In my year and a half of being Viewpoint Editor for The Carletonian, I’ve found myself lucky to be able to hear and read other people’s reflections as they go through and get used to college. Some positive, some negative, but all in all each unique in some way. This is not a characteristic unique to Carleton: everyone comes to college in an individual situation, lives through it in another and leaves it with something completely different. Although recurring themes do appear such as COVID-19 ruining plans, impostor syndrome manifesting itself or Minnesota winters taking their toll, no two experiences are the same. In fact, I’ve noticed that it is incredibly hard for any two people, regardless of identity, to perfectly relate in how they acclimated to Carleton life. Whether this is actually true or not, it certainly feels that way for me.
I came into college incredibly excited. As a member of the class of 2023, I had not lost any time in high school to COVID-19, nor was I coming into Northfield under ‘a new normal.’ I was lucky. Although Minnesota was quite a change from the tiny island in the Caribbean I called home, I was (and still am) determined to make the best of it. I’d met amazing people from all over the world whom I am still proud to call my closest friends. I thoroughly enjoyed and did well in my classes. Before I knew it, freshman fall was over and I was back home. Yet despite all this, I couldn’t help the feeling of wanting out. I felt isolated and unfulfilled. The doubts my friends back home had planted on me somehow started to make a lot more sense. Why would I, someone from a random island a sea away, where temperatures do not go lower than 75 Fahrenheit (where we don’t even useFahrenheit), where English is only heard in certain circles, live in a random town of 20,000 in Minnesota? A minority of the people that surrounded me every day knew what Minnesota was, and an even smaller one could point it out on a map. I thought surely my family would appreciate me going somewhere closer, somewhere more familiar, somewhere where I could do well while also feeling at home. These are not average concerns for the typical Carleton student. I distinctly remember lying to one of my professors to write a recommendation, citing financial aid as the reason for transferring. That winter, I came in with a personal statement already written, with my recommendations already submitted, only needing approval from the registrar. Yet when I arrived in the winter, for whatever odd reason, I never pressed submit.
Fast forward to this past term, my junior fall. It did not take very close introspection for me to realize that this was my toughest term academically, socially and emotionally (of course, an argument can be made that these three things are directly related). Yet, my roommate still says, “you’ve really drunk the Carleton Kool-Aid,” when I talk about my time at this school. As it happens, I am writing this away from campus, feeling a lot of the same emotions I felt my freshman fall but in the opposite way.
The point in me discussing these stories or publishing other students’ is not to impart a lesson on the reader. I do not expect you to relate. In fact, I hope you do not. The purpose in sharing these is rather to show how Carleton — and, by extension, college — is not a simple monolith of experiences. Some may do fine academically and struggle financially, or succeed emotionally but have a tough time academically. Some may succeed or need help in every aspect. Either way, it is not a simple black and white where one can predict a time to feel absolute happiness.
Discussing experiences also addresses the common notion that college is supposed to be the best four years of your life. This idea is based on nothing but selection bias. Those who feel they have no space to share their negative experiences will avoid doing so, especially when all their peers seem to be feeling the opposite way. Stating simply that you had a good time in college is not a problem. The issue lies in making it an expectation which then leads the anxious student to think there must be something wrong with them if everyone else is having a good time.
As I close the remaining years of my college career, I can’t help but think how different my experience would have been had I started a year after, or had COVID-19 not happened or had I met different people. All I know is that in at least one of those scenarios, I could be doing way worse. For that, I will always understand when someone describes their college experience in a way wildly different than I do.