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College Life

4 Complex Words That Perfectly Describe the College Experiences No One Talks About



A young woman with short brown hair wearing all white in a college library with a book on her head with the pages turned.

A typical college student experiences a wide range of emotions, dilemmas, and internal fluctuations. Four specific words paint the nuances found within the mosaic that is college life – neologisms representing landmarks in the distinguished path of every college student.

A whopping 600 million students are projected to be enrolled in college by 2040, as the demand for higher education rises. Millions of students hop into this phase with the promise of academic and experiential enlightenment. They collect what they need from a buffet of real-world samples like a museum of tough love, out of which they emerge older and relatively wiser.

These unique experiences are so universal that John Koenig, the creator of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, has perfectly captured their various nuances on his website and YouTube channel. His observations take the form of self-coined neologisms, each word having its own poetic definition.

Some of these words are borrowed from other languages, while others are their own epistemological projects. And all of them can deeply resonate with at least one adolescent learning the ways of the world.


n. a moment that seemed innocuous at the time but ended up marking a diversion into a strange new era of your life—set in motion not by a series of jolting epiphanies but by tiny imperceptible differences between one ordinary day and the next, until entire years of your memory can be compressed into a handful of indelible images—which prevents you from rewinding the past, but allows you to move forward without endless buffering.

Seamlessly and subtly, like the veins on a leaf, this neologism has to do with the shapeless mass out of which life carves itself for us.

“I think one of the most stand-out lessons I learned at university was the fact that I have the ability to wander. I had sort of a unique experience in that I was not actually at my home uni [in Southern California] the first term, and I had to pack up and leave so quickly the second term because of COVID. I think I learned that I have the spirit of adaptability in my life, and that’s not something I would have learned very easily about myself if I hadn’t been in that environment,” said Aastha Jani, a sophomore at the University of Southern California

Even without a pandemic to hastily awaken the practical decision-makers in us, college is often scattered with tiny explosions of unprecedented circumstance. Meanwhile, each one of them brings us closer to the idea of adulthood we have always had. Often, these explosions play out over the course of months – possibly years – before we can piece them together and play them out like a film reel.

A light brown blurry background with a dark brown film reel tangled on the ground.

Making and losing friends, transferring to another institution, changing our majors; we measure our reactions to such magnified hairpin turns in our carefully-constructed lives or career paths, and our winded selves look back at younger, more ingénue-like versions of ourselves.

These thoughts accumulate to make us realize that we were not in fact marching to meet the functioning adult we’ve always pictured ourselves to be. Rather, that version has been passing us by every time we’ve had to struggle. Eventually, the mature version of ourselves would introduce themselves as a whole, after we realized that we already, in fact, recognized them.

There was never a set appointment to meet the graduating adult – the graduating adult had already shaken our hand countless times. Innocuous moments, as John Koenig puts them, are what distinguish our lives from others’ the most.


n. the kind of unnoticed excellence that carries on around you every day, unremarkably—the hidden talents of friends and coworkers, the fleeting solos of subway buskers, the slapdash eloquence of anonymous users, the unseen portfolios of aspiring artists—which would be renowned as masterpieces if only they’d been appraised by the cartel of popular taste, who assume that brilliance is a rare and precious quality, accidentally overlooking buried jewels that may not be flawless but are still somehow perfect.

John Koenig uses this neologism to introduce a feeling of awareness that has more to do with those around us.

“I saw how academic everyone was and was intimidated by how focused they were and how much they kept to themselves – and realized the school is full of brilliant people. I just wish I could navigate uni better and feel like I belong there,” said a second-year student from the University of Waterloo. 

College students are often met ad nauseam with brilliance, talent, and passion within their campus. What happens when we realize we’re not the only four-leaved clover in the grass, or that we’re one of a million Christmas trees?

Downward social comparison is a coping mechanism that helps one put their competence in perspective. By knowing that there will always be those better and worse than themselves, tackling their sense of self-competence is achievable.

A group of boys, all with dark hair, are sitting on the brown and white couches interacting with each other with a backpack on the table in a house with brick walls.

