An End and a New Beginning

The First Summer After High-School

yaleI’m feeling a bubbly mixture of excitement, nervousness, and fear as the start of my time at Yale approaches; it really is a dream come true, and it still feels like a fantasy sometimes. I am a little bit distraught about how to pick what extracurriculars to pursue at Yale when I have so many to choose from.

This is the first summer since elementary school where I haven’t been busy with extracurriculars or extra coursework, so I’ve been trying to focus on myself this summer — something which I haven’t had a chance to do in the past. I’ve been taking yoga classes to get in shape physically and mentally, and I am loving it!

I have also been trying to get through as much of my Los Angeles bucket list as possible — over the past few weeks I learned how to bike and skateboard for the first time, which had somehow evaded me up until now, and am looking forward to my first surfing lesson.  I am learning new things and preparing for my first year as a Quest Scholar.

As High-School came to an end, it truly felt as though I had ended a chapter in the book of my life. Turning 18 and becoming an “adult” accentuated the feeling that I was losing control while also gaining all the freedom in the world. No longer am I a child, with a set of classes and expectations to fulfill, but an adult with the opportunities of a lifetime waiting ahead.

The teacher at my Yoga studio is a life coach and in reading the biography on her blog and hearing her life story, it hit me that though I am now no longer a child but I am by no means a real “adult”. I still have an entire life to live, and so much to experience. This is an end, but also a great new beginning.

Good luck to all Class of 2019 Quest Scholars!

Brian Matusovsky, Yale Class of 2019

To Move Or Not To Move?

IMG_0355Deciding whether to move away for college or stay close to home can be a difficult decision, but there really isn’t a right or wrong answer. It mostly depends on your personality, timing, and a host of other curve balls, but I can say that for me, it was the best decision. I am a pretty independent person and knew I always wanted to live in California since I was 5 years old. My dream is to be a journalist so I guess one reason why it seemed smart to go to school in California was because the career that I want to have has a big concentration in Los Angeles. Being on the West Coast made it easier to find internships and opportunities and be a part of the media as an undergrad.

I also knew that I wanted to be away from the cold. Weather may not seem like a big factor in college decisions, and I would agree that is not the most important, but weather often can affect your mood. My thinking was that more sunny days would make me happier and more willing to study. Also, who wants to trudge through the snow every day to get class every day? Not me.

Most importantly, I guess I wanted a different view of the world. I had never been to the West Coast before and I always heard it was more laid back, a little more liberal, and overall a place where I would be able to enjoy college life. When I visited Pomona for the first time on their diversity weekend, I fell in love with the West Coast and could not see myself anywhere else. And just to make the decision easier for myself I basically applied to only West Coast schools so that I would have to end up there.

This is not to say that moving away from home is the easiest thing in the world, because I am 99.99% sure that all of you who will go to college away from home will feel homesick at some time, whether it’s missing your home’s food, people, the vibes—and this is for everyone who goes to college in general. I still miss home every now and then, especially during holidays where I can’t just fly home to see my family because it is a bit expensive (you should also factor that in when you are deciding). Especially for me, moving from Chicago, a big city, to the small little suburb of Claremont, it was definitely an adjustment. But I think that is the beauty of college. You evolve, you grow as a person, you gain independency that you never thought you had, and as long as you choose the college that is right for you, adjusting does not take very long. I am super pro-moving away from home because I think the process made me completely immerse myself in the college environment and I know many of my friends who stayed closer to home had a longer adjustment process because they visited home constantly the first couple of months. It honestly just depends on your circumstances, but as long as you do what’s best for you, college will be a great experience no matter where you go!

 — Ashley Land, Quest Scholar, Pomona ’16

I’m Going On An Adventure!

adventureIn a beautiful September of 2009, I stood in front of Clark, my freshman dorm building, for the first time of my life. It was my first time living away from home, and I felt exuberant for my new semester. As I was staring at fellow new students coming in and out of the dorm building, I just couldn’t wait to start living here. This was also the exact moment the first real problem hit me: how to move all my luggage into my room. I had two large suitcases and a huge backpack. Luckily, I was assigned on the first floor, just by the staircases, and a few upper classmen helped me settle in. It was a real pain moving everything in and taken everything out in my room. I was forced, yet gratefully, to learn my first lesson of traveling alone: never pack more than needed. Later, I learned from my upper classmen, that the campus had tag sales every semester. Most of the non-essential or essential items can be found at those. As the freshman class comes in, the senior class graduates, and people love to recycle. I got two lamps (in perfect condition), a mirror, a dozen hangers, and a laundry basket, almost for free. They have served me loyally during my college years, and have been passed down to my lower classmen. In short, just pack the essentials, and the rest can come later.

The other things I realized after moving to Wesleyan were that I was expected to be more independent and take on a lot more responsibilities than I’d ever imagined. Of course, the first thing that jumped into my mind was “Freedom!” The first semester of college was like a door suddenly swung open, and waves of thrilling things kept washing me over. To keep myself standing in the tides, I would need a lot more skills, such as self-control, time management, etc. After many years of learning, I gradually acquired these skills.

There were so many “first-time-experiences” waiting for me in my freshman year. I used a clothes dryer and the campus ID card paying system for the first time. I had to figure it out with a hallmate. I still remember the two of us standing awkwardly in front of the laundry machine, trying to figure out the difference between the bottoms of “regular” and “bright color”. I had a roommate for the first time. The residential life had us sign a roommate agreement. It seemed silly when we sat down to read over the agreement, but it made sense afterwards. We learned from each other, learned to share, and grew together. It was a great time.

Moving away from home for college was a big step outside my comfort zone, but the magic did happen. The new environment tested my limit. This was a great opportunity to discover myself, to build new bonds, to broaden my horizons and to challenge my belief. I learned to use different perspectives to view things and make decisions. “Independence” and “responsibility” were not merely elusive concepts anymore. They gradually grew flesh and bones, became my concrete reality. I may have been far away from home, but I formed new roots, and learned to extend them further. That was a priceless adventure for starters, and I am still traveling.

Shu Zhang, Quest Scholar Alum, Wesleyan ’13

There’s No Place Like 800 Miles From Home

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After my college acceptances came in, I had the option of two extremes: I could go to schools nearby—The University of Tennessee Knoxville, twenty minutes away, or Maryville College, a liberal arts school inexplicably in my tiny conservative town—or I could go to Wesleyan, 800 miles from home. Looking back, it seems almost insane that I chose to go to Wesleyan, knowing that the distance would be insurmountable from both ends. I would rarely be able to visit home, and my family would essentially never be able to visit me. The obstacle, of course, was not really distance, but money.

Many high school seniors are nervous about going to college far from home. After all, our parents are the center of our world from the time we are born until the time we graduate from high school—sometimes annoying, but always there with a plan and a hug and those soccer cleats you left at home. It’s a big adjustment for any teenager, but in reality, for a well-off or middle-class student, attending college two hours away or twelve hours away is relatively the same experience: you’re more likely to be able to go home for all school breaks and have your parents will be there for during Parent’s Weekend. For a student from a low-income background, the story is much different. During my time at Wesleyan, my mother was able to visit campus exactly twice—once to pick me up after freshman year ended, and once for graduation. My father only made it up to Connecticut once, to see me graduate. I never had a visitor to show around on Family Weekend, or to introduce to my hallmates and friends. This was not my parents’ choice. They simply could not afford to visit me.

For me, this immobility was the key defining factor of attending college far from home. Thanksgiving, Fall, and Spring Breaks were times of year I watched my friends, even ones from as far away as California, pack up and head back home, while I generally remained stranded on campus. This is simply another sacrifice low-income students often have to make if they want to attend prestigious universities. Because I participated in a Thanksgiving Parade with the marching band during my senior year of high school, the November after college graduation was the first Thanksgiving I had spent with my family in five years.  If someone had told me that was going to happen before I accepted Wesleyan’s offer of acceptance, I would have been terrified.

If you go to school far from home, you, too, are likely going to have to get used to being alone at times when you might otherwise have been with family. It is not as easy to share your triumphs and fears with the ones you love through technology, and sometimes when you need your family the most, they won’t be able to be there. That’s the bad news. The good news is that attending college far away from your hometown also opens a lot of opportunities for you to enjoy new kinds of experiences. I found that I was sometimes grateful not to be headed anywhere for Fall Break—it was so short that I was perfectly content to re-charge by watching Netflix in my room for four days and watch my jet-lagged hallmates wander in Sunday evening before classes began. Those Thanksgivings I missed with my family? I spent one with a friend’s family in Boston, where they rented out a dance hall filled with both music and tables of food to celebrate the holiday. I spent another watching a James Bond marathon with a different friend’s family in a nearby Connecticut town before making my way back to campus for an exciting adventure of trying to figure out how to get back inside my dorm without my key when everyone was gone and Public Safety was closed (Spoiler Alert: I knocked on a lot of windows). I spent another Thanksgiving in New York City, standing in the cold for hours and hours to watch the Macy’s Parade go by, and another in New Jersey, eating traditional Chinese cooking instead of green bean casserole and mashed potatoes.

There will probably be times that you feel lonely to be so far from home. But I promise that no matter how lonely you feel, you won’t ever actually be alone. The campus may seem quiet, and it may seem like every person you know has gone home except for you, but there are other students experiencing the same feelings all across campus—students who may not be able to afford to go home, like you, or international students, for whom a two or three-day break from classes isn’t even close to enough time to get home, or even students who don’t really have a home to go back to. There are other people in your same situation, and even if you don’t meet up with them while you’re stuck at school, it can be nice to know that they’re there. You will find people who refuse to let you be alone on holidays, who will bring you into their families and traditions. You will go on adventures you never expected, and learn to be independent just a little bit faster than everyone else you know. And, in this age of technology, home is only a phone call, a Skype date, or a Snapchat away.

Maybe you’re the first member of your family to go college, or the first to finish, but regardless of your circumstances, going to college will change your life—it’s meant to change your life, to make it better. Eight hundred miles may seem like a long way to be from home, but for me, and for some of you, it was only the first step.

Jessica Jordan, Quest Scholar Alum, Wesleyan ’13

I Put a Thousand Miles Between My Parents and Myself

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Sometimes college students go into college with the idea that they have successfully run away from home. What some of us don’t realize is that we had nothing to run away from.

So here’s my story: I am an only child and I come from a Latino family. That sentence alone carries a lot of weight with it. Latino families do not move far away from each other. I saw that in my own family. My cousins, who now have their own kids, still live with their parents. I love my cousins, but looking at their lives frightened me. Did I have to follow the same pattern: high school and factory job? Then find myself a girl so I could have kids? I feared all of this.

My parents have been in this country for around thirty years. My father can kind of speak and read English. My mother cannot read, write, or speak English. They both can kind of read and write in Spanish. I took care of all the paperwork. I dealt with anything that had English in it. I took care of income taxes, bills and any medical or school paperwork. I got fed up with this situation, and more importantly, I got scared. Was I expected to stay home and do this forever? I am an only child. Who else would do it?

I hated all of this. I did everything I could to stop it from happening. I worked hard in high school. I got into college. I left Chicago. I left my parents behind. I left my family. I ran away from that pre-destined life.

I loved my first semester of college. I enjoyed my classes. I enjoyed Maine. I enjoyed the freedom. And I still do.

More importantly, I did not think about home. My parents called — and still do — every Sunday. We talk…for a minute, maybe two. Small talk. “How’s the weather over there?” “How’s work/school/Chicago/Maine?” I basically cut off all communication with home. I went back home during winter break for only two weeks. I went out with an old friend and a college friend. I barely saw my parents.

I haven’t been back to Chicago since January 3, 2013.

Being away from home for so long has given me time to reflect. Why did I run away? Why did I make every effort to forget home? I tried helping my parents deal with our separation by ignoring them. I figured having as little communication as possible with them would help them get used to not having me around. They would eventually figure things out without me.

Where am I going with this long story? My argument goes back to the question I posed in the title of this blog. The problem did not have to do with helping my parents deal with the separation. The question should have been: how do I deal with it? I think that every college student should stop and think about this. Many of us cannot wait to leave home for whatever reason. You know my reasons. But do they make sense? What was I running away from?

My parents love me. I have always known this, but college has helped me rediscover this. They are okay with me being at Bowdoin College. They showed me that when they took me out of a public school in fourth grade and invested in a parochial school. They reminded me of it when they stood at my side as I entered one of the top private high schools in Chicago with a scholarship. They wished me the best of luck when I graduated. They loved me when they dropped me off at Bowdoin. They call me every week. What other reminders did I need?! The future I had feared did not exist. My parents had already taken care of that. I just could not see that.

So how do you actually help your parents adjust to the reality that you are a thousand miles away? You talk to them about your life when they call. You let them know you are grateful for what they have done for you. Let them know you are having a great time and that will help them feel happy for you. How do you deal with the separation? You do the same thing.

— by Miguel Aviles, Quest Scholar, Bowdoin ’16

This post was originally published on 10/14/13 on the Quest Scholars Network blog.