When I was 5, I wanted to be an astronaut. At the age of 8, I declared to my mother that I would be as famous as Demi Lovato, disregarding the fact that I could not sing to save my life. As my career aspirations went from astronaut to black hole specialist to journalist, I entered high school and got into the sciences. If someone looked at my high school transcript, they would assume that I was headed toward a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) major. They would be correct. In high school, I took advanced mathematics, chemistry and physics. I wanted to be a materials scientist. Back then, nothing excited me more than spending hours in a chemistry laboratory seeing what obscure material could oxidize lead.
For international students, choosing a college is a lot like throwing a dart in the dark. We don’t know what the college atmosphere is like. We don’t know how accessible the location is, and, most importantly, we don’t know what the weather is actually like. Why? Because we’ve never had a campus tour. Chances are the average international student has never visited the United States before either. When trying to find the right college for us, we’ve had to depend on the College’s website and whatever location-based information Google can provide. I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in an international high school in Swaziland that was on the visit list for a number of liberal arts colleges. I got to hear from admissions directors about their school’s programs, how each college environment differed from others, and what student life was like on campus.
Sitting on the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport, I was frustrated, tired and jetlagged. I had been traveling for nearly 27 hours and plane food has never cheered me up. I was heading back to Conn after one month of winter break and my plane had been diverted to Philadelphia because of the winter storm. I was supposed to land at JFK by 8:30 a.m. and catch the Flying Camel (the College bus between JFK International Airport and Conn) at 1 p.m. It was now 11 a.m. Would I even make it?
Experiencing any phenomenon for the first time is always fascinating. However, experiencing something for the first time and being cognizant of it comes with its own set of feelings. For me, this happened when I first saw snow. Growing up in Bangladesh and then eSwatini, I have experienced temperatures ranging from the mid-30s to 110 Fahrenheit. But I had never seen snow.
When I was packing to move from Bangladesh to Connecticut College, I mentally prepared myself to choose classes for my first semester, make new friends, be a good roommate and most importantly, adjust to a new country. I arrived at Conn and these four things happened smoothly with minimal bumps. I thought I was doing great at this “being an adult” thing. I even boasted about it to my mom.
Unfortunately, the saying that “pride comes before the fall” is true. In my fifth week at Conn, I got an email from Student Health Services (SHS) stating that I needed to get a Tuberculosis (TB) test because Bangladesh was still considered to be on the list of countries with TB prevalence. Now, I had no problem going in and doing a test. But then I saw that it was actually a blood test they wanted me to do instead of the usual skin test that TB required. I remember frantically rereading the email and telling my roommate in Bengali about my fear of needles, which she obviously didn’t understand. But my panicked speech in a foreign language helped her comprehend my intense phobia. After much reassurance from her and after my mom laughed at my fears via WhatsApp, a free call/messaging app that I would recommend for all international students, I called SHS to schedule my appointment. On the day of the actual blood draw, I forced myself to sit in the chair with encouragement from my friend Anne and my roommate. All in all, it was my worst moment at Conn but I’m proud of myself for not fainting. This was my first proper step into the world of ‘adulting.’
Four other adulting moments I’ve experienced in the last two months:
I chose Connecticut College for many reasons. One aspect that caught my eye when scrolling through the website my senior year of high school was the College’s Connections curriculum, specifically Pathways. Pathways help you build on your major by connecting the coursework in your major, the required coursework outside your major, your study abroad experience, your internship and your senior capstone. Pathways seemed right up my alley since they are an interesting way to connect multiple interests, and I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to major in. When I was in high school, talking about college, and going on college tours and having to introduce myself always freaked me out. I tended to be the only person in the group saying that I was “undeclared.” Everyone seemed to have a plan. Even at the start of my first-year at Conn, I felt everyone knew what they were doing but me. Turns out this wasn’t true at all and I soon met many other students who were undeclared as well.
Many news articles told me that culture shock has four stages: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment and acceptance. I think I skipped over the first two, disregarded the last two and created my own label: panic. I knew it was coming. But I thought I would be able to handle it as I had already lived in an international boarding school in Swaziland for two years.
I do not like not knowing what to expect–and going into your first year of college is basically jumping into a new experience completely blind. As the fall of my first year at Connecticut College approached, however, three student advisers reached out to me. These advisers were rising sophomores who dedicated their year to making mine better. I immediately connected with one over email and bombarded her with questions throughout the summer, trying to prepare myself as much I could for this new place. Once I arrived I continued to text her throughout the year with questions or opinions on different classes, and more. My particularly outstanding student adviser made my transition to college so much less terrifying. She also became someone I looked up to. After meeting her and getting a sense of her interests, I realized we were very similar in that sense. She was also a tour guide, something I wanted to be a part of at some point during my time here. She helped me choose my classes. She also picked up my application to be a tour guide, always being the person to set me up to succeed. This made me feel at home because these were not things she needed to do. And she was doing it because she genuinely cared. I felt comfortable and often asked her to meet me for lunch during stressful times, (such as mid-year when it came time to choose classes). She took the time to talk everything out with me and helped me organize myself, leaving me feeling so much more in control. All of this made me decide to become an SA, to give back, and try to make another student feel as at home as she made me.
Maryum Qasim '20 is an international student from Rawalpindi, Pakistan. She is an International Relations major on a pre-law track and is also a CISLA scholar. Maryum is the Student Government Association's Chair of Equity and Inclusion and is also an executive board member of the Muslim Student Association.
Little did I know that a research paper for my first-year law class taught by professor Peter Mitchell would eventually take me to the tribal areas of Waziristan, a military controlled drone warzone cut off from the rest of developed Pakistan. My primary research paper for the class explored the legality of the employment of drones. I felt so passionately about the subject that when I became a scholar with the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA) I decided to conduct my senior project on it. My CISLA project, guided by former CISLA Director and Professor of History Marc R. Forster, aimed to explore the psychological impacts of drone strikes on young adults. This summer I was awarded the Stephen and Pamela Rearden '67 Travel Fellowship to conduct research in Pakistan on the psychological impacts of drones for my project. I arrived in Bannu, a city about 200 kilometers away from the military-controlled areas of Waziristan. These areas are highly secured with multiple military check posts monitoring any and all movements in and out. Due to security concerns, I decided to stay in Bannu to meet my point of contact Farooq Mehsud, a local journalist from North Waziristan. Mehsud coordinated interviews for me with other journalists and university/college students in Bannu.
The bowl of assorted chocolates greets me as I walk into the second-floor office of Student Accessibility Services in Shain Library. It is a sweet, and sometimes bitter reminder of my struggles with a Non-Verbal Learning Difference. I always wanted to be a “normal” kid but as I advanced in my education and sought out accommodations, my perspective changed.
Ruby Johnson ‘21 hails from Medford, Oregon. She has yet to declare her major at Connecticut College but has an interest in education, American studies, Classics, and music. She sings as a soprano in Camel Heard, Connecticut College's advanced vocal ensemble, and is a member of the Connecticut College Figure Skating Club, where she teaches learn-to-skate lessons to local children on the weekends. She is working on designing her own major and is planning on declaring a Pathway this coming fall.
I have a tendency to overpack. The first time I took the Amtrak back home from Conn I lugged two giant bags and my backpack onto the train and squeezed them into the luggage space. I am now a self-proclaimed Amtrak expert, zipping back and forth from the New London to Boston with reasonably sized bags that fit easily aboard the train.
Back in November, my mom gave me two concert tickets for my birthday. My favorite band, Bastille, was going on their “Wild, Wild World” tour and they happened to be playing at Mohegan Sun Casino, which is a 20-minute drive from campus. It was the perfect opportunity for me and my friend, fellow blogger Dani Maney, to get off campus and venture to this place in Uncasville, Connecticut.
The Walk-in Coffee Closet at Ruane’s Den has served as my home away from home since my very first day at Conn. Living in Harkness House, I have the luxury of being able to leave my room and be right at the entrance of the Walk-in, located on the first floor of my building. The Walk-in has been my lifeline. They serve (in my opinion) the best drinks on campus, and they have a variety of pasta dishes, paninis and snacks that are always there for me when I don't feel like walking to Harris Refectory, the largest dining hall on campus. The Walk-in is also one of my favorite places to study because the atmosphere reminds me of my favorite coffee shop at home, and they have the comfiest chairs on campus.
In my senior year of high school, as I was receiving responses to my college applications, I logged once more into the Common App website and used the download feature to save copies of all my applications for future reference. Looking back at my application, I see a very different person than I am now. Perhaps the most dramatic change came from my answer about my top two choices for my major. I said I was interested in majoring in government and English although what I really wanted to say was undeclared and undeclared.
Since coming to Conn, I have become a professional novice, frequently trying out new experiences to find my place within the community. My first semester here I joined the Ultimate Frisbee team and tried out for the improv comedy group N2O. Second semester I tried out for “She is a Tempest,” the Women’s Empowerment (WE) Initiative’s annual show.
Touring colleges as an admitted student, when I knew that I could study at any of the fabulous schools I was looking at, made me examine them a little differently. Instead of deciding whether a