At the end of my first year at Ithaca College, I applied to become a resident assistant (RA). When I got the job, I was elated, imagining a wonderful community that I helped create, where everyone became friends. To be honest, I entered the position with rose-colored glasses, unprepared for how difficult it would be. This opportunity completely redirected my whole college experience. I had to learn not only how to support myself through the stresses of college, but also how to guide others through it as well. I was no longer responsible for just myself, rather I had to think about the needs of my residents, other RAs and the community. I had to sacrifice nights out with my friends for duty shifts and department meetings.
Now, as seniors, many of my peers are beginning to learn the skills needed for the “adult world,” like signing leases, paying rent and figuring out how the trash system works in Ithaca. At first, I felt like I was missing out, still relying on all my meals from the dining hall and having no idea how a lease works.
After a while, I began to see how many valuable skills I learned in the past three years and how they translate into my future career as an occupational therapist. When my class began practicing active and reflective listening to prepare us for interviewing our clients, I noticed I have been utilizing these skills for years in my one-on-one meetings with residents. As we discussed interdisciplinary teams, I thought about all the time I spent working with other RAs planning events, going on rounds and developing solutions for issues we saw in the department. I might not be cooking meals for myself, but I am finally learning how to support others while also taking care of myself. I am learning to set boundaries and accepting that I cannot take on everything. While the RA position may have kept me from a traditional college experience, I cannot be more thankful for all that the other RAs and my residents have taught me.
I still might have a pretty big learning curve as I enter the “adult world,” but I feel as though being an RA has given me the tools I need to face the real world head-on. If anyone is considering becoming an RA, I highly recommend talking to other RAs and finding out about their experiences. The job can be incredibly rewarding; however, it is important to make an educated decision on whether the position will be the best fit. In the end, I think I made the right choice.