What I learned from Freshman Year of Life

What I learned from Freshman Year of Life

An imaginary conversation with my senior-year-self:

We sit lazily on the grass and watch as graduating seniors walk their parents along the Charles; I turn to Senior-Year-Stephen excitedly, “Damn, can you believe you’re graduating tomorrow?”

His face lights up with the excitement only a senior with a five-month gap before work starting could muster. “It’s crazy, Future-Stephen. But, honestly, I know everything is going to get better from here.” 

I begin coughing violently. “Better?” I finally ask. Does he not realize he’s about to start paying for rent? Cooking for himself? Using a Lenovo laptop for work? 

“Definitely better.” He replies. “I’m thinking about everything I learned this past year as a senior. I’m sure you, finishing your first year of real-life, have learned even more.” 

I begin thinking about my year since graduating from Harvard. 

Senior-year-Stephen continues, egging me on. “Come on, old man. Lay on some sage wisdom for someone who’s entering their freshman year of life.” 

I pause, contemplating the question. “Okay, I think I had three main lessons from the past year…” 

Lesson #1: Adventures are worth the wedgies 

“Stephen, I got you something,” my sister told me, as she helped me pack up my dorm room after graduation. Motioning to a bag sitting by my door, she said, vaguely ominously, “It’s for tonight.” 

The bag had bright neon-blue text and read “The Gift of Thrift!”. I opened it to find a flaming-hot disco shirt that deserved more chest hair than I could offer and a pair of floral-splashed bell-bottom jeans.

“We’re going to a disco - “The Donkey Show” ,” she said. Then, briskly, “Try on the pants.” 

I’d like to say that those disco pants fit me perfectly. That, as I slid them on, they wrapped perfectly around my boyish frame - revealing curves and valleys that I didn’t even know existed. 

They didn’t. Instead, as I put them on, I experienced something I didn’t think was possible - a wedgie spanning both my back and my front side. The pants were so tight that the zipper could only zip halfway. Painful was an understatement. 

When I think about my post-grad summer, I always go back to those bell-bottom jeans. Did my sister and I go to the disco? Of course. Did we have a raucous time? Definitely. And was my butt in excruciating pain the entire night? You betchya. 

As I learned after graduation, adventure is never without discomfort. But, it’s always worth it. 

For the following few months, I traveled with my college roommate around Mexico and India. Then, after we parted ways, I spent three months studying Vietnamese in Ho Chi Minh City before starting work in Boston.

And boy, were there some wedgies during that time. While traveling, street food rocked my body, creating an entirely new type of sensation for my butt than those disco jeans did. Frustration hit often as I studied Vietnamese - a language with more exceptions than rules. Loneliness was an intermittent companion. 

The truth is, I learned adventures are hard. In June of 2017, I remember sitting in a coffee shop in Vietnam desperately trying to hide that I was crying from the barista. A few weeks before graduation, a father-figure in my life had passed away, and I was writing a reflection on our relationship in the coffee shop. In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be back home, surrounded by people who knew him and knew what he meant. Instead, I sat alone in a bustling cafe on an “adventure.”

Yet, adventure, as I’d hoped, was the overwhelming victor of the summer. I learned in those five months that as time passed discomfort faded; soon, I could only remember the laughs, the people I met, and the moments that made me pause. I experienced what I read about in intro to social psych - investments in experiences leading to long-term joy. 

As I’ve realized, in the post-graduate world, we are not offered adventure as easily as in college.  In school, you get regular intervals to explore and try something new - in times like winter, spring, and summer break. But, that doesn’t happen in post-graduate life. 

Instead, as graduates, we need to seize the inklings of an adventure  - “Should I live with my friend in San Francisco for a week?”, “Should I apply to speak at a conference in Russia?”, “Should I move to China?” - and forcefully bring them into reality. 

The cost might feel high - just as I learned when wearing those disco jeans - but the stories we earn are well worth it. 

Adventures are worth the wedgies. 

Photo Credit/Stephen Turban

Lesson #2: Attend class in your favorite nail salon

My first pedicure was perhaps the most productive thirty minutes I’ve had since graduation. No, my feet aren’t that gross. No, really. Okay, just let me explain. 

A few months after I returned to Boston, my girlfriend offered to take me to a nail salon. I thought it would be a fun date, so I agreed, and we found ourselves walking into a salon a few blocks from my house. 

As soon as I entered the salon, something felt strange. A woman named Mandy said hello, and as she spoke I felt immediate déjà vu. “That accent…. had I heard it before?” Before I could figure it out, she beckoned for us to take off our shoes and sit down in chairs nearby. 

Mandy needed another nail technician for our pedicures, so she turned her head and shouted to a nearby staff member, “chị ơi, đến đây nha!” And that’s when it hit me. The entire staff’s accent was familiar because I’d heard it the whole summer - they were speaking Vietnamese. I’d stumbled upon a store where everyone spoke the language I was trying to learn. 