College is one of the first places where students come to terms with the reality that there is no such thing as a level playing field, and that something as arbitrary and vague as luck does not have equal weight to the hard work, talent, and skill that it takes to get noticed.

We keep this information in a glass jar at the topmost shelf of our consciousness, every instance of the brilliance displayed before us reminding us of the looming truth.


n. the feeling that no matter what you do is always somehow wrong—that any attempt to make your way comfortably through the world will only end up crossing some invisible taboo—as if there’s some obvious way forward that everybody else can see but you, each of them leaning back in their chair and calling out helpfully, “colder, colder, colder…”

John Koenig’s neologism “pâro” beautifully explains how we tend to look left and right before taking each step forward; we move cautiously, worried that we may be prosecuted for neglecting some unexpected challenge that has failed to enter our peripheries.

Students often experience this neologism through comparison. Most assume that a lack of proficiency in something their peers seem to have natural control over inevitably equates to overall incompetence. We feel that we must copy their means to the finish line, and if we cannot accomplish this, we are doomed to a life of playing catch-up.

The prospect of spending our whole lives doing so and knowing we will always be in debt for the things we are inept at appears rather bleak. However, we often end up realizing that everyone is equipped with different tools to mine through these few years. Swastik Pal, a college student in his second year, gave fellow students advice.

“You are allowed to feel overwhelmed. It’s natural to feel like you don’t get anything in the first couple of months of college. Believe me, no one does; you think they do, but trust me, they are as clueless as you are.”

We look at those ahead of us and assume they know the secrets to winning this race. But we fail to consider that they may be laps behind. We conveniently ignore the idea that they may be figuring the track out just as much as we are. Time spent familiarizing ourselves with our own tools would put us at a higher advantage than wondering why our mattock tool does not shoot bullets.


n. the insomnia-borne jolt of awareness that you will die, that these passing years aren’t just scenes from a dress rehearsal, rounds of an ongoing game or chapters in a story you’ll be telling later, but are footprints being lapped by the steadily gathering tide of an unfathomable abyss, which still wouldn’t wash out the aftertaste of all those baskets of Buffalo wings you devoured just before bedtime.

“I think the thing that really stands out to me about my university experience, I think a result of my depression, is that I look at my life from an outside perspective, and have this sudden feeling of ‘Woah, this life is mine – it’s not just an abstract dream or a thought experiment.’ Suddenly you’re just reminded of where you are, and you’re pushed out of this nice little dream world, and you fall down into reality,” said Ethan Stephanson, a second-year student at the University of British Columbia. 

While John Koenig’s neologism focuses more on the inevitability of death, Stephanson’s experience pertains specifically to consciousness. “It’s kind of like I’ve been watching my life play out, and then suddenly I’m pushed into the driver’s seat,” said Stephanson.

A brunette woman with a ponytail wearing all black, stands outside of her home covering her eyes with all of her fingers from both of her hands in a glass type of area.

Like an amateur musician pushed into the improv jazz performance to which they were originally an audience member, adolescents are faced with major life decisions before the opportunity to get a better look at society’s cogs and gears present themselves.

We get conflicting advice from reliable sources: “Follow your passions, but don’t forget to play it safe.” Some encourage exploration, while others condemn giving into the romanticized notion of meritocracy. All the while, we must keep in mind that an absence of do-overs means our mistakes will attach themselves to our self-perception.

Navigating college can be challenging enough without the radioactivity of mental illness corrupting the compass in our hands.

Depression levels increased by 18 percent between 2007 and 2018, while anxiety levels increased by 16 percent between 2013 and 2018. The 39 largest schools in the U.S. cannot keep up with the rise in help sought for mental health issues, which has increased by 30 percent since 2014.

Mental health continues to be an issue of importance within the most recent generations, as we generate increasingly creative coping mechanisms.

The realization that there is no copilot to this aircraft, and that the responsibility to keep it airborne is up to us, can be overwhelming. However, with the stigma of mental illness dissipating with time, seeking help has become more acceptable.

