The ‘Junior-Year Dilemma’

I’m not sure if there is a name for what I’m feeling, but for now, I’ll call it my “Junior-Year Dilemma.” Halfway through my college career, I feel stuck in the limbo between being a freshman in college and being a freshman in “the real world.”

Although I’ve spent the last two years getting cozy with my “University lifestyle,” I felt an underlying sadness when I arrived on campus last week.

I couldn’t help envying the newly admitted freshmen eager to make new friends, gain new perspectives and experience all the “firsts” that freshman year has to offer.

The first week of classes only intensified this feeling for me. As I looked around, I couldn’t help but smile at the students with the shiny new MacBook Pros and iCards hanging on lanyards around their necks, many still adorning their high school spirit wear.

I remember the mix of excitement and anxiety I felt as my mom pulled away from my own dorm two years ago (R.I.P. Garner Hall), my last source of comfort before I was forced to tackle the year on my own. Other memories stand out as well. Feb. 13, 2012, was the night my roommate and I made hand-made paper valentines and slipped them under doors while our floor-mates were sleeping. And in March, I began working as a news reporter at The Daily Illini. The Illini Media building became my home, and the people inside it, my new family.

Despite these fond memories, this week another part of me yearned to be hundreds of miles away from Chambana back in New York City. This summer, I spent eight weeks as an intern at Travel Weekly, a national newspaper of the travel industry. Through my experience at Travel Weekly, I got my first full-fledged taste of adulthood. And, I have to admit, it was hard to give that up. I commuted to work Monday through Friday, worked 40 hours a week and spent my time reporting, writing, traveling and interviewing.

I left the East Coast with 25 clips in my portfolio and a newfound confidence in my future career. I felt ready to tackle the world. Many times I caught myself thinking, “Why do I have to stay in Champaign for two more years? I’m ready to work now!”

So here’s where my dilemma comes into play. I feel stuck — wanting to be in two separate worlds. And, despite all I have going for me right now, I can’t help feeling as if I’m stuck in some sort of mid-college crisis (well, that may be a little dramatic, but you get the point). Where do I belong?

Although these feelings plagued me throughout the week, I slowly came to a realization: Although I may be a “junior” in regards to University status, I can continue to be both a college and real-world freshman at heart.

For the remainder of this year, I will tap into my “college-freshman” self by getting goofy with friends from my freshman-year dorm, exploring Champaign-Urbana past the confines of campus or by “frat hopping” (just kidding, I have raised my standards a little bit in the past two years).

On the flip side, I will indulge my real-world freshman self when I go to work at The Daily Illini each day or apply for internships where I can continue to practice my professional skills.

To you college freshmen out there: Enjoy this year. Explore, learn, create and make memories. That way, when you experience your own “Junior-Year Dilemma,” you’ll be able to re-visit your favorite freshman-year experiences.

And, to you freshmen of the real world (or just those returning from awesome jobs and internships): This is one of the most exciting times of your lives. Work hard, show ‘em what you got and enjoy the freedom and independence that comes with it. And don’t forget to stop by your college home from time to time.

Emma is a junior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected] and @EmmaWeissmann.