Running Out of Spoons

Untitled design-3 By Claire Golden

About two years ago, I got sick and doctors couldn’t figure out why. Suddenly my world shrunk to the size of my house. Getting through my college classes was a monumental effort when I had absolutely no energy. Some days I couldn’t leave the house because I was too sick to my stomach. Other days I would fall asleep on a bench between classes because I was just so exhausted, while walking up the stairs left me doubled-over waiting for my heart rate to get back to normal. I would make it through the day only to go home and fall asleep at 9 PM. 

It was around that time that I encountered an article by Christine Miserandino called “The Spoon Theory” that describes her experience living with chronic illness. Being a “spoonie” means you only have a certain amount of spoons, which represent both mental and physical energy, a day. It was the perfect metaphor for my experience. Getting a diagnosis and feeling better has been a long process and I’m still not at 100%. But I’ve learned some coping mechanisms…including bringing books with me to the hospital for comfort.

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The most important thing I’ve learned is knowing when to take a break. Some days I didn’t have the energy to study as hard as I wanted to…and that’s okay. Pushing yourself to the breaking point doesn’t help anybody. I learned to ask for help when I needed it, whether from my family or friends. I also talked to my professors about my health issues, all of whom were extremely sympathetic. Don’t forget that the Disability Resource Center can provide accommodations, too.

The biggest thing I learned is that my health is more important than grades. It’s hard to study when you’re curled up on the bathroom floor, even when you have a final exam the next day. I work hard in school, and it’s important to me, but sometimes you have to give yourself a break. It’s hard to keep going when it feels like your body is working against you. But I try to take it one day at a time. There’s no shame in taking it slowly if you need to. Remember, you aren’t the only #spoonie here at PSU.

Five Online Resources to Help You Sail Through PSU

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

College homework is no joke. When you get hit with your first five-page essay with an annotated bibliography, you may feel like curling up in a blanket and imitating a burrito for the next four years. But I’m here to tell you that not only are college assignments survivable, they don’t have to take forever! These are five sources I wish I had known about when I started college.

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  1. Canva.com is an amazing resource for creating infographics, resumés, cover letters, and many more graphic design elements. It’s easy to use and looks fantastic.

  2. To pair with the above website, Pexels.com is a great place to find public domain stock images. (It’s what I used for the image in this post.)

  3. Gutenberg.com is perfect for the English majors out there. It houses thousands of public domain ebooks that you can download for free to read either on your computer or ereader.

  4. And if you prefer audiobooks, then LibriVox.com is perfect for you, because you can find free audiobooks of thousands of classic novels, all read by volunteers. Great to play during your commute or while exercising.

  5. If citing sources is the bane of your existence, you might like EasyBib.com as much as I do. It’s a great resource to help you avoid plagiarism and cite correctly.

Like it or not, being a human blanket burrito will not earn you a degree. But hopefully these resources will prove as helpful to you as they were to me. Now if only I could go back in time and tell my younger self about them.

The Other Side of the Tutoring Table

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Today marks my 10th week of working in the PSU Learning Center, and I can say without hesitation that it’s the best job I’ve ever had. If you haven’t heard of the Learning Center, check it out! It’s a free service for PSU students and offers academic coaching and tutoring in nearly all subjects. You can visit on the second floor of the library…and be sure to come say hi if you do!

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Photo copyright The Learning Center. Psst…I’m on the left!

When I was in College Algebra, my required math course, I pretty much lived in the Learning Center. See, I’m a French major…which means I’m good with languages, but not-so-good with numbers. I became familiar with the student side of the tutoring table (and it saved my grade!) It was a completely different experience being the tutor, but one that I find extremely enjoyable and fulfilling.

Being the French tutor has allowed me to help other students learn this amazing language. I’ve gotten to help with verb conjugation, adjective agreement, conversation practice, and more…all of which has improved my own knowledge of the subject. If I don’t know the answer to a question, then the student and I get to learn together. It brings me immense happiness when the lightbulb goes on for somebody, or the way I explain a concept helps them understand it.

Tutoring can seem scary if you’re unfamiliar with it. But trust me, tutors are nothing more than fellow students who want to help you learn. There’s nothing scary about me, an overexcited French nerd. So come by the Learning Center and say bonjour, or guten tag, or whatever your greeting of choice may be. We’ll be happy to welcome you!

What I’ve Learned From 10 Years of French Classes

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Learning a new language is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I started taking French in sixth grade, which makes this my 11th year of studying it. But I’ve learned way more than just how to conjugate verbs. Studying it has made me more empathetic to people from different cultures and who don’t speak English as their first language.

