From Our Scholar Blogs:

Bonnette’s First Weeks at Whitman

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“Based on what I picked up from movies, college life was very exciting and full of very enthusiastic people. From lectures given by passionate professors to intense varsity sports, it all seemed unreal to me. Adding to the mystery, I had a couple of friends who attended colleges in the U.S., and when I would ask them about their experiences, they would give me a similar insight. When I got to school, I found out that it was actually nothing like in the movies. You can imagine my relief when I started to realize that everything was pretty normal! At some points, I felt I was still home because nothing seemed out of the ordinary to me – except the food, of course.

My first two weeks were overwhelming and filled with total chaos, but in a good way. We were getting so much different information from different departments and services all at once. Most of the things were very new to me, like how to manage my student account and financial aid, where to get what, how to shop online, and so much more.

The next week I felt like a pro; I had a formula to everything, and already knew where to go for help with every problem that may arise. I came prepared, ready to take off, and I was prepared to work as twice hard as the other students. I knew there would come a time where I would face challenges understanding lectures, or learn things differently versus the way I was used of doing them back home, such as finding a limit’s continuity. When this happened, I sought help from my professor, went to tutoring sessions from assistant tutors, and watched videos on YouTube to help myself understand. I was ahead of my game!

Then there came the unexpected. I read an article from the New York Times that ranked Whitman College as one of the third least-diverse schools in the U.S., meaning Whitman wasn’t accessible to students of all backgrounds. This urged me to find out more about the school’s demographics. I knew there would be a gap, but I did not expect to find out just how large the gap was. When I compared their families’ monthly income to mine, my mother’s earnings were nowhere close to theirs. For a couple of days, I wasn’t sure what to make of this. I felt proud that I made it into such a prestigious school, but at the same time, I felt as if I did not belong. I felt inferior and that I did not have a voice. These kids had backgrounds very different from mine. For many reasons, I felt like I did not meet the criteria.

The fourth week, there was a “First Generation Working Class Club” gathering. I attended the event, and there I found students who shared this feeling. An alumni and senior talked to us about how they made sense of this, as they were both first generation, working class students. Right then, I remembered what I always wrote in college applications essays when they asked what I would bring to the school. My main answer would always be the same: a different perspective. I had a very different background from most of the students on campus, and life experiences that had molded my character. I figured out that I was here to learn and grow, but the same time, challenge others so that they could grow too. I was here to be the voice of the minority. Every now and then, I tell myself that I am here to learn from my fellow students, but also to inspire them to look at the world in a different perspective – my perspective, rather than what they are used to.