College – It’s All About Stripping

Metaphorically, Of Course

My mother and I have a ritual that we use to celebrate our accomplishments, comfort ourselves in times of trouble and generally refresh ourselves and our relationship. It involves getting naked. It involves getting wet. And it involves allowing unfamiliar Korean women to lay us down on cold, wet slabs of formica and essentially beat the crap out of us.

It’s a trip to a Korean spa in Los Angeles, and over the years it has become one of my favorite activities to share with my mother, and something that I avidly anticipate doing.

UCSB's freshmen convocation

Of course, the first time we went to the Korean Spa, my feelings were decidedly different. Upon walking into the nondescript building for the first time and being told I had to strip down to at least my skivvies – and preferably less – in front of a spa full of strange women was off-putting, to say the least. Seeing the masseuses wandering the pastel pink halls in their own odd uniform of boy shorts and bra-like tops was also a little strange. And being laid out on a shiny, soaking wet slab of synthetic material while being barked at in Korean was nothing if not incredibly disquieting.

Suffice it to say, the experience was more than a little intimidating the first time around. But, in the end, the pure passion with which I will pursue any activity that involves getting my back rubbed won out over my raw – and very exposed – fears. Since that first time, our ritual spa trips have become a source of great bonding and enjoyment for both my mother and me. And while I still don’t enjoy the whole total nudity thing, it’s something that I’ve gotten used to doing and something I’ve accepted as a means to an amazing massage.

I suppose my point is this: College is a time of incredible excitement, experimentation and self-discovery. But, I know you know all that. By the time you actually start classes as a college freshman, everyone from your orientation guide to your over-the-moon grandparents have reminded you time and time again that the next four years are supposed to be the best time of your life. As someone who has already completed a good two-thirds of this supposed special time, I can confidently say that they’re probably right – but it’s not nearly as simple as they make it sound.

You see, your college experience has the potential to be the best four years of your young life, just like everyone says it should be. But it can also be incredibly hard. For every chance you get to make friends, create memories, discover new things about yourself and all the other cliched crap everyone tells you you’re supposed to do, there are an equal – if not greater – number of opportunities to seriously screw up your life, your priorities and your relationship with yourself and others.

Much like the Korean Spa, college can be a very scary place at first glance. It’s very easy to let the lack of familiar people and places get to you. Places will look different, people will speak differently and almost everything you do for the first few months will be imbued with an underlying sense of intimidation and self-consciousness. Without the comfortable context of home, you may very well feel like you’re being forced to strip in front of strangers – distilling eighteen years of experiences, emotions, decisions, dedications, preferences and personality quirks into a succinct self-image that you can present to potential new friends, lovers, co-workers and the like.

In fact, stripping is an apt metaphor for quite a bit of the collegiate experience. Over the course of the next few years, you will find yourself stripping away preconceived notions about other people, as well as about yourself, and if all goes well you should end up exposing a lot of new truths about who you really are and who you really want to be.

I could give you specific advice about how to handle it all – turn your cup upside-down when walking down Del Playa, make sure you never leave your drink unattended, don’t neglect to lock your bike, don’t get too caught up in making sure you read every page you’re assigned and don’t forget that every embarrassing thing you do while drunk will inevitably end up in someone’s Facebook photos. But, I bet you’ve probably heard it all by now. So, with the start of the new school year just a couple days away, I think there is really only one piece of good advice I can give you.

It’s simple advice, only three little words, but it’s the only advice I think you need at this point. So, without anymore uneccessary fanfare, here it is. My only advice to you is this: don’t be afraid. Or be afraid, if you must, but don’t let it keep you from the college experience.

Don’t let the fear of unfamiliar social situations stop you from seeking out new friends.

Don’t let the fear of failing make you so focused on school that you forget to enjoy extracurricular activities.

Don’t let the fear of being broke keep you from enjoying the finer things that Santa Barbara has to offer.

Don’t let the fear of looking silly stop you from trying something new.

Don’t let the fear of facing yourself keep you from spending some time alone.

And don’t let the fact that a person, place, class, club, situation or social scene may be more than a little intimidating stop you from seeking it out.

You may end up enjoying yourself. You may end up hating the entire experience. And you may even end up feeling a little bit of both.

But, no matter what, you will have exposed yourself to something new. Stripping your fears of their ability to affect your actions is the single best thing you can do to prepare for your freshman year in college. And trust me, if you’re looking to make college the best four years of your life, there is no better way to do it.

Well, that and regular massages of course.


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