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New on campus? Welcome to the Gator Nation! Here are some ideas to help you settle in.

Back-to-school jitters are a universal experience. But for some students stepping onto college campuses for the first time, the nerves could be the result of more than a year of virtual learning.

“It’s exciting to have students who were freshmen last year but are really having an on-campus experience this year, and it’s exciting to have first-year students who were taking classes at home last year,” said Nora Kilroy, Director of Off Campus Life at the University of Florida. “No matter what year you are, it will be an exciting opportunity to be engaged on campus.”

So, fear not: Kilroy and Bradley Lanza, a graduate student at Off Campus Life, have some ideas to help you start shaping your student experience at UF by uncovering Gainesville.

‘Discover Gainesville’ with Off Campus Life 

Anxious about finding your place in a brand-new city? No need to worry – the Off Campus Life team works hard to connect students to resources and activities in the area, Kilroy said.

Each month, she and her team host Discover Gainesville, a guided activity to help new students explore food, culture and more on and off campus. Once events are scheduled, students can register in advance to have tickets or admission fees covered by Off Campus Life.

In the past, the program has brought student groups locations such as the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History on campus, the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo and Corks & Colors Studio. This fall, new students can look forward to an array of exciting activities  including axe throwing, trying out local food trucks, Halloween-themed festivities and pottery painting, Lanza said.

Stay connected by plugging in for virtual updates 

Follow @ufoffcampuslife on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to find more events and advice for settling in, including #TipTuesday, which features advice on living off campus, and #FoodFriday, which spotlights local restaurants. Or wait for “I Love Gainesville Week” in February. For that week, students can share their favorite spot, store or thing to do in Gainesville on social media to win prizes.

For more, subscribe to the Off Campus Life student e-newsletter. Or, “What’s Good” is a weekly event guide sent out by the City of Gainesville that you can subscribe to for updates on local events.

Get in touch with Gainesville’s green side 

Beyond the energy of campus and the hustle of downtown, Gainesville also has a stunning nature scene. A fan of the outdoors himself, Lanza suggested all newcomers find time to explore the parks, trails and sights nearby.

Located roughly 20 minutes south of campus and accessible by bus, Lake Wauburg offers a variety of land and water activities – such as swimming, boating, sailing, fishing, grilling and volleyball – all free of charge with a Gator 1 Card.

Nearby is Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, a 21,000-acre savanna with eight nature trails and a vast variety of animal life. Entrance fees range between $2 and $6, depending on vehicle and number of guests.

And if you’re looking for something close to campus, Depot Park, about two miles away, is a public park with its own walking and biking trails. Visitors can also grab a bite to eat at one of the several restaurants located at the park.

Make getting vaccinated a priority this semester 

Check the COVID-19 vaccine off your back-to-school to-do list. You can schedule an appointment at ONE.UF or by calling the Student Health Care Center at 352-249-7472.

Walk-ins are also welcome at the Student Health Care Center Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1-4 p.m.

Sources: Nora Kilroy,;
Bradley Lanza,

Writers: Veronica Nocera,;
Halle Marchese,