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College Life

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

Ayusha Mahajan



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

5 Ways College Students Can Combat Depression and Anxiety Due to COVID-19

Conor Krouse



A young lady with long dark curly hair wearing a white T shirt with a design on it having stress and anxiety with her MAC computer.

Wear a mask, stay in your rooms, don’t go off campus, sanitize in every building, remain six feet apart; campus life is not like it has ever been before. COVID-19 has affected college life drastically. The thrill of moving in, meeting new friends in your hall, going out and having a good time, and adventuring across campus without fear of the unknown is no longer. Day by day, anxiety and depression are becoming even more prevalent across college campuses.

Below are a few ways to manage this stressful and purely exhausting time as a college student. Whether you’re at home taking online courses or on campus, there is always an outlet to ease your mind.

#1: Talk to friends, both virtually and socially-distant.

Socialization has become increasingly hard, especially on a college campus, where you arrive with the hopeful mindset of seeing new faces, making new connections, and doing new activities; to not have that is brutal.

However, in today’s society, with the help of FaceTime, Skype, video game chat rooms, and phone calls, there are so many ways to communicate. Not only that but what is the best way to connect with someone? Over a meal, of course. Go out and grab a meal with a friend or even an acquaintance that you hope to become closer to.

It’s easy to say you’re lonely, but it’s hard to not be. Make the extra effort, even if it is weird and unnatural, and make that phone call, or sit outside with someone.

#2: Find a new hobby.

This semester is odd for living standards for many colleges. It is with these changes, however, that every student has the opportunity for a new hobby. Going into this semester, I had no knowledge of who my suitemates were in my dorm building.

However, due to being stuck with each other constantly, we developed some new fun habits. Some of these include my suitemate teaching me to play guitar, as well as sharing our favorite TV shows and music tastes. With all of the private time we have been given, it has become easier than ever to find a new passion.

#3: Explore your home turf.

If you’re on a college campus, chances are you are close to, if not connected or within, what is known as a “college town.” Now is probably the best time to go and see what there is to do within these towns.

While most small businesses are closed and there are low numbers of people within the streets of towns or city centers, go and see what there is to offer. Even make a plan with some friends for the future! Of course, make sure you’re still doing everything at a distance.

#4: Exercise!

I’m sure many people have been hearing about this one a lot, but exercise has and will always be a key factor in personal health. There are hundreds of at-home workout regimens that you can find all across the internet.

Whether you’re aiming for weight loss, muscle toning, or just generally getting in shape, everything is accessible at the click of a button. It is not only good for your body; exercise helps with just about every piece of your psyche as well. The proper amount of physical activity aids sleep, stress, and general serotonin levels. So, get active, and give yourself some time for self-improvement.

#5: Document the Little Things.

Quarantine has made it extremely difficult to see the bright side of many situations. One factor that has led to my overall happiness is a bit of journaling. Oftentimes we don’t see the good within the current bad state of affairs of our lives.

By striving to find the good things and writing them down, even if it’s as simple and trivial as you drinking a glass of water, write down the positives of each and every day. The ability to look back and be happy with events not only allows you to stay in tune with your surroundings, but it is also a fantastic reminder that diamonds in the rough really do occur.

College life is a time of a complete change. And now, more than ever, feelings of social anxiety and loneliness have swept college campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tips listed above are simply the groundwork for ways to maintain yourself and a good attitude during the course of the COVID-19 semester. Of course, not all of these will help, and some are more distractions. But that’s fine, as it is just a start. Maintain good faith, keep spirits high, and, once again, wear a mask.

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College Life

5 Ways to Celebrate Birthdays Virtually

Nicholas Cordes



The COVID-19 pandemic has made it anything but easy to gather for special occasions, be it weddings, reunions, or even birthdays. In a year with so much tumult and confusion, birthdays can feel particularly significant. Unfortunately, to limit the spread of the virus, many families and individuals have had to forego their birthday celebrations entirely.

A little boy holding a red plate in his hand, while trying to blow out the candles on his cake, his dad is on the right, and a little dark curly haired girl with a dress is across is on the left.

