops and meetings. Most all of it was paid for by grants from my school, organizations and my workplace. Because of my involvement with Girl Scouts, I was chosen to represent Oregon and S.W. Washington at the Girls World Forum in Chicago. The week was filled with intense and fun work with 500 young women from over 80 countries. In 2013, I was selected to represent the United States at the annual sustainability summit in Adelboden, Switzerland, with 34 young women from 26 countries. Both trips were 100 percent paid for by grants.
Take advantage of the resources available to you. Additional education beyond four doors shows your commitment to learning and prepares you for life after college. Gain some career capital, learn another language and have fun.
If there is one book I’d recommend to college students and young professionals, it’d have to be “The Defining Decade: Why Your TwentiesMatter — and How to Make the Most of Them Now.” Dr. Meg Jay gives insightful guidance on work, love and health. If you don’t have time to read the book, at least watch her TED Talk.
CONGRATULATIONS to the class of 2015, and best of luck to you.
Rhianna Taniguchi is an account executive at the Denver Post. She was the 2014 JACL Norman Y. Mineta Fellow.