“However much you’ve prepared beforehand,” my friend warned, “the first day at university will still be an overwhelming experience.” I wasn’t sure why she thought something as innocuous as a university could be overwhelming, but I told her that since I’d done all right in high school, I was sure I’d manage university just fine.

I stepped out of the metro station, campus map in hand, and purposefully struck out in what I hoped was the right direction toward my first class. I’ve never quite figured out how to use a map and never paid much attention to road signs. I ended up roaming helplessly for two hours across the university that boasts eleven campuses. Finally, I stumbled into my class about fifteen minutes before it ended. As I sank wearily into my seat, I recalled my friend’s words.

After asking some of my fellow students for directions, I successfully located my next class, an introductory course on linguistics. A woman was sitting on a bench outside, dressed in a sports shirt and baggy jeans. I assumed she was the janitor and entered the classroom where a woman wearing a blouse, black skirt, and high heels was writing on the blackboard. The professor, I assumed. She went on to lead the class in a short oral test and survey. Then the woman in jeans swung open the door and introduced herself as Professor (and eminent linguist) Lee. She then introduced her assistant—the woman in a skirt!

There were more surprises in store at the next class, an introduction to Western Literature. I listened for dates, facts, and figures, all of which I studiously jotted down. But it turned out none of that was of any use. Instead, after the first hour, I found myself in a group of ten absolute strangers tasked with producing a play complete with music, costumes, a stage, and so on—all within two weeks!

Of course, by the end of the semester I knew where to find the best study nooks on campus, my group’s play came out fine, and I learned that professors will dress however they like. As I look back ruefully at my freshman blues, I know they certainly weren’t the last of my life’s experiences as a “newbie.”

Though uncomfortable, these are the situations that can spur me to grow in boldness as I learn to function without all my old safety nets and props. Best of all, the deepened maturity will far outlast the discomfort of my freshman goofs.