by Yena Seo, '18
When I first arrived at Ithaca College for orientation as a bright-eyed first-year, I was told many of the same stereotypes society perpetuates about the college experience. However, I’ve learned over my four years here that sometimes you have to look a little harder to find your team -- of friends, mentors and supporters -- who will guide your path through and beyond South Hill.
During my first 1.5 years at Ithaca, I struggled with finding a core group of friends that shared the same interests and character traits as the lifelong friends I’d had at home, in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. It didn’t help that I was interested in a career path (national security policy) that very few people seemed to care about on campus, professors included. While I found peers who shared interests in foreign affairs, there were few who filled the void left by hometown friends who, had not only shared the same interests as me, but truly understood me.
Although I’d been told that I’d meet my “best friends” during my first two years on campus, it didn’t happen for me until I looked beyond South Hill. Some of my closest friends are peers in Cornell’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps unit; “woman warriors” who remind me every day of their dedication to excellence, leadership and courage. I met many of my best friends during my internships at think tanks in Washington, D.C., where I found peers who loved defense budgeting and lectures on foreign policy as much as I do. I also established rapport with professors and researchers at Ithaca and Cornell who were experts (or at the least, very interested) in national security. Though I was never able to take any of their classes, simply talking about current events during a coffee meeting was extremely beneficial for me both personally and professionally.
Some people will find their lifelong friends at Ithaca, and that is wonderful; but don’t feel pressured to do so. Seek out the opportunities -- studying abroad, attending conferences, volunteering -- to get off campus to make connections across town, around the country, or even internationally. You will find your group in your own time, and in your own place.
Starting with your very first class in college, professors and deans emphasize the importance of mentorship. It’s almost like a magical word and it causes anxiety for a lot of students who feel like they don’t have these fabled “mentors” rumored to be the key to success.
My best advice in finding a mentor is to never force it. If you have to ask someone to be your mentor, it makes for an awkward relationship, and chasing the connection becomes uncomfortable for both parties. You will know when you find the right mentor. This becomes easier when you change your perception of what a mentor should be. A good mentor doesn’t have to be that professor who has written every book possible on your absolute favorite subject or the dean of a school. A good mentor can even be a peer a few years older than you who is willing to dedicate the time and resources to help.
During my time in college, I was fortunate to find mentors early on. I attribute nearly all of my successes to the mentors who have guided me along the way and provided opportunities for me throughout the years. While some of them are former professors or employers, others are peers from my internships who were just a few years older, but had a wealth of knowledge and experiences to share. Look above in your network of people and you will most likely know more than a few people who can serve as mentors for you during your four years in college. And pay it forward; be a mentor to those younger than you who look to you for advice.
They say that college is the best four years of your life, but that saying isn’t always necessarily true. Many of my friends, peers and mentors found that, while they thoroughly enjoyed their collegiate years, those experiences were merely stepping stones to the vast array of opportunities ahead in their careers.
As my senior year is coming to a close, I look fondly at my time in college and the experiences that have morphed me into the student I am and the young professional I aspire to be. I am deeply grateful for the vast opportunities afforded to me at Ithaca and I look forward to the many possibilities ahead. For now, cherish your time on South Hill and take advantage of whatever may come your way, but make sure you don’t feel limited.
Finding your team isn’t always easy, and it’s never going to come all at once. But once you do, your time at Ithaca will be infinitely better, and prepare you for the next steps ahead. In the words of Leslie Knope, “Go find your team, and get to work.”