While this development is merely a drop in the bucket, it has become more apparent that a social support system is crucial to a healthy mind – to have someone hold your hand even if they cannot operate your designated vehicle for you.

With the amount of time, money, and energy that goes into being a college student, certain experiences are almost inevitable. John Koenig’s poetic neologisms can be used to describe these experiences in a way that provides them justice.

Matters of development and maturity, insecurity, identity, and mental capacity present themselves to every college student, some cropping up unexpectedly. While these years can make our lives seem like they may be on the precipice of annihilation, the museum of tough love gives back just as much as it takes.

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College Life

How People are Connecting Online During COVID-19



4 people connected online through their phones.

Connectivity has become more important than ever in our ever-changing society. Amid the many horrors of this year, many people are finding social interaction to be crucial to their daily life, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has complicated that. As a result, friends and strangers alike have gotten creative with how they connect with each other online.

Friends and family have certainly had no problem staying in touch. Between texting and apps like Snapchat, it’s no trouble for individuals to keep in touch with their loved ones. Even a traditional phone call and the popular Zoom have allowed for friends and family to see each other when catching up, creating an experience as close to in-person as it can be right now.

The real trick this year has been meeting new people. While this might only be a problem for some, many people, especially college students, have struggled to make new friends amid social distancing guidelines. It has given many the chance to try out independence, but the loss of social interaction can be upsetting for some, and even unhealthy for others.

A person connected online using an iPad.

Humans are very social beings, and to lose that aspect of our day-to-day lives can be detrimental to our mental health. However, there are still several opportunities every day to meet new people as a part of various communities, and those relationships have all the potential of any real-life friendship.

This summer, with the increase in stories being shared by members of marginalized communities in accordance with the Black Lives Matter movement, thousands of people discovered these shared experiences through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The interconnectivity this created granted many their first opportunity to see the world from another perspective.

Minority communities from every corner of the world came together this summer in response to police brutality and other social injustices. Twitter in particular offered many an outlet to give live updates on protests, activism, and individual stories. This helped to create awareness everywhere, and even celebrities joined the mix to connect with protestors and minority communities demanding justice

One of the most astounding examples of the power of these connections has come through the enduring relationships founded on social media websites. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, online connections between individuals were not uncommon, especially among young people who were adept at developing relationships through the Internet. However, with recent events limiting our access and opportunities, others have had to get creative with how they interact, spiraling into a mass connection of individuals all over the world..

Once, these friendships might have been concerning, even unhealthy. Social interaction is meant to be a personal, and emotional dependency on another person and does not always thrive via text, email, tweets, or any other form of online communication. However, many people have no choice now but to cultivate these relationships online. Whether it be for their own health or the health of others, an online connection is one of the few safe ways we have to maintain social interaction.

A close up of Twitter with the blue bird avatar and their motto of

This, of course, raises many concerns regarding universal access to the Internet. Within the last decade alone, the Internet has become such a vital part of our everyday lives, and many people, especially students, might find it difficult to navigate their daily lives without it. In a world that now relies almost entirely on the Internet, there are obvious feelings of distress when it comes to how some people will stay connected.

As we continue to adapt to a post-COVID world, this is only one of many issues that will need to be addressed. Beyond safety, public health, access to resources, and more, we are seeing a build-up of social issues that will need correcting, in addition to the ongoing threats of police brutality and institutionalized racism. Already, there have been responses to this as protestors demand change in major cities globally. Their fight is ongoing, and they have made note to recognize the plight of people battling the COVID-19 pandemic and these other social injustices.

There has always been a feeling of distrust toward the Internet. It comes with so many unknowns, especially as data revealed in recent years has proven that our information is not as secure as we once thought it was. However, it has given us access to a surplus of information, educating countless people on topics that they do not experience themselves.

The social connections formed online has allowed individuals to share their stories, serving only to deepen others’ understanding of the world. In the coming years, it is likely we will continue to see this reliance on social media and the Internet rise, and, if the day ever comes where we can safely interact in person again, we will have been bettered by the connections that began behind a screen.

