Second time around: Adjusting to the College as a transfer student

September 21, 2016 by Blaine Williams

Making the transition to college is rarely easy or seamless, and transferring is no exception. Coming to the College as a transfer has been a much different experience than enrolling as a first-year. In particular, navigating the campus as a student who is simultaneously a first-year, so to speak, and an upperclassman has produced a confusing sense of being in limbo. As a transfer, I participated in Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First-Years, but I don’t have an entry or Junior Advisers, or skin in the Frosh Quad vs. Mission rivalry. I’m a sophomore, already a year through my college journey, and — like most— somewhere over the course of that year, I lost some of that fresh, new sparkle in my eye that accompanies starting college for the first time. I’ve already had my fair share of late nights spent with coffee and piles of reading, and the idea of writing a paper at some ungodly hour is less of a novel or romantic concept than it is an unfortunate, dreaded reality that should be avoided at all costs. Entering as a sophomore also means that I have to declare my major by the end of this year, and that I have one less year than most of my peers to take advantage of all that the College has to offer. It’s this last fact that I have found to be both immensely stressful and motivating. Knowing that I have only three years here at the College has made me determined to make the most out of my time here and to shape my experience as fully as I possibly can.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for me thus far has been changing my mentality back to one of exploration and enjoyment, an approach to learning often suppressed by education systems other than the liberal arts. I’ve only been on campus for about three weeks and classes have barely started. Even so, along with meeting countless new faces and acclimating to the culture and weather changes that come with traveling across the country to attend a college in rural New England, I’ve felt myself shift mentally in exactly the ways I had hoped attending a school with an atmosphere like Williams’ would facilitate. The College fosters a liberal arts environment that emphasizes and literally requires academic exploration, and it shows. The people I have met are passionate about what they’re studying and doing on campus — be it theatre, history, biology or math — and enjoy learning new things and broadening their horizons. They can wax poetic about classes within and outside their majors. They have areas of interest that I would never have even thought of as existing, let alone considered taking as classes. Coming from an academic environment where the phrase “learning for the sake of learning” was all but derided and thrown about as a punchline, I’ve found the atmosphere at the College refreshing. It can be all too easy to become totally consumed by the push to prepare yourself for the future in ways that seem tangible and pragmatic in the moment — this class to get a job, that activity for your resumé — but, in doing so, you can lose yourself and a key aspect of your education. So far at the College, I’ve seen a dedication to the educational model of satiating one’s intellectual appetite and developing their critical thinking abilities first but still providing practical skills and knowledge along the way.

Within the community that the College fosters, we have the privilege of a few years in which we can allow ourselves and our minds to wander and explore in the name of self-discovery before true adulthood begins. Matriculating a year later than my classmates has made me appreciate this unique opportunity all the more; I’m slowly reminding myself that every action need not have a directive and that every move I make doesn’t have to be calculated to the point of exhaustion. Being ready for the real world is important. However, being jostled and churned out on my way toward some future hazily defined as “successful” does not strike me as anywhere near as intellectually or personally fulfilling, or even ultimately as pragmatic as following the liberal arts approach. What does is immersing myself in the breadth of experiences, interests and thoughts that exist in this community, taking stock of and developing my own passions and beliefs, taking this time to better understand the world and the role I want to play in it and, finally, but possibly most importantly, pausing for moments along the way to soak everything in — before making that all-important leap into the next stage of life.

Blaine Williams ’19 is from Los Angeles, Calif. He lives in Mark Hopkins.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jonn September 29, 2016 at 10:47 pm

Blaine,
Just take things a day at a time. Easy Does it. Seek to create a nice balance in your week. Carve out time for working out regularly and cultivating friendships with professors and classmates. Keeping stress low, within reason, is a powerful axiom for lasting success. Study hard for a couple hours a day, and then make time for fun and friendships. Fear runs the lives of most Williams students. Fear of not getting a job. Fear of not doing well. Fear of not living up to expectations placed on us (explicitly and/or implicitly) by professors parents, peers, siblings.

The more we recognize and confront these fears (which we all have deep down) during personal reflection, but seek to let go of it, the more our true and best self emerges. The self that is relaxed, confident, and genuine, focused on doing what we can today, while being mindful of our human limitations. We are clay, not machine.

We need rest and time for friendships and fun as well. This a struggle for us all, and it is difficult for all of us to be compassionate toward ourselves. Creating a relaxed and simple and balanced daily and weekly rhythm is the key to lasting success and happiness. That is how we do our best work. Things have a way of working out if we stick to that path for success. Don’t worry about figuring out what your future career should be at this time, just live one day at a time, and things work out, and you will be very successful. Rest be assured, you have a wonderful future, one full of Hope. Doors will open, unforeseen career opportunities will present themselves, and you will be soaring to success, and perhaps most importantly, you will be genuinely happy.

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