However, there is always more than one way to do things, and the challenges and changes in 2020 have given everyone the opportunity to put their creative skills to good use. With the rise of video calls via Zoom and other platforms, families and friends have proven that there are still many ways to celebrate birthdays during the COVID-19 pandemic.

1).Virtual Surprise Party

Surprise parties have become a traditional way to celebrate birthdays by now, but the tradition doesn’t have to fade away with the loss of in-person parties. With Zoom, Skype, or Facetime serving as optimal replacements for real-life meetings, it’s all too easy to convince an unsuspecting friend to log on for a virtual surprise party.

Under the guise of a normal business call, anyone can join a meeting with the intent of working, only to find their expectations blown away as they celebrate their birthday in an original, safe way.

Three children looking at their grandfather online while celebrating a birthday virtually during COVID-19.

2). Joint Virtual Birthday Party

With so many events canceled or missed out on because of COVID-19, it might be difficult to catch up on all of the celebrations when it’s safe to do so. Many people who have anticipated their birthdays for weeks and months may feel disappointed or left out as the current environment discourages celebratory gatherings.

Fortunately, in a time where virtual gatherings are commonplace, celebrating multiple birthdays at once can be a fun, unique way to create a party for many people who might otherwise miss out on their special day, and it gives you the opportunity to experiment with all kinds of virtual celebrations during COVID-19.

A young man with short brown hair and a plaid shirt, and another young man with short black hair watch someone in a video, while celebrating birthdays virtually during COVID 19.

3). Birthday Care Package

As difficult as it is to gather in person during the times of COVID-19, there is no shortage of ways to communicate with friends and family, and mail is one of the most traditional ways to do so.

If you can’t be with your loved one on their special day, it can be incredibly thoughtful to send them a present or birthday care package for their at-home celebrations.

After they receive it, invite them to join you on a video call to open the package, if possible. It will be a special yet safe way for you to watch the surprise on their face as they open your gift.

A birthday care package containing multiple fashion magazines, a bag of persimmons, a package of coffee, a package of flaky sea salt, candy, tea, and pesto dip, and a big white piece of paper.

4). Recorded Message

One of the many losses of COVID-19 is face-to-face communication, and many people still experience this, even as others return to work and school. Being unable to meet in person, many people have gone months without hearing their loved ones’ voices.

Around your birthday, it can be especially hard to go without hearing your friends and family wish you well and sing the traditional song.

However, one way to show your love for a friend on their birthday might be through a recorded voice message, a quick and easy way to express your excitement.

The message can be as short or as long as you want, and it can be a very personal way to show your loved one you care on their special day, as well as giving them something to hold on to even after their birthday has passed.

A brunette girl sitting outside on the grass on her cellphone, wearing a dark green shirt, blue shorts, and dark shoes.

5). Birthday Parade

With the onset of COVID-19 and social-distancing laws, many people got creative with ways to safely visit their friends and family. One of the most popular is the socially-distanced parade, and there have been no shortage of these for birthday celebrations.

These parades can be as grand and creative as you like, with signs and decorations to adorn every car in the line-up. Just invite your loved one to step outside and cheer them on as you ride by. It can create an unforgettable birthday memory during a stressful and dark time.

A car decorated with food and birthday items with four people in the car, driving down the street.

So much was lost during the COVID-19 pandemic this past year, including countless memories and celebrations. However, there are always ways to show our love and support for friends and family, and we have every opportunity to express our creativity for the people in our lives who reach exciting milestones.

Now that everyone has access to Zoom, Skype, and Facetime, friends and family can still create amazing virtual birthday celebrations during COVID-19. With a little brainstorming and work, it’s easy to turn anyone’s birthday into a memory that they’ll never forget, even during a global pandemic.

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College Life

The New College Life: Reflecting on my Siblings’ Experience with Remote Learning

Ivonne Scaglione



Many screens depicting online learning, graduation, school, and learning

Students studying abroad during the outbreak of COVID-19 had a unique experience dealing with travel bans and new school regulations. My brother was studying abroad in Italy. Andrea, the youngest, was living in her dorm at NYU.

My other sister, Silvia, was working as a professor at a community college in New York City. Though we all live in separate homes in Westchester County, New York, we all share one major experience: living in the college remote learning environment since the outbreak of COVID-19. 

