Ao: Take some time to be alone

Bethany Ao, Columnist

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Last Winter Quarter, I went to Shedd Aquarium for a day by myself before finals. Residential Services had planned a trip for students living on campus that included transportation to and from the aquarium, as well as free admission. One of my friends had asked me to go the night before to de-stress before our exams, but when I went to her room the next morning five minutes before we were supposed to leave, she was still asleep. Even though I was slightly irritated, I decided to go anyways. After all, who can resist cute sea otters and dolphins?

After the bus arrived at the aquarium, many people paired off with their friends and began exploring the different exhibits. I trailed behind, feeling a little lonely. Eventually, however, I realized that because I wasn’t with anyone at the aquarium, I could spend as much time as I wanted at each exhibit. I peppered the expert on beluga whales with questions about the animals and stayed there for over 20 minutes, just watching the animals frolic in the water. I revisited my favorite parts of the aquarium multiple times, and by the time I left, I felt even more refreshed, relaxed and energized than when I came.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an introvert. I recharge when I’m by myself, and being around too many people for a long time exhausts me. But whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, alone time at college is a rare, but much-needed break from the daily grind.

Here’s why: At college, it’s likely that you’re around people all the time. Between your friends, your classmates, your annoying TA and your obnoxious roommate, it’s likely that you’re constantly socializing. While chatting with your friends is a very crucial part of college, alone time will help you avoid burning out too quickly, think about decisions more deeply and most importantly, learn to accept and even become friends with yourself.

Chances are if you’re at Northwestern, you’ve worked your butt off to get here. I pulled many late nights in high school, and it’s no different in college. Besides dealing with heavy workloads, many of us are also committed to at least one or two clubs or sports teams on campus. With so many things going on, it’s really easy to get caught up in the flurry of activities and busyness.

Not only that, but college also requires a lot of big decision-making. What classes are you going to take next quarter? Are you going to study abroad or not? Which internships do you want to apply early to? These decisions require a lot of thought even though many of us don’t have the luxury of sitting down and considering them. Before you know it, you’ve physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted yourself.

You can avoid all this by carving out small chunks of your day for some solitude. Walking to class alone instead of with a giant group of friends can be incredibly relaxing. Taking the El down to Chicago for some afternoon shopping and a cup of coffee without company may help you clear your mind of worries. Even working out or eating a meal alone can be very re-energizing.

No one can avoid being alone forever. You’ll experience moments in life that will leave you feeling lonely. However, if you start getting comfortable with spending time by yourself now, those moments are going to feel easier when they come along. That’s why I’m encouraging you to consider spending the next Friday night in with a good book or movie, a mug of hot chocolate and of course, yourself.

Bethany Ao is a Medill sophomore. She can be reached at If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to