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College Life

Hallowed Be Thy Counsel: 7 Simple Ways to Improve Your Mental Health Amid Pandemic



A college student taking an online course on zoom

Zoom has taken the forefront in the past several months as tens of thousands of college students across the U.S. have had to finish the fall semester completely online. Other campuses have limited in-person contact on campus in order to best suit COVID-19 guidelines and effectively keep students safe. Even then, certain classes are online or in a hybrid format whether it’s due to teacher preferences, classroom size, and such. As a result, there are many students that are still at home, waiting for the go-ahead to return to campus. This also means that many students do not have access to on-campus counseling services or other means of support.

One of the major things that college students need for a variety of purposes is counseling. Like in many situations, some may need it often or some may barely need it at all for both kinds of people and all those in between, it does not change the fact that it is essential. People go into counseling with a certain expectation and intend to have results by the time they are finished. 

Some colleges may not offer full-fledged counseling due to the number of students or certain behavior that would lead them to direct students to off-campus services in the long run. With students at home, such services are now relayed through systems like Zoom, and students who prefer person-to-person interaction are now taking a hit while to others, it may just feel the same or functional enough to get the point across as needed. 

Students who have a therapist know very well that therapy is a monetized industry just like all the rest and the internet will not spare you because there are plenty of sites that have the intention of helping student groups through a paywall. In a time like this, it’s even more understandable why there would be more costs attached to counseling. This is besides the fact that counseling is a business as many fields of work have taken a slump during the pandemic and people are, therefore, itching for a method to make money. That does not mean you should avoid finding counseling off-campus, just simply walk in with the mindset that it may not be free like it is on-campus. 

While interacting with others may be more difficult now, there are simple ways to improve your mental health amid the pandemic. 

Write down the things that you believe are problems 

If something feels funny or off about the particular one you?re writing on that list, it probably is not as much of an issue as you make it seem. If you?re on the more artistic side of things, you may want to consider drawing your problems. With how interpretive the world of art is, decide how you would communicate to others what you?re facing. If this all sounds silly, there?s a strong chance that you are simply roadblocking yourself with problems you think you have but actually do not. 

Establish a plan 

Organize your academic schedule and incorporate times when you will seek counseling into that schedule. Walk into the situation with even the most minimal of interests assembled. If you?re undecided on a major, think about the things that made you put so much money into backing your education in the first place. 

Remind yourself of the importance of support

Many students crack under pressure in college. It was never meant to be easy and people who make it seem easy are probably not even achieving the best they truly can. There will always be exceptions, but you need to assess where you are on the scale for your school?s students. It takes some people longer than others to realize that college is simply not for them and that?s just fine. We all deal with different circumstances and one bad month could mean two good ones afterward, but you?d have to stick around to find out. 

Do what you actually care about

It’s not particularly difficult to find out when people have artificial connections to certain things or concepts rather than genuine ones. It can be argued that people can cope with certain problems with things of their interest and if this has not worked for you before, you ought to take a deeper dive into it and establish an array of things you care about or enjoy to do that can prove to be therapeutic. 

Spend time with friends 

You have friends for a reason and friends that you engage the most frequently with should be open to discussing issues that you are facing. You may do it already or even do it subconsciously. Having a support system in your friend group can save your time in searching for another place to talk through issues. 

Try to limit your social media use

Some people think that social media makes them a better person. Some people think that they were created for social media as it is. And some people are continuously putting themselves in harm?s way and shaking off hate responses. You truly can be putting yourself in an unnecessary position with extra screen time or extensive non-essential engagement. When it comes to opinionated issues, surrounding yourself with similar opinions or ideas can help increase your feeling of belonging. Don?t let strangers bother you more than those with whom you share a relationship. There are plenty of people strategically placed across the internet to get on your nerves and you simply should not let them gain satisfaction from doing so.

