Before daybreak we crammed all of my boxed possessions into the car. I was leaving everything that was familiar. Skyscrapers, streetlights, billboards, 24 hour restaurants, homeless people, trains, buses, traffic, esteemed eating establishments, street food, harsh wind, friends, family, past employers, the lake—all these things and more rushed through my mind as we zipped down the expressway. There isn’t as much traffic leaving the city compared to entering it; I always thought that was because no one in his/her right mind would want to leave Chicago, let alone leave and not come back.
But now, I was that deranged outlier.
Looking out the window, I saw civilization disappear until nothing was left but our Dodge Nitro and open land. The cornfields became overwhelming. The road was never ending. The radio stations dwindled until we were left with nothing but Christian Rock and Pop Music. And as the hours passed we still had not reached our destination. Meanwhile, my family treated me like I had a terminal illness, asking questions like: “Are you scared? What are you expecting? Can I have your PS3?” And tossing supportive blanket statements like: “We believe in you! We are here for you! …You’ll be fine!”
When we arrived I was given a key and then 30 athletic strangers bombarded our car. They delivered all my possessions to my new home, which was at the highest floor of a building made in 1965. I unpacked and exchanged awkward goodbyes with my family. And just like that I was alone in a field of small town/suburban strangers.
BUT I SURVIVED.
Though Mt. Vernon, Iowa is worlds away from Chicago, I’ve come to appreciate the small town for its unique shops and delicious diners. Going to college away from home has made me more focused because everything I do is framed around my college: clubs, meals, academics, sleep, workouts, and relaxation. Nothing beats a big city, but it’s a lot more distracting (and expensive!) than Mt. Vernon—where everything shuts down by 6pm except the library of course. I wouldn’t enjoy permanently living in a small town, but going to college there is surprisingly ideal. It’s small, simple, and inexpensive: the perfect formula for having an exemplary undergrad transcript (and a decent bank account statement).
Aside from the environmental change, I was also starting college on the block plan. The block plan means you take one course at a time (OCAAT): you take one class for 3.5 weeks, have a four day weekend, and then take your next class. OCAAT is one of the reasons I decided to attend Cornell, but it’s also one of the reasons I was terrified of college. Going to a college that’s on the OCAAT schedule means venturing into the unknown; I was equipped with nothing but expired high school accomplishments and vague advice from family & friends.
I didn’t feel prepared for college and I don’t think anyone should feel prepared for college. It is naive to feel prepared for something you can’t even fathom. This is not to say that you should arrive on campus trembling as you frantically study in an attempt to compensate for your high school’s shortcomings. Just be aware of that college is the next level, not just high school part 2.
It’s true that my high school experiences created a solid foundation for college but my work ethic is what got me straight A’s my first semester. In college—and in life—success is not about who already knows more or has more, it’s about who wants it more.
And I want this more than anything.
Even if that means 8 semesters in the cornfields.