My Sophomore Year in Words and Pictures

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Well, it was the best of times and the not-so-great-but-still-better-than-last-year of times, if you want to be precise. My sophomore year of college was fun, exciting, fulfilling, and sometimes, exhausting and sad. I was consistently happier than I had been in years (in fact, I managed to stay cheerful and upbeat even through a three-week bout of pneumonia in my first semester), but towards the end of the year, I also felt overwhelmed, overworked, and confused about my purpose and passions. By March, I was excited beyond belief to be accepted to Oxford for the next year, but I also found that the only class I was taking in major was the one I enjoyed least, and that it was a chore to get through even a homework assignment. What if I was making a big mistake? What if I didn’t want to study Religion, after all, but rather English or Political Science? (Thanks, West Wing.) When May rolled around, I had made it through two hits of depression in one semester, and was more than ready to call it quits and go home.

But now, looking back on my year from a café 3,000 miles away, I feel nostalgic and lucky. This year, I met some of my closest friends in college. I worked as an RA, easily one of my favorite things since coming to school. I had my own dorm room, which I was able to make feel like home; I lived only a few feet away from two of my best friends; I wrote some of my best papers and did my best work; and I learned to take breaks, to explore campus and New England, and make memories. Thankfully, I had a smartphone camera to capture it all. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I thought I would take you on a photo tour of my sophomore year.

(Side note: Since college is such a big part of my life, and since I will be at Oxford next year, I feel comfortable sharing pictures of my life on campus for the first time. If you recognize the school I go to, or know already, I ask that you don’t mention my school in the comment section or anywhere else, so I can keep my privacy and that of the friends who have let me share our pictures here. Thank you!)

I started the school year with RA training and college orientation, with my boyfriend, the Illustrator, in tow. This is how he looked when he met all my friends: vaguely like a 12-year-old boyscout, thanks to the terrible hair cut I gave him myself to save money.

I’m so sorry.

In the weeks of training and orientation, my fellow RAs and I welcomed in the class of 2017, and the Illustrator helped my set up my dorm room: at long last, a single.

Here is my room, in the first of its many iterations.

I made my first Kabloem sale. Other sellers had told me that you never forget your first Etsy sale, and they were right. The first piece I ever sold was a purple flower crown for a wedding held in a book store (in other news, I now want to get married in a book store). I probably put about an hour of my time into packaging the order alone:

I also, for the first time, began to really explore campus and the surrounding area.

Canoeing for the first time ever at a local lake.
With some friends in Salem, Massachusetts.
In Boston at the Ballet.

…And then I got pneumonia. Behold, the worst photo of me that has ever been taken:

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, every single word for this picture is “ugh.”

There is a running joke about our college’s health center: “I’ll go to Health Services, and they’ll do what they do best: give me a cough drop and a pregnancy test.” This is exactly what happened to me when I came in complaining of a sore throat and a bad cough. The nurse said it was probably a virus, told me to stick it out, and sent me on my way. She ate her words four days later, when I had to go to the hospital at three in the morning because I was having trouble breathing.

At least she gave me some cough drops, though.

The three weeks I spent recovering from pneumonia marked both the most antibiotics I have ever taken, and the only time I have ever slept fourteen hours in a row. Let me tell you, there are few things that make you feel more disgusting than waking up sweaty and gross with a migraine as the sun is setting.

Though the cough lingered for another month, I did recover enough to take a swim class that semester; and a lucky thing, too, or else you all would never have had the chance to see the glory of my enormous Dutch skull trying to fit into a swim cap. My swim class-buddy was the only other Dutch person on campus, though her cap fit just fine (maybe it’s just my skull that defies hat sizes, then).


There were some other highlights of my fall semester, especially the poffertjes incident. For my American readers, poffertjes are a kind of Dutch mini pillow pancakes. Since my dorm had a lot of international students, I thought it would be fun to do an RA program series (a program is an event that the RAs are supposed to put on twice a month, funded by the college) called “Cooking from My Culture.” The first event was a poffertjes-making night, hosted by me, my Dutch friend (pictured above), and one of my closest friends in the dorm, a fellow RA. The other RA and I, in addition to being Resident Assistants, were also our dorm’s Student Fire Chiefs. Which is why it should perhaps surprise you that our program ended like this:

But perhaps, if you know me, you are not surprised.

We had forgotten to open a window as we were cooking, and apparently the smoke alarms on our floor were old and a little extra sensitive. We singed one pan of poffertjes, and within 30 seconds, the building was put in a state of emergency evacuation. The other RA and I had heavily spammed the event, which meant that everyone standing outside in the cold with us knew exactly who was to blame. After the building was cleared, we were able to go back in and finish up. Luckily, the final results were delicious.

I went home for Thanksgiving (a holiday that my not-quite-American family never celebrates), and by the time I came back, Massachusetts had transitioned to winter.

Though it may not sound like it, the fall semester of my sophomore year was the best I had had since I started college, and I was as happy as I have been in years. I had learned the ropes and figured out what worked for me and what didn’t. I had wonderful friends who made me laugh, who picked up medicine for me when I was sick, and who I could learn to scuba dive with (the “scuba with Santa” program the night before my German final is still one of my favorite memories). It was a phenomenal semester, and after four months, I finished my classes, turned in my last papers, and came home for Christmas.

The Christmas schedule my family puts together every year, half-way through being colored in.

Then I went to the Netherlands to spend a few weeks with the Illustrator, had an emergency root canal (another story for another day), and came back to start my second semester.

February was rough. My two best friends from home had such difficult semesters that they took time off of college, and worrying about them in addition to keeping up with five classes knocked the wind out of me. I could barely make myself work or go to class. I don’t have a lot of pictures of February and March because most of what I did was work, watch The West Wing in my room, and try to give my friends pep talks over the phone. And cry.

I don’t like to talk a lot about sad times on this blog. I don’t think it helps anyone, and I find sadness much more personal than funny stories about fire alarms or missed trains. I think I am also worried that I’ll be judged; for crying, for being human, for struggling sometimes to function at the level I want to. But that’s life. Not everything is boats and noodle salad. The most you can do is accept the sorrow and do your best to take care of yourself and make joy where you can.

So I did. And even though the semester was hard, there were lots of little moments of love and sunshine.

Like getting my first ever Valentine’s bouquet:

Celebrating Pal-entine’s day with my friends:

And making some of my New England dreams come true by visiting Walden Pond.

And though a long Massachusetts winter can really kick your legs out from under you, the spring has a way of taking your breath away.

Looking through my pictures of this year, I am surprised that there are more pictures from the second semester than the first. I suppose it’s because the second semester was harder that the bright moments stand out more. I learned how to make time for myself, how to focus on my health and not my grades, and just how much I can count on my friends (a heck of a lot. Thanks, guys). I won’t pretend that it wasn’t hard (and given the chance, I will never, ever take five classes again). But with my final exams and papers behind me, and with some time and distance to reflect on everything that’s happened, I am grateful for all of it. I have learned and grown so much since I first set foot on this campus. Thanks for coming with me along the way.

Sara Laughed

Hey hey! I'm Sara, an American writer living in the Netherlands and working as a product manager.

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