The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of the Project for Open Voices. Today’s essay was authored by an anonymous member of the class of 2011 for POV’s first publication.
The day I arrived at Kenyon the sky was a brilliant azure color; not one cloud hung in sight. The campus wasn’t full yet because I was one of the Pre-O service kids and we arrived a week before freshman Orientation. My roommate had already settled into the dorm room – she arrived a week earlier than I did for the Writing and Thinking program. She wasn’t in the room when I first opened the door. Looking back I wish that she was there, so I didn’t have to face the stark, empty side of the room, my side, by myself. I had two suitcases filled with stuff; it didn’t take me long to unpack. Once I put everything away, my side remained stark. I only brought the essentials, nothing that made the room look like home. I remember after everything was there looking out of my large Norton bedroom at the perfect green lawn, and the beautiful blue sky, and crying. No, it was more like wailing.
This was the first time I showed any sign of homesickness or remorse. When I was at home I made a point not to let my parents know that I was sad or was going to miss them, because they were so opposed to me going away to college. I had to be happy about going away to college at all times, or they would think I wouldn’t want to and I was afraid wouldn’t let me go anymore. This idea may seem strange to some people, but my parents hadn’t gone to college themselves, so they had absolutely no idea what they were letting their first-born daughter get into. I was also the only person in my large first-generation college student family to go away for college.
Once I was done wailing, the first thing I did was go out in search of food. I went to the deli and got one of their extra large chocolate chip cookies. Then I walked around campus, and was asked a question that I was never asked before in my life: are you an international student? Being from NYC, I was a bit thrown off. I was even more thrown off as I was asked the same questions three times in a row by three different people. This is not an exaggeration. So why do you think someone would ask me that? And how do you think I would feel?
To be honest, I was just very perplexed. There wasn’t any resentment or overanalyzing or anything. I was just downright surprised that someone would question whether or not I was from the U.S.
I entered the college world very aware of race and the lack of minorities within higher academia. I was also very aware of the “self-segregation” of minorities that happens within private liberal arts schools. I was determined not to be one of the students that were so concerned about race. It didn’t bother me that I was the only student of color in my English class. Really, it didn’t. There are so many wonderful, open, like-minded people at Kenyon that I had a lot in common with.
However, when it came to grappling with socioeconomic difference, that’s something I was completely unprepared to deal with. Growing up in a poor community in the Bronx, I had no sense of what it meant to be middle-class. My freshman year at Kenyon I didn’t have a bank account, or credit card, a working phone, or a laptop. My parents struggled to pay the $300 deposits every semester. Anytime I needed money, my mom would send me money via snail mail. And it wouldn’t be in the form of a check either; it would be cash, often rolled into a sock.
I’m not trying to be negative or self-pitying or anything. I love Kenyon. I love my professors and the friends I’ve made there. I just want to let everyone know how startlingly different my experience there was from the majority of people. I think that a lot more should be done to bridge the economic and racial disparity at Kenyon. I would certainly have appreciated some kind of crash course in managing your finances, and knowing how much money I had to have, or some kind of loan to buy essentials like a laptop.
But I really don’t know how this all can be done.
Let me know when you figure out a solution.