In my first weeks at USC, I thought I was adjusting well to college life. I loved the freedom from my parents. I felt like I came into my freshman year already involved in the community because I had joined the Daily Trojan earlier that summer, and I was signed up to volunteer as a local preschool teacher through USC’s Jumpstart program. My roommates and I were instant friends, and though my classes were challenging, they weren’t as difficult as I had expected them to be.
But slowly, that positive start to my semester began to fade until, about a month into the semester, my daily life had changed in some major ways. I began to overeat regularly, I started having trouble staying asleep at night and I was losing my academic focus; I was no longer putting as much work into my assignments and getting grades that reflected it.
I stopped conversing with anyone but my roommates or the minimal conversation that was required of my classes and extracurriculars at USC and began to lose touch with many of my high school friends — an experience that was inherently accompanied by overwhelming loneliness. At one point, I even began to question whether my chosen career track — journalism — was right for me, even though I’d known since fifth grade that I want to be a journalist.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was podcasts that were helping me deal with what I was going through.
I was already an avid listener to podcasts — their versatile quality made them perfect to listen to on long trips or while doing chores — but they grew to become an even more important part of my life last semester.
“Beautiful/Anonymous,” a podcast where host Chris Gethard talks to a single, random person for an hour without them ever sharing their name, brought me stories of others who were going through, or had gone through, their own mental health issues, making me feel less alone while helping me realize that I would eventually get past my current challenges.
“Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,” a game show podcast where contestants share interesting research and studies under the main criteria of judges, helped me rediscover my love for learning, prompting me to begin putting in the effort I needed to for my classes and their assignments.
“Sleep With Me,” a podcast literally designed to help fight insomnia, provided a soothing, disorienting sound that would make me fall asleep in 15 minutes, and enjoy a great night of sleep.
Podcasts also proved to be helpful beyond their individual sound.
By some weird coincidence, the director of research of “Radiolab” (one of my favorite podcasts because it uses sound to tell stories in an unmatched imaginative way), Latif Nasser, happened to be giving a talk at my residential college. Hearing him speak about storytelling and journalism, and talking to him individually after the event, reinforced my commitment to journalism and made me even more excited to be pursuing that career.
Writing has always been therapeutic for me, and throughout the semester, I was working on a podcast review guide, a 10,000-word blog on my 100 favorite podcasts. Finishing the guide last semester was one of the few things I felt like I had accomplished, and it provided a sense of progress in time that otherwise felt dreadfully stagnant.
There are thousands of podcasts out there, and the ones I’ve listened to have had profound effects on my life. But podcasts are still a relatively obscure medium compared to storytelling through film or literature. So I’m going to use this column to share my relationships with the podcasts I’ve listened to, with the hope that someone out there might benefit from the affectual sound experiences that podcasts are.
Karan Nevatia is a freshman majoring in journalism. He is also the news editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Pod Willing,” runs every other Friday.