In March 2020, the college life they had always known changed unexpectedly. My siblings and I began to study online. But, their lives changed in a more drastic way than mine. I was used to remote learning; they were not.

I was used to the sedentary home life; they were used to the agitated, turbulent, and exciting life of studying and working in populous cities. My brother had to return from the city of Rome before the semester ended. Andrea left her dorm and her freedom on March 11, when most schools closed due to the pandemic. And, my sister Silvia, stopped commuting to New York City to teach Sociology.

Six months passed, and what they had known of their lives as college students was gone. “Studying in Rome was the greatest and scariest thing of my life,” Angel said. “In Italy, things were getting worse each day. I feel lucky.” Now, Angel gets up in the morning to attend classes in his room where his desk is. “It’s easier to get more distracted when you take online classes,” he said.

Andrea completed her secondary education in Westchester County and was very excited to experience college life at NYU. “I didn’t want to leave my dorm and my school, my friends, but I had to,” she said, disappointed. The college life she dreamed of, only lasted for about seven months before she had to go back home. 

Andrea’s bed at NYU’s dorm with several pillows on top of a striped blanket and pillow sheet set. She spends most of her time here due to remote learning.
Source: Ivonne Scaglione

Angel and Andrea are among the many college students who began studying remotely since March. “Only one of my seven closest friends will be attending classes on campus,” Andrea said. Universities in the city of New York are giving students the option to either study in person or remotely.

The NYU Office of Admission indicated that most of the school’s current college students take at least one class online. It seems clear, as we look at the people around us, that the world of remote learning has expanded. 

Besides students having to adapt to their new learning environment, professors, like Silvia, are also adapting to their new work-life conditions. Many professors like her had no previous experience teaching online.

“Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to keep students engaged,” said Silvia.

She attended virtual trainings by Columbia University that focused on teaching classes online to college students. “It’s important to establish a community in an online classroom,” said Silvia. Building a community is making the class friendly where students feel free to share their thoughts.

The goal of teaching remotely while building a community is for students to feel comfortable enough to reflect on the topics discussed in class freely. “I want to make time and space for them to share their thoughts,” said Silvia determinedly.  Since there is less human interaction with remote learning, it is necessary to build a virtual community to keep that sense of human connection. 

The community college where Silvia teaches offers both classes in person and online; however, her department, Sociology, will be offering only remote learning. “About 83 percent of students in this community college will be studying online this semester,” said Silvia. Counselors and writing centers are seeing students online only and the library is open by appointments only. 

The environment of college life before the pandemic has clearly changed. Yet, in a positive note, Silvia noticed that learning remotely brings flexibility for low-income families. She mentioned that one of her students is a new mother who sometimes asks to shut off her camera to breastfeed her baby.

If there weren’t new opportunities to learn online, there would be less flexibility for her to continue her education. Unfortunately, there are disadvantages to remote learning in low-income families too. Lacking a private space to study and WIFI connectivity are among these disadvantages.

“Some of my students have to go inside cars to find a private and quiet place to learn,” said Silvia. 

Recently, Andrea went back to NYU to visit a friend. She realized how much NYU had changed since she left it in March. “There was a COVID Testing Center,” she said surprised. The noisy, vigorous Starbucks was empty.

There are no seating commodities anymore. Students are prohibited to visit another student’s dorm, and as expected, students are mandated to wear masks. She misses the late nights talking with friends, tasting the freedom of college life.

NYU COVID Testing Center - beautiful brown building with man windows overlooking a quiet courtyard with several people walking by
Source: Ivonne Scaglione

As opposed to the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, this pandemic came in a good time for education access. The US Department of Education found that 89 percent of all households in the United States have internet access.

About 6.9 million students were taking classes in the Fall semester of 2018. This fall, about 19.7 million students are attending colleges and universities nationwide. We can assume that at least 50 percent of these students are attending classes online. 

 “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change,” Biologist Charles Darwin said about his theory on the Survival of the Fittest. As college students pursue their careers online or on campus, they also adapt to be part of a safer future.

Before this time, humanity showed its great resilience to survive wars. Now, college students are fighting a battle against invisible infectious agents. This proves that this generation is tough. This generation fights disease through adaptation. It fights to prevail. It fights for existence. 

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