When you start a new language, the first thing you realize is just how much there is to learn. Although this can be intimidating, it’s pretty cool to think about all the stuff you’re about to discover. Still, it’s made me much more humble by helping me realize how little I know in the grand scheme of things. America doesn’t value multilingualism the same way other countries do, which is a shame because speaking another language increases a person’s worldview so much. 

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When I was a teenager, I had the amazing opportunity to attend Canoe Island French Camp, a French immersion summer camp in the San Juan Islands. Several years later, I spent a summer working there as a program assistant, and those were the best summers of my life. We kayaked, swam, sang campfire songs in French, fell asleep while watching meteor showers, and feasted on French food. I even learned to like le fromage bleu. It was une opportunité merveilleuse to put my French to use in real life.

Learning a second language actually helped me appreciate my first language more. When I’m struggling to express a thought in French, it’s a relief to later be speaking English and easily say what I’m thinking without a struggle. It’s given me a much greater appreciation and respect for people learning English as a second language. Learning a language isn’t easy, and it’s important to be patient and kind.

The French language has also taught me to appreciate that English doesn’t have a subjunctive tense. If you don’t know what le subjonctif is…consider yourself lucky. French has a lot of verb tenses.

Taking Notes Doesn’t Have to Be Boring

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Taking notes is one of the best ways to retain information. We’ve all heard it before…writing things down helps them stick in your mind. That doesn’t change the fact that taking notes can get a little boring. But I’m a huge nerd who loves taking notes, and there are a few ways you can spice up your everyday notes to make it fun. Here’s a picture of my notes from class last year. Keep in mind that not everybody is as obsessive as I am, so your mileage may vary. Do whatever works for you!

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First, get a notebook that you love. You don’t have to get any particular kind. Just find one that makes you smile and inspires you to fill it up. My notebook for this term was $4 from Muji, a store by Pioneer Square just a few blocks from campus that’s a great source for inexpensive school supplies. If you’re tired of lined paper, try graph paper or dot grid to change things up.

To go with your notebook, of course you need a writing utensil. Whether that’s a mechanical pencil or quill pen, just make sure it’s easy to write with. My latest obsession is fountain pens. Some students enjoy multicolored highlighters to color-code their notes. And many students prefer taking notes electronically, whether on their computer or tablet. The idea is simply to try changing things up if you’re bored with your notes.

When it comes time to actually take notes, be creative! You don’t have to write in a linear fashion. Try putting important facts in boxes or other shapes. It’s easy to experiment with different headings and bullet points to keep the process interesting. A few doodles never hurt, either. With a few little changes, taking notes can be both an educational and a creative process…and a lot more fun!

Writing an Essay Without Tears

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

We’ve all been there: the deadline for that five-page essay is looming, and you don’t know where to start. I’ve written a lot of essays in my three years as a writing student, and this is the process I use to reduce stress.

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  • Leave yourself plenty of time. Although a Red Bull-fueled typing frenzy at 3 a.m. is certainly an effective motivational tactic, it usually results in mistakes and a subpar essay.
  • Find your thesis. This is simply the main idea of your paper – the more specific, the better.

  • Make a haphazard outline. An easy method is to write the general topic of each paragraph, followed by a few bullet points of things you want to include.
  • Find your quotes. When you’re on a roll with a paragraph, the last thing you want to do is stop to scour the text for quotes. The nice thing about finding quotes before you start is that you can tailor the paper around them rather than trying to fit them in at the end.

  • Write! There’s no need to write in a linear order if you don’t want to. Just use your outline at the end to make sure everything’s in the right spot.
  • Read it out loud. This helps to catch grammar and syntax problems you might otherwise miss. Don’t forget to run it through SpellCheck, too. 

By the way, the Writing Center is a fantastic resource to visit anytime during this process. Take a deep breath. You’ve got this essay under control.


Calming the College Nerves

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

This post is for all the incoming freshmen out there who are nervous for the first day of college. I felt exactly the same as you do. I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self that it would all be OK…It’s not nearly as scary as I thought it would be! This is what I would tell Freshman Claire if I could.

Starting something new is always nerve-wracking, and that’s my first piece of advice: remember that everybody else is nervous, too. No matter how calm and collected your classmate seems, chances are they’re anxious on the inside. It’s OK to admit that you’re nervous. People will probably find it relatable.

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Something that helped me a lot was finding my classrooms before the first day of class. Nobody wants to be running across campus five minutes before class, frantically trying to find their building. I write down my classrooms and go on a quest to locate them all the weekend before term starts…even now, in my fourth year of college.

It’s a good idea to get to class early on the first day. It gives you a buffer in case you can’t find the classroom, plus you get the pick of the seats. But don’t panic if you get there late – professors understand that the first day is hard! 

My biggest piece of advice is to take a deep breath and get through it because it only gets easier after the first day. You can do it!