By Thomas Khongmaly, Leadership Team member
Well, it is in my opinion.
There is a plethora of interesting new things to try, a slew of classes to enjoy, and a multitude of people to get to know. But there is also a lot of stress that comes. Managing your time well, eating healthy, and living your life on a college student’s budget are all very stressful things that will pervade throughout your college career. Let’s not forget you’ll have to do silly things like homework or study! It’s all part of being a college student.
But for many people there’s a really important, and very stressful, part: being themselves. While I mean this for everyone, I feel as though it may be a bit worse for people identify within the LGBT community. It’s almost as if you have to come out a second time. Or maybe this will be your first time ever telling anyone. Some of you may feel you are constantly exposing yourself, as you’ll be meeting new people through new classes every semester. Add this stress on top of everything, and you have the ingredients for what could be just as painful as high school might have been. Or worse, middle school. And nobody wants that.
So I thought I’d try to help you out and give you the three main insights learned throughout my time in college thus far on how to have the best college experience possible.
First: Choose a college that suits you.
This, of course, is aimed more towards people who will be going to college in the future. Many things factor into where you want to go. One thing you might consider is a religiously affiliated college versus a non-affiliated institution. If you want to be active in a GSA or the potential school’s equivalent, ask about it on your college visit. If they don’t know about it, don’t assume they are hiding it or don’t have one. Some people might not be aware it’s there. It’s hard to be in the know of all the things going on! The private school I attended for two years had a week dedicated to raising LGBT awareness on campus by bringing guest speakers in, hosting events, selling t-shirts, and having a drag show. Identifying as LGBT should not be a reason to eliminate a religious institution. Religion and being LGBT are not mutually exclusive.
Ultimately, choose somewhere you feel you’ll become a better person by attending. Don’t go to an institution you won’t enjoy attending. You’ll be unhappy and regret the choice to go there all the time. If you find you aren’t happy anymore and transferring is an option, do it. If it’s not an option, let’s try some of the other things here.
Second: Get involved.
Like I already mentioned, if you want to get involved with your school’s LGBT related club just ask around about it. If there isn’t one, start it. There’s no time like the present. Join a band and/or choir. Audition for a theater production. Find an intramural sport that would be fun to play. Go to the your college’s student organization fair. Student organizations are the best way to enrich your college experience and find friends who are interested in the same things as you are. If you become a major leader of that organization, such as a president, it will look great on your résumé. Most importantly, it’s a great way to have fun and get a break from your studies.
If you are interested in becoming involved in Greek life, do it. I have a close friend whose fraternity is completely fine with him being gay. Don’t let your preconceived notions about how fraternity or sorority members may react to someone who identifies as LGBT be a reason to dismiss becoming involved in this way. Fraternities and sororities do some pretty awesome things that you should yearn to be involved in!
Third: Be prepared to be yourself. Unyieldingly.
The beautiful thing about being in college is you aren’t stuck with the same group of people until graduation. You’re free to make new friends all the time, to socialize with whomever you like. If somebody doesn’t appreciate who you are, then you don’t have to deal with them. It’s much easier to do this in college with thousands of people around you, rather than in it was in high school.
That said, not everybody is going to be able to empathize with who you are. Everybody leads a different life. They might not understand you or be willing to relate to you. Don’t let this sway you in fully being yourself. You are you. There’s no reason to hide any aspect about yourself so people will like you.
That’s it. It’s all very simple advice, really, but I truly believe doing these things will give you the best college experience you could possibly have.
It has been said before. It will be said many times over.
College is what you make of it.
Thomas Khongmaly is an Industrial Design student at Iowa State University. An alumni of Winterset High School, Thomas was involved with their Diversity Club until 2009; he then spent two years at Wartburg College and was involved with their LGBT group, Alliance. Since transferring to ISU, Thomas's time is practically always filled with Design work, but when he find a free moment he enjoys reading on his Kindle, watching movies and eating.