Gingerly, I turned to Mandy, “Mandy, que ở đâu vậy?”  (Where are you from?). Surprised, she replied, and we began a conversation in Vietnamese that definitely excluded my girlfriend, likely ruined the date, and was undoubtedly one of the happiest moments of my past year.

At the end of the pedicure, I turned to Mandy. “Would it be okay, if I came back here to practice Vietnamese with you guys?” She agreed and so, I left the salon with immaculate cuticles and a plan. 

The next day, I stopped by the salon with a bag of fruit and my Vietnamese textbook. Mandy and the other technicians looked at me with surprise but welcomed me in. I sat down at the counter and popped open my textbook. Whenever they were in between  customers, I chatted with them and asked them a few questions about Vietnamese. I think they enjoyed the break and I definitely enjoyed the practice. 

For the past few months, I’ve probably been to that nail salon over 50 times. Each time I open my Vietnamese textbook, talk to the staff there, and have an impromptu Vietnamese class. They feel like a mix between my Vietnamese professors and family  - a group with whom I go out to eat dinner, gossip about their lives, and who are kind enough to help me learn their language. 

Before I started going to the nail salon, I didn’t realize how much I missed having classes. Though I learned a lot from my job this past year, I found that learning was rarely the primary goal at work. I missed the magic of going to a place purely in the spirit of self-growth. My Vietnamese friends helped me break out of that cycle. 

The takeaway is not, of course, for you to find a nail salon. Though, if you are looking for one in Boston, I recommend Soleil Tan & Nail Bar in Central (their mani-pedi combination really is a steal.)  Rather, I urge you to dedicate a part of your life post-grad to learning and growing. Whether that is a class, a coffee shop where you write, or a work-out buddy that pushes you, make sure that you prioritize growing after college, not just doing. 

Photo Credit/shutterstock

Lesson #3: Live with your friends, even if they live in another city 

When I returned from my months traveling, I found myself back in a familiar, but strangely different city - Boston. Though I’d spent the past four years there, most of my friends from school had scattered after graduation. People I thought I’d spend my 20s with now were working in places like San Francisco, LA, and New York. Most importantly, they were not living with me. 

I was bummed at first - so much for living with your friends after graduation! But, an opportunity at work helped me reframe the situation. I found that you could live with your friends, albeit with a little creativity. 

It all began mid-December. My manager pulled me into her office and told me that I’d be starting a new engagement. The project was in the Midwest, but because the winter holidays were a week away, everyone on the team was working remotely. The team was spread out, such that everyone lived in a different city. 

When I’d been traveling over the summer, I’d done a little bit of remote work for a professor. And as I traveled across Mexico City, Mumbai, and Saigon I realized that “remote” really means “wherever the heck you want.” As long as you deliver, no one cares where you physically locate yourself. 

That night, I booked a ticket from Boston to San Francisco. It was time for some remote work.

For the next few weeks, I didn’t visit my friends in SF; I lived with them. For about ten days, I stayed at my friend Noah’s house. When Noah went to work, I went to work. When he had time for dinner, I had time for dinner. He invited me to events that he’d planned with his friends, and I invited him to do things with my other friends in the city. It wasn’t as if I’d gone to visit Noah. Rather, it was as if I were his roommate. 

In February, my friend Luke came to live with me in Boston for nearly a month. Again, it wasn’t as if he came to visit. Instead, we were the roommates that we would have been had we been in the same city. We got breakfast, chatted late at night, and completely ignored each during working hours. 

When we’re about to graduate from college, we make promises to our friends to “visit.” “Come visit me in New York!” a friend will say; “You can always come crash at my place in LA.” another will offer; “Chill with me in Seattle!” another might suggest. And though the intention is pure, I think the framing is wrong. 

A visit implies that you are stepping out of your life and entering theirs. You are an outsider in their world; so, when you come visit you are a precious, but temporary guest.  

I propose not to ever visit a friend, instead only to live with them. Instead of observing someone’s life, as if an anthropologist, it’s about sharing their life for as long as you are there. As Antoine de Saint Exupery put it, “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but looking outward together in the same direction.” The same, I think, is true of friendship after graduation. To grow in our relationships, we have to treat each other as partners in our lives, not as visitors. 

So, live with - don’t visit - your friends after graduation. Whether that means working remotely, taking time off, or making sure that your house is welcome to a long-term visitor, do what it takes to transition from visitor to housemate. 


I turn to Senior-Year-Stephen excitedly only to find him sleeping on the grass. I consider waking him to review the “sage wisdom” he missed. But, I decide against it. Soon enough, he’ll be walking for graduation, going to a disco with his sister, and desperately trying to fend off food poisoning in Vietnam. He deserves the rest.    

I get up and begin the walk back to my home. As I look out over the river, I see the setting sun reflecting off the water. I pause and wonder, “What lessons will my sophomore year hold?” 


Photo Credit:Stephen Turban's Facebook