Peer to Peer: 5 Important Lessons I Have Learned as a Peer Advisor

When I started college, I never envisioned myself becoming a peer advisor let alone doing it for four years and loving it. When I first came to college, I was like any other typical pre-med. I thought that I would simply focus on my academics, get good grades, join a couple student organizations, and get some clinical experiences at a hospital. I was going to be what our office calls a “checklist applicant.” To think that could have been my four years is now unfathomable.

Peer advising, while unexpected, has become one of the most fulfilling and humbling experiences that I have ever had. It has not only allowed me to learn about and help hundreds of students through one-on-one and group advising, but it has also allowed me to meet and network with a diverse array of people from various backgrounds, share my story as a pre-health student, create programs to promote learning, and coordinate large events like the UC Davis Pre-Health Conference.

It gave me opportunities to do things I never imagined doing.

But most importantly, it has taught me many things about myself, about students and people in general, and about life, lessons that I would not have otherwise learned. Here are my top five:

1. While you cannot judge a book by its cover, you also cannot judge it by its summary.

Everyone has a story. That is obvious. However, the stories we often hear and the stories we often tell are usually never the full story—the story that makes up who we are. So much is still left in silence, in the sentences that we let trail off, and in the words we choose not to speak.

Through peer advising, I meet students from so many different walks of life, such as international students from China, immigrants from Iran, and students who are returning to school after years in the workforce. I also meet students with personal issues that they may not always want to share, from mental health to family dynamic to significant academic problems.

There have been appointments in which the entire half hour was focused solely on the student’s personal struggles—tears and tissues included. When these situations arise, it is always a challenge. While I may want to help them as much as I can, I know that sometimes I am not qualified to handle their cases and must be refer them to a professional counselor.

Oftentimes these cases do not arise, but whether or not they do, we must realize that each person comes in with a unique story, one that we must understand before advising can even occur. That is holistic advising. We do not always know what they may have experienced, but those experiences influence who they are, how they respond, and what they can accomplish.

As a peer advisor, I have come to realize that while people may appear to have everything together, especially in front of their friends and family, that may not always be the reality of their situation.

Everyone has their own stories filled with their own highs and lows, and we must remember that as it may make all the difference.

2. When it comes to reaching career goals (and other life goals), there is no such thing as being behind.

Whether the student is a first year or a fourth year, the topic of application timelines always comes up, especially the idea of going straight through versus taking a gap year. Everyone always seems to start off wanting to go straight through.

The most common phrase I hear is, “I feel behind.” It is funny, because I remember when I thought the exact same thing.

As a meticulous planner, I always thought that I would graduate high school, go to college, and then go to medical school right after. That plan quickly got tossed out the window by the end of my second year—but not without a lot of stress, anxiety, and some minor breakdown moments. After all, did you really attend college if you didn’t experience at least one of those things?

One of my former high school teachers once said that if you do not question yourself and what you want to do at some point during college, you did something wrong. I had laughed, not understanding how true it really was.

I used to think that if I did not take certain classes by certain quarters or if I did not accomplish certain goals by certain times, I was behind. But I soon realized that there is no such thing as behind. There is no right time for anything.

There may be ideal times, but then again, how do we define what is ideal and what is right? When it comes to your timeline, only you can decide. Everyone’s path is different even if the destination is the same, and what your path looks like is up to you. Do not let someone else dictate that. After all, it is your life.

3. Nothing ever really goes as planned. When they don’t, all we can do is adapt.

Grit. I first heard the term when watching my boss speak during a workshop, and it is one that I continue to hear over the years as a peer advisor. It is this concept of having the resilience to keep moving forward regardless of the setbacks or changes that may occur on your path.

We cannot control everything. It is impossible and pointless to even try, yet we will continue to do so.

I certainly will despite knowing I shouldn’t. Whatever happens will happen. All we can really do is take what we can control and work through the unexpected hiccups and challenges in life, adapting and learning as we go.

