I start college in September, and I’m sure many of you are also stepping into new environments full of change. Like me, you may be super excited and really nervous at the same time. Change is scary, but a necessary part of life and growth. So, on this topic I decided to sit down and ask one of my best friends to share her own experiences of change and also any advice for this coming new term.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Ella. I’m 17 years old and I’m going into Year 13 – my last year of school! – in September. I go to Liskeard School and Community College and I study Philosophy & Ethics, Psychology and PE – which means I write a LOT of essays…
I’ve grown up in a Christian family and have been going to church my whole life, yet deciding to follow Jesus for myself was a choice I made about two years ago.
Can you share a personal story of when you had to face change and what that looked like?
Starting college was a very big change for me. Before college, I was home-schooled from the beginning of Year 8 until I finished my GCSE’s, so going back to school was like a long-forgotten experience.
College life and being home-schooled are almost polar opposites: at home I was in charge of every aspect, whereas at college I am only in charge of deciding how hard to do the work. Also, the change of environment was quite a shock – from deciding my own workload to being told exactly what to do, from being motivated by my own goals to striving towards goals and grades mostly set by my teachers, from working on my own for most of the day to being constantly around other people who had very different attitudes, views and morals to me. The expectations of me were high, from both the teachers and myself and, prior to going, I only knew one person in the whole sixth form. So, as a brand-new face to the school, I also knew people would be making judgements of me. So, possibly the biggest challenge was deciding how I wanted to portray myself at college.
So how did you deal with starting college?
Although I felt ready and excited to go back to school again, (and use my new pastel highlighters!) it was a lot to adjust to. The summer before starting college had probably been the best summer of my life: I’d spent 3 consecutive and amazing weeks at the Christian festivals, Creation Fest, New Wine and Soul Survivor, amongst many other things. You would think I would be on fire for God, and fully invested in my faith. At the time, I believed I was, and, although I didn’t give it too much thought, I was determined to make it obvious to everyone from the moment I started college that I was a Christian; or at least act in a way that made me stand out from my peers for the right reasons. Despite this, I was still very nervous, about A Levels, about the workload and homework, about classmates and making new friends.
And then I actually started college. Most of my worries were just that. Thankfully I got on well with all of my teachers, remembered to do my assignments, understood the new content, found my way around quickly and joined the friendship group of the sole person I knew, of whom I got on well.
On the surface, everything looked as if the transition couldn’t have gone better for me. Yet, as I quickly settled into my new routine, I didn’t realise that I had also settled very comfortably into a rut – a rut where I had turned my back on God and the way He wanted me to live. I wasn’t making time to read my Bible or pray, I was playing sport instead of going to church, and I pushed away some of my closest Christian friends. So I wasn’t being encouraged or even convicted by them. I just carried on, not thinking anything was wrong, instead, enjoying getting to know my new group and taking part in different things at school.
Yet as 2019 started drawing to a close, I started waking up already tired, feeling unmotivated and realising that I was questioning who I was and what life was actually for. Despite achieving good grades, studying interesting topics and getting on well with my friends, I felt insecure, lonely, fearful of my future and felt a lack of purpose. This is the same girl that, less than 3 months ago, had felt purposeful, unafraid, felt on fire for God and had vowed to continue that fire through thick and thin.
How did you rise out of the “rut” you found yourself living in?
Living in that rut continued until Corona hit earlier this year. I had realised a while before that I wasn’t in a good place, yet I didn’t know what to do about it. I felt too far from God and too ashamed of who I’d become. (Note: There is NO such thing as being too far from God! He will always be waiting for you with open arms.) It took a LOT of time and reflection during lockdown to realise where I had gone wrong; instead, I decided to bring it to God and come back to Him. It was hard, but the best decision ever.
My immediate downfall the year before was that I had based my whole faith on the hype of 3 Christian festivals. It’s not to say that I was pretending to be a Christian – my faith just wasn’t built on any sort of strong foundation, and it fell as soon as it was challenged. This then had a knock-on effect to other things: not spending time with God, and thus falling easily into the ways of everyone else. I realise now that festivals like those are to inspire and further the faith you already have, NOT to give you a burst of faith that will last you to the next summer, the next festival. This is NOT sustainable and it does NOT work! So, I was overjoyed when Megan asked me to write this.
Do you have some practical tips that we could take forward into different situations of change so that we can be better prepared?
You may be starting college/sixth form/uni, going into the next year of school; or you may be in a similar situation to me. Either way, this is some advice that I really wish I had been told last year. School unfortunately can be a hard place to hold onto your faith, so hopefully these tips will encourage you to do just that.
Decide who you want to be and exactly how you want to portray yourself before you start this next academic year.
Do you want to be open about your faith? Do you want to act in a way that will make others realise that there is something different about you?
No matter who you were last year, don’t think you can’t change this year! There is always time to re-evaluate your identity. If you decide this before you go, you are so much less likely to ‘go with the flow’ once you are there or go along with the behaviour of your peers, because you have made a pact with yourself. You don’t necessarily need to walk in on Day 1 declaring down the hallway that you are a Christian (you can if you want!) but if you act with intention and purpose from that first day, people will wonder and may ask questions. It may be scary, especially with new people, but they’ve clearly noticed good differences about you; so, step out and be bold about your faith. Declaring it to others will only reinforce it for you. However, this will not work on its own, as good intention on your part can only take you so far.
So, it sounds cliché but you need to make sure that you are setting aside time to spend with God. The school day and all that comes with it is tiring, but getting into a routine is so beneficial for your faith and for yourself. Reading the Bible and taking time to talk with God every day, even if it’s for 5-10 minutes, will set you up for the day ahead and prepare you for any challenges that you may face.
Also, you could swap out your usual playlist for a worship playlist on the walk or drive to school. This doesn’t just all end when you arrive at school though – talking to God throughout the day will strengthen your relationship with Him. Little changes to your routine can help you to remain focused on God and remind you who you serve, even when the pull of living without God can look attractive when in the school environment.
The Bible is big on close relationships and also on fellowship with other Christians. School and college can be hard environments, so before you go, find a fellow Christian that you trust and who you can talk to. They could be your age or not, but what matters is that they can encourage you in your faith and discuss any challenge or topic with you. If you tell them what you are struggling / likely to struggle with, they will be able to ask you how you are getting on and give you tips of how to overcome an issue, and they can pray for you! It is unlikely there will be many other Christians at school, so it is so important to have someone who is personally involved in your journey.
Thankfully, I have had quite a good experience with friendships, but remember that the people we choose to spend time with will undoubtedly have an impact on us, whether we like it or not. So, especially if you’re going to a college where you don’t know as many people, make sure you decide wisely about who you will spend time with. Who will have the most positive impact on you? Who will build you up, support you and motivate you for the right reasons, and help you to focus on your work and goals? Who won’t peer pressure you into anything you don’t want to do or try?
You are all SO worthy of supportive and amazing friends who you can trust to respect your goals and your boundaries, even if they are not Christians. If your ‘friends’ are putting you in compromising situations, encouraging or even humiliating you to do or try something that you don’t feel comfortable with, then you need to seriously reconsider who you are choosing to let impact you.
Finally I’ll leave you with this verse…
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.Proverbs 3:5
I pray you all have an amazing start back to school/college.