Go outside for fresh air

Besides the fact that Vitamin D levels affect your mood amongst other things, schooling from home gives you another excuse to be outside to shake up your day. Therefore, you should take up that opportunity whenever possible. It can be an appropriate way to escape your work and even give you ideas you probably would not be able to get otherwise that day. 

In crisis, you must make the best of the means available to you. Simple habits can make a big difference in your life and help you improve your mental health amid the pandemic. Also, if you find value in counseling, perhaps that Zoom meeting is precisely what you require and it would be better than having no support at all.

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College Life

5 Ways to Thrive During Your Sophomore Year of College



Three college students in their sophomore year posing for a pic

Freshman year has come and gone. Maybe you’ve found a niche in your college’s social spheres. Maybe you’ve spent the last year discovering yourself and putting academics on the backburner. And that’s great — but sophomore year changes things. Many colleges require students to declare their major during sophomore year, and that’s usually when things change from carefree to serious. To help with the next step of your college experience, here’s a list of five helpful things every college sophomore should do during this college year.

1. Get In Contact with Potential Major Advisors

Considering how important your major will be throughout the rest of your tenure at college, getting to know the members of whatever department you’re thinking about majoring in is a great place to start. Having a good advisor is a huge help in college, as their another resource to draw on, whether the issue is debating the merits of a certain class or balancing your transcript.

Additionally, many students form a close bond with their advisors which can survive even beyond your time as a student. Getting to know the people who you might want to ask to be your advisor is a great place to start before making the decision. And don’t worry about it if you don’t end up liking whoever you select — most colleges allow you to change your advisor if you feel like you two aren’t a perfect fit.

2. Learn About Your College’s Career Services Center

Many colleges offer some variation on a career services department whose whole job is to help students find jobs, build resumes, and prepare for entering the working world upon graduation. While many freshmen neglect these services, sophomore year is a great time to begin using this incredible resource you have access to.

Even if you have no idea what kind of job you’d be interested in having, your career services center can help you learn what kind of opportunities are available in any given field or for your major after graduation and help you form a plan to achieve whatever goals you’re aiming for. Whether you have no idea where to start or have a twelve-point plan ready to go, Career Services is an underutilized resource that any sophomore should absolutely take advantage of.

3. Begin Looking Into Internships & Jobs

Building off the prior tip, sophomore year is a great time to begin finding internships and jobs to fill in your resume. While it may seem like you’ve still got plenty of time to begin getting work experience, as you continue forward in your college career the demands classes put on you are only going to get steeper, meaning the earlier you start the easier time you’ll have balancing your schedule later on.

Additionally, many potential employers will look at your resume to see how you spent your time in college and any experience you gain will be a definite benefit. Internships also provide a foot in the door and, fairly often, an offer of full-time employment. Regardless, work experience is great to have and sophomore year is a great time to start getting it.

4. Take Classes Outside of Your Normal Range

Maybe you spent freshman year taking whatever classes looked interesting, or steadily hitting requirements for graduation, or a mishmash of the two. Regardless, sophomore year is a great time to put yourself out there and take courses that you normally never would.

A big part of what makes college such a wonderful experience is the ability to broaden your horizons and meet new and interesting people. That extends to classes.

Taking, say, an intro dance course, or a history of African folklore, or an examination of feminist inquiry is a fantastic way to gain a new perspective on the world and, quite possibly, discover a new passion.

5. Attend Networking Events

With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full effect, this has become a bit harder, but networking is still an essential skill to learn and sophomore year is a great time to start. Many colleges host events specifically for students to put out feelers into the professional world, like Skidmore College’s Career Jam, which “brings parents, alumni, and students together for conversation around a topic on every student’s mind: careers” according to their official website. Even with the coronavirus, many schools are still offering these events virtually. They’re a great way to network with other students and alums, or simply get a better idea of what the professional world looks like and what you might want your place in it to be.

Sophomore year is a huge benchmark in your college experience, where you really start laying the groundwork for the rest of your time at college and even beyond, including entering the working world. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s harder and harder to plan for a future that’s so uncertain. Hopefully, these tips will help you put your best foot forward as you continue onward into the next stage of your life as a college student.

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