There have been countless times when things didn’t go as planned in my job, especially during large events. Speakers may arrive late, they may cancel at the last minute, equipment may not work, or the food may run out sooner than planned. If things do go smoothly, then great, but if they don’t, have the grit to adapt and move forward.

4. It is okay to need and ask for help.

As mentioned previously, people typically are not as composed as they may seem. Everyone is going through something, whether we see it or not. As a peer advisor, I see it more often than not, and that is something I do not take for granted.

I will get students who suddenly burst out crying in front of me after saying everything is alright, I will get students who randomly message me on Facebook stressed out, and I will get students who come in thinking they do not need help other than confirmation until we really begin to converse. Whether you are the crier or the person who needs validation, it is okay to need and ask for help.

It can feel vulnerable. After all, you are relying on someone else for help, but you are only hurting yourself by not asking.

In the past, I was always hesitant to ask for help. Growing up in a culture in which asking for help is uncommon and with a mother who requires you to first try and solve issues on your own, I found asking for help difficult. I did not want to be a burden to anyone. I still don’t. However, there are people whose job is to help others. They are paid to do so, so do not wait until you seriously need help to ask for it.

5. One moment can make a world of difference.

As a peer advisor, I always watch what I say and how I act, because I know that I have the power to make a large impact on other people’s lives whether I mean to or not. It comes with the territory.

There is a certain level of trust between an advisor and a student, and that is both daunting and amazing. There is nothing like the feeling of being able to take a student who is completely stressed out and guiding them to a place where they are happy while having what they need. But it is a lot of responsibility as what we say may last a lifetime.

The things we say and do hold so much power. They can inspire people, change perspectives, form connections, and create movements.

But they can also be destructive, bringing people down even if that was not the intention. So as you speak and write your words or as your words become actions, be mindful.

I always try to remember this.

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As a senior at UC Davis pursuing a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, & Behavior and a Professional Writing minor, I am also a peer advisor and a program coordinator for our Health Professions Advising Center. Through my roles, I meet and work with many students and organizations through advising, putting on workshops and special events, such as the UCD Pre-Health Conference, and creating material for students to use. I love working with people, along with reading, writing, and trying new things.

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Peer to Peer: 5 Important Lessons I Have Learned as a Peer Advisor

When I started college, I never envisioned myself becoming a peer advisor let alone doing it for four years and loving it. When I first came to college, I was like any other typical pre-med. I thought that I would simply focus on my academics, get good grades, join a couple student organizations, and get some clinical experiences at a hospital. I was going to be what our office calls a “checklist applicant.” To think that could have been my four years is now unfathomable.

Peer advising, while unexpected, has become one of the most fulfilling and humbling experiences that I have ever had. It has not only allowed me to learn about and help hundreds of students through one-on-one and group advising, but it has also allowed me to meet and network with a diverse array of people from various backgrounds, share my story as a pre-health student, create programs to promote learning, and coordinate large events like the UC Davis Pre-Health Conference.

It gave me opportunities to do things I never imagined doing.

But most importantly, it has taught me many things about myself, about students and people in general, and about life, lessons that I would not have otherwise learned. Here are my top five:

1. While you cannot judge a book by its cover, you also cannot judge it by its summary.

Everyone has a story. That is obvious. However, the stories we often hear and the stories we often tell are usually never the full story—the story that makes up who we are. So much is still left in silence, in the sentences that we let trail off, and in the words we choose not to speak.

Through peer advising, I meet students from so many different walks of life, such as international students from China, immigrants from Iran, and students who are returning to school after years in the workforce. I also meet students with personal issues that they may not always want to share, from mental health to family dynamic to significant academic problems.

There have been appointments in which the entire half hour was focused solely on the student’s personal struggles—tears and tissues included. When these situations arise, it is always a challenge. While I may want to help them as much as I can, I know that sometimes I am not qualified to handle their cases and must be refer them to a professional counselor.

