Since my last grades have been posted, I want to reminisce over the eye-opening, turbulent, exhilarating, and chaotic first year I had at Brown University. My time in Providence taught me more about the road I have to take to achieve independence, a road full of bumps and potholes, and my time at Brown Online taught me about the importance of community no matter the distance.
SUMMER BEFORE BROWN
The reason why I wanted to go to Brown so badly was because of the open curriculum and the 1,763 miles between Rhode Island and my hometown. The summer before Brown, though, was a period of regret because I feared that I had made a massive mistake by choosing to go to school so far away. To combat my second-thoughts and ease my worries, I applied and got accepted to a pre-orientation program that allowed me to get situated at Brown a few weeks before everyone else while also getting to meet other students from similar backgrounds interested in STEM. By the start of regular orientation I felt like I could get a handle of everything, but like all good stories, nothing went as expected.
The first thing that pops up into my head when I think about my first semester was the complete culture shock that came from the fact that so many of my classmates were affluent beyond my capacity of belief. When I arrived at my dorm, I had two big suitcases that stored all my clothes for the year and decorations. I thought the room was so spacious and I had never eaten so consistently in my life. On the flip side, move in day for the rest of the class felt like whiplash as I saw peers roll in with plasma TVs and luggage after luggage (there was one friend who told me that her roommate brought in her maid to clean up her dorm room). There were people complaining about the room sizes and how they found the food so distasteful, they would rather skip it.
But in all honesty it wasn’t the inequality of money that got to me on a personal level, it was the fact that I missed my parents. It seemed like everyone was accompanied by their parents that day as they spent a few more hours together before a send-off, and I wished I could have had that moment with mine. It was even worse when Family Weekend rolled around, and all I had planned those days were study sessions and shifts at my job. The loneliness and homesickness can feel like a weight engulfing your very being. At one point I denounced the idea of individualism as I grasped for the need of familiarity.
The academics did not help my mental state either. Plainly put, classes at Brown are hard. I had to study three times as hard as I did in high school, and as finals began, I longed for winter break at home; car rides to the Dallas bridge, Mexican food binges, the warmth of family and friends.
Being at home was everything I imagined, but as I laid in bed that first night back, I realized I had only seen the negatives of Brown when there were hidden gems across that experience that had secretly made me miss my campus. I missed the chicken pot pie from the V-Dub dining hall, I missed the accomplishment I felt when completing assignments after hours of hard work, I missed the clubs that made me feel accepted like WORD! Performance Poetry, and I missed ranting about hardships with classmates who understood how difficult Brown can be for UFli students. That winter break I was determined to go back to Brown and appreciate the silver linings.
I went back in late January with a mission to never let a moment pass. I got into classes that I really enjoyed because I exercised the beauty of the open curriculum to the fullest extent (I even changed the trajectory of my concentration). I got more involved on campus with organizations such as the BWell Program by becoming a Sexual Assault Peer Educator. I even started subconciously referring to my dormitory as “my house” in conversations with people.
All the hurdles I faced in my first semester did not disappear with “positive thinking”, but I did not want to forget about the girl that just a year ago was excited to explore the world bit by bit. Things were really looking up for me, but the cosmos have a really funny way of writing destiny (I don’t think they’ll be winning an Emmy anytime soon).
I was just getting off a plane from a conference I was attending in late February when the news hit that the first cases of COVID were diagnosed in Rhode Island. During that time, it didn’t seem like huge news, but the coming weeks proved that this virus was serious as the campus was to be shut down.
Taking college courses in moments of crisis in a very small household is not the most ideal situation to put it mildly. I missed my family with all my heart, but the conditions were rough and many times I wondered if I could make it through the semester. Yet throughout the weeks I found refuge with my classmates as we commiserated through Zoom about our current state. These moments of solidarity helped me along the last weeks I needed to complete my semester.
I am not sure how the next school year will look like given the pandemic, but I do know that there will always be a source of strength that can make the journey bearable. Plus, the universe seems to love writing in twists and turns to keep us on our toes for the next season, so predicting with unrelenting certainty will cause major disappointment.