The Value of Staying Open-Minded in College

Attending college often means exploring new interests and embracing change. One student discusses the importance of having an open mind.
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Nervous. That's the answer I give when asked how I felt about my first year of college. Everyone says college is the time you find yourself, but you can never truly know what to expect.

It's my first year. I'm a city girl but find myself in a small town I didn't know existed, at a school full of thousands of people I don't know. The nearest town with a movie theater or mall is about an hour away.

Yet somehow, I meet my closest friends, rediscover who I am, and live a happy, simple life. This happened because I embraced having an open mind at college, which led me to try new things, learn more about myself, and even make mistakes.

The beginning of my first year at UNC Pembroke, home of the Braves, entailed attending class late, participating in soccer practice, and taking many naps. I didn't go to any campus events unless they were required.

I didn't even attend homecoming. That evening I had a soccer game, so I slept the entire day. I was now living in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, so I figured there was nothing fun to do.

I was closed off — this wasn't like home at all. I called my parents every day and told them I was thinking about transferring. But they talked me out of it and convinced me to give the school a real chance.

I eventually did — and fell in love with it.

One thing I learned about myself is that wherever I am, I need to have a support system around me, whether at home or at school.

“I was closed off — this wasn't like home at all. I called my parents every day and told them I was thinking about transferring. But they talked me out of it and convinced me to give the school a real chance.”

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My friends played a huge role in my decision to remain a Brave. Each one of them continues to teach me lessons, offer great advice, and serve as my family away from home. When college gets tough, I lean on my core group because my immediate family is almost 200 miles away.

As a group, we have made and continue to make lots of memories in college. We all travel out of the country together, share matching tattoos, and hang out on a regular basis when we return home. If you surround yourself with the right people, you can always have a good time, no matter where you are.

As time went on, I genuinely began to love my small country town. Parties consisted of bonfires with country music, fishing, and swimming in random lakes. Weekends consisted of road trips to Wilmington beaches. We'd blast country music with the windows rolled down while searching for lakes to go fishing.

This was never my idea of "fun" back home. Fishing was always too quiet for me. And I hated country music with a passion because I hadn't been exposed to it as a kid.

But I forced myself to escape my comfort zone during my first year of college, ultimately allowing new interests to take root. Now, my Apple Music account includes many country playlists, and fishing provides a time to relax and reflect on school and soccer.

Although I had some freedom growing up, I also had somewhat strict parents. My curfew was 10:30 p.m. almost every night. If I wanted to hang out with friends, I needed to ask for permission first. I would also have to grant my parents access to my location.

When it was time to finally leave home, I was so excited to rush my parents out of my dorm room. At last, I was free! I could eat in my room, leave without permission whenever I wanted, and come back at whatever time I felt like it.

There was so much freedom, and there were times I went a bit too far when taking advantage of this newfound freedom. Parties are a big part of college, along with curiosity.

The author (third from left) stands with her soccer teammates as they show off their 2021 fall conference tournament rings. Image Credit: Zion Sellers

Just as there are good things to try, there are bad things to try. There will likely come a time when your morals and values are tested in college. During these experiences, rely on your support systems. Although it may be scary to talk to your parents or an adult in your family and ask for advice, more than likely they've been in a similar situation. Call and ask for a different perspective. It will save you a lot of unnecessary headaches.

As a student-athlete, I'm required to maintain a certain GPA for school. When I started to get more comfortable trying new things, I also felt compelled to build my resume to prepare for summer internships. This led me to join campus clubs. I co-started an NAACP chapter, became captain of the soccer team, completed community service hours, helped take action shots for other sports teams on campus, and secured a sports marketing internship.

The issue? I didn't have a healthy balance. I began hanging out with different people almost every day because I wanted a "true" college experience. Each night I was going to bed at 2 a.m.

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You can imagine how all of this impacted my performance, both on the soccer field and in class. Toward the end of my sophomore year, I became stagnant, neither growing in soccer nor excelling in the classroom. Everything became mediocre. I discovered I still procrastinated when seeking help from others. Consequently, my grades declined and I lost my starting position.

I knew something had to change.

So I stepped down from my role as first vice in the NAACP, asked my assistant coach for extra training, and had my family and friends hold me accountable.

It's OK to make the wrong decisions and "mess up" — everyone makes mistakes. The question is: Will you learn from the mistake or continue to make poor decisions?

Allow yourself time to learn and grow in college. Remember to have an open mind when trying new things. Venture outside your comfort zone and find your family away from home. In time, you'll discover who you were created to be while leaving a lasting impression on all of those around you.

Meet the Author

Portrait of Zion Sellers

Zion Sellers

Zion Sellers (she/her) is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She will graduate in spring 2023 with a bachelor's in business administration and a concentration in marketing. Zion plays on the women's soccer team and has helped contribute to two NCAA tournament appearances and one conference championship. Once she graduates, she is looking forward to working overseas as a consultant.