Oftentimes these cases do not arise, but whether or not they do, we must realize that each person comes in with a unique story, one that we must understand before advising can even occur. That is holistic advising. We do not always know what they may have experienced, but those experiences influence who they are, how they respond, and what they can accomplish.

As a peer advisor, I have come to realize that while people may appear to have everything together, especially in front of their friends and family, that may not always be the reality of their situation.

Everyone has their own stories filled with their own highs and lows, and we must remember that as it may make all the difference.

2. When it comes to reaching career goals (and other life goals), there is no such thing as being behind.

Whether the student is a first year or a fourth year, the topic of application timelines always comes up, especially the idea of going straight through versus taking a gap year. Everyone always seems to start off wanting to go straight through.

The most common phrase I hear is, “I feel behind.” It is funny, because I remember when I thought the exact same thing.

As a meticulous planner, I always thought that I would graduate high school, go to college, and then go to medical school right after. That plan quickly got tossed out the window by the end of my second year—but not without a lot of stress, anxiety, and some minor breakdown moments. After all, did you really attend college if you didn’t experience at least one of those things?

One of my former high school teachers once said that if you do not question yourself and what you want to do at some point during college, you did something wrong. I had laughed, not understanding how true it really was.

I used to think that if I did not take certain classes by certain quarters or if I did not accomplish certain goals by certain times, I was behind. But I soon realized that there is no such thing as behind. There is no right time for anything.

There may be ideal times, but then again, how do we define what is ideal and what is right? When it comes to your timeline, only you can decide. Everyone’s path is different even if the destination is the same, and what your path looks like is up to you. Do not let someone else dictate that. After all, it is your life.

3. Nothing ever really goes as planned. When they don’t, all we can do is adapt.

Grit. I first heard the term when watching my boss speak during a workshop, and it is one that I continue to hear over the years as a peer advisor. It is this concept of having the resilience to keep moving forward regardless of the setbacks or changes that may occur on your path.

We cannot control everything. It is impossible and pointless to even try, yet we will continue to do so.

I certainly will despite knowing I shouldn’t. Whatever happens will happen. All we can really do is take what we can control and work through the unexpected hiccups and challenges in life, adapting and learning as we go.

There have been countless times when things didn’t go as planned in my job, especially during large events. Speakers may arrive late, they may cancel at the last minute, equipment may not work, or the food may run out sooner than planned. If things do go smoothly, then great, but if they don’t, have the grit to adapt and move forward.

4. It is okay to need and ask for help.

As mentioned previously, people typically are not as composed as they may seem. Everyone is going through something, whether we see it or not. As a peer advisor, I see it more often than not, and that is something I do not take for granted.

I will get students who suddenly burst out crying in front of me after saying everything is alright, I will get students who randomly message me on Facebook stressed out, and I will get students who come in thinking they do not need help other than confirmation until we really begin to converse. Whether you are the crier or the person who needs validation, it is okay to need and ask for help.

It can feel vulnerable. After all, you are relying on someone else for help, but you are only hurting yourself by not asking.

In the past, I was always hesitant to ask for help. Growing up in a culture in which asking for help is uncommon and with a mother who requires you to first try and solve issues on your own, I found asking for help difficult. I did not want to be a burden to anyone. I still don’t. However, there are people whose job is to help others. They are paid to do so, so do not wait until you seriously need help to ask for it.

5. One moment can make a world of difference.

As a peer advisor, I always watch what I say and how I act, because I know that I have the power to make a large impact on other people’s lives whether I mean to or not. It comes with the territory.

There is a certain level of trust between an advisor and a student, and that is both daunting and amazing. There is nothing like the feeling of being able to take a student who is completely stressed out and guiding them to a place where they are happy while having what they need. But it is a lot of responsibility as what we say may last a lifetime.

The things we say and do hold so much power. They can inspire people, change perspectives, form connections, and create movements.

But they can also be destructive, bringing people down even if that was not the intention. So as you speak and write your words or as your words become actions, be mindful.

I always try to remember this.

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