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Navy veteran’s guide to starting the school year

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Week two is over. Crazy, isn’t it? Here’s your syllabus, have fun reading all 7,000 pages. Here’s a guide to over 300 clubs, don’t miss out on any of them. Here’s your room, that’s the lounge, there’s the dining hall. Which way is the The Quad again? Oh, I’m standing in it. Lathrop, top of the Oval, Li and Ma, bottom of the Oval, I think my socks are inside out, which way is up again?

Of course things seem a little crazy. Big changes always do. I know, that’s such a banal thing to say, but there’s no other way to put it. How about this — when you throw poop at the fan, it sprays you in the face. While in the Navy, I must have moved about 17 times a year — camp in the woods for two weeks of field operations; live on a boat for four weeks of diving; rent an apartment in the city for six months of classes; share a hotel room; roll out your sleeping bag on the shooting range; stretch hammocks between shipping containers; use your jacket as a pillow. If the military is starting to sound like a bunch of fourth graders herding groups of street cats through a bouncy castle, that’s because … most of the time it is. But that’s ok. See, the beauty of living in chaos is that, well, everything in life is chaotic and once you start getting used to it, you can figure out when to take deep breaths and when to hold them because you’re about to be sprayed in the face. With that, here are my three cents of advice for adapting to high paced environments.

Right place, right time, right uniform.

Keep it stupid simple. Figure out where to eat, where to sleep, where to work out. Find out where you need to be the next day and show up on time with the required gear. That’s it. Everything else is ancillary. Can’t decide what classes to take? Doesn’t matter. For now. Unless you’re planning on double majoring in Discrete Mathematical Chemistry and Computer Science with a focus on Nanobioinformatic Symbolotechnical Systems with an Art History minor (in which case you probably already have your study list), what you do in your first quarter simply doesn’t matter that much, and shouldn’t be a source of stress. Take one class you think you’ll love, one you’re afraid of, one you think will be ridiculously easy and/or one you have no idea what it’s about. Then start one sport or activity if you don’t have one already. Save the rest of your time for meeting new people and exploring campus.

Take a creative writing class.

There’s nothing I find more stifling than being told I have to follow the rules — square pegs in square holes, tuck your sheets with 45-degree folds, pack the sand into neat little molds — and language is no exception. We’re told that sentences must be structured a certain way, paragraphs only make sense like this, grammar must be followed to the T, and next thing you know you’re dreading sitting in front of your laptop to write 1,000 words about something you love like bubble tea or your favorite pet. What went wrong? Language; failed: you. Tossing out the rules is fun, see? Forget college application essays, forget the playbook, learn to play in the sandbox again. Defer your PWR 1 or 2, take a fiction, poetry or nonfiction class, and be crazy, do weird, go absolutely bonkers. Tell them I said you have my permission. 

Meet someone new every day.

I like to accost people in the dining halls, since that’s the only time most of us actually sit still for more than two minutes. (Pro tip: most of those people with a broccoli spear in one hand and their phone in the other are mindlessly scrolling and welcome the idea of talking to a real person.) But, just in case you’re like me, which is to say your mind spins like Wheel of Fortune trying to find something to say, here’s the stupid simple script that I use: “Hi, mind if I join you? Yes? Ok, have a nice day. No? Cool. What’s your name? Where did you go to high school/transfer from? How was your summer? What classes are you taking? What you plan on studying?” And my favorite: “What’s your favorite class?”

The whole point of being in college is stepping outside our comfort zones and finding new versions of ourselves by doing things we find intimidating, and what better place to do it than at a table where everyone is gorging themselves on dry chicken and soft-serve ice cream? Fun fact: I took my first Creative Writing class by recommendation from someone I randomly sat next to during my first week here. Second fun fact: If you see me in the dining halls, feel free to practice your script on me.

Contact Nestor Walters at waltersx ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Nestor was born in Bangladesh and raised mostly in Greece. When he was nineteen he moved to the United States to join the Navy, where he served for ten years. He is now a junior at Stanford University, where he is rumored to be the only person in the math department with cut-off t-shirt sleeves. He also dabbles in creative writing.