“You’re on your own, kid.” This very phrase served as the backdrop for my collegiate arrival. This very phrase was what my family and friends referred to “advice.” This very phrase… well, I referred to it as stomach-turning, nail biting, gotta-run-to-the-bathroom-real-fast fear.

My first year at UAB as a Biology major was daunting. Here I was, a little fish in a big pond of diversity. How could the world allow me to be on my own when I still Google the recipe for macaroni and cheese? So, I did what every strong, brave, and ambitious girl in my situation would do… I found a spot in the corner of the library, and I made that my home.

As the semester continued, I grew confused. I would gaze across my make-shift library cavern to see a cluster of my peers studying and outwardly enjoying themselves. I was alone, drowning in a sea of biology textbooks, and internally screaming help me, hoping someone had the ability to read my mind. All the while, I suffered in my dimly-lit corner attempting to breach a smile at anyone who looked my way.

I knew I would never survive like this; I knew I had to find something new. I prayed to God, and anyone else who was out there listening, that a change in my major would be my salvation. I met with an advisor about a career-path switch to Biomedical Sciences. The advisor repeatedly mentioned how this major is achieved through a team learning environment. Retrospectively, this was the best decision I have ever made. My potential expanded. I began to learn what it means to actually learn, and listen, and respect others.

I used to trick myself into believing that everyone thinks the way I do, and if they didn’t, I turned them off faster than a corny holiday movie. Here is a story for you: in one of my first biomedical classes, we participated in an activity where you stand-up and move to a designated spot if you agree or disagree on a prompted subject matter.

“Psh, easy,” I thought to myself. Then the teacher threw us a curveball: we had to provide our reasonings for agreeing or disagreeing. My heart rate sped up, my palms began getting sweaty, and all I could think to myself then was “Okay...not so easy.”

By way of natural selection, I was called on first amongst a group of students to defend my opinion. I realized two things at the end of this lesson: 1) I would not survive in a Darwinist world, and 2) I reserved judgment, internal remarks, and personal reservation towards everyone.

My eyes truly opened. I realized differences in opinions are an asset to my academic career, not a hindrance. If I could respect how others interpret information, I could not only memorize a lesson, but I could truthfully understand and comprehend the material. This monumental moment paved my way to embrace a team learning environment.

My UAB peers have become my family members. I hope you’re still sitting tight. Here’s another one of my stories: I remember receiving my very first test back and nonchalantly comparing my grade to the docile girl beside me. I had scored higher than her, and in a way, I felt incredibly accomplished. It was as if the room had dimmed lightly, an audience began clapping, and a diamond tiara was being bestowed upon my rounded head while I was preparing for a thank you speech. After returning from my own fantasy, I realized the meek girl was saddened and dismayed. She clutched my arm and whispered, “We’re studying together for the next test.”

In that moment, time froze. We were longer fantasized competitors. We were now teammates. Every day we studied rigorously; we cheered each other on at the library into the dawn hours of morning, and we wished each other luck before the start of each test. She became more than the girl who sat next to me…she became family. Very soon after her and I joined forces, our team of two became four, and four became six. We all worked to help each other out because, well, that's what family members do.

Team learning gave me a mind that is open, aware, and prepared for different experiences. My academic career is at an all-time high, and my grades have drastically increased. I encourage and advocate all students to utilize UAB’s team learning environments the way that I have.