How Do I Know?
So I was talking to my younger sister for a while last night, and naturally she asked me how my first year was going, if I liked it, if I really did have friends, what was so great, and all the other typical sibling questions. And obviously I answered them all, but she seemed to be looking for a totally different explanation: how I could like it here.
You see, my family’s from Massachusetts, so naturally we have this notion that everything is better in New England. It was kind of a surprise to my family when I chose to come here to Vanderbilt in what might as well be another country to a New Englander. I think my sister, along with many other relatives and friends of mine, is still trying to figure out what makes this place so great, how I could possibly be so happy here in a place that is not New England.
Well, Sarah (and all other people who are too proper to ask me outright), here’s how I know I’m in the right place.
I know I am getting an incredible education here, both inside and outside of the classroom, and I know I am surrounded by incredibly talented people. But, and this is a big deal to me, I don’t feel like I walk into classes trying to compete with my classmates. When I’m confused in class, there is no shame in asking questions, no matter how simple, and I feel comfortable turning to the people next to me and asking for help. Your classmates are actually not secretly rooting against you or waiting for you to fail; we help each other here.
This sounds really strange, but it makes a big difference. I loved my high school, but it was a competitive college-prep school. People were willing to help each other to some extent, but it often felt like we were trying to outdo one another. Maybe it helped motivate us or better prepare us to get into college, but the collaborative environment here is doing far better than that: it’s preparing us for the real world, to work in teams and for a common goal rather than selfishly. It’s teaching us the value of supporting our colleagues, and it makes a world of difference when I walk into class each day. My Organic Chemistry professor brings in cookies after our exams for the student(s) with the highest grade and student(s) with the most improved grade. And we clap for them rather than sitting in our seats and pouting that we aren’t receiving the cookies. When students have a relevant insight from another class they’re taking, they can speak up without feeling like a show-off, and we all benefit and learn from it.
It doesn’t hurt that Vanderbilt also provides endless opportunities for activities, adventures and concerts (yes, I’m seeing Taylor Swift with my roommate tonight!!!!) Also, I’m 1,100 miles from my house and, though I do miss my family and friends, I feel completely at home.
So, to pull a Breakfast Club here:
Dear family and friends,
I accept the fact that I had to sacrifice seeing your beautiful faces daily for whatever it was that I saw in Vanderbilt. I think you’re crazy to make me try to explain why I think I’m here. You think what you want to think, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what I’ve found out is that each student here is a genius and a supporter and a Vandy fan, a friend and a Commodore. Does that answer your question?
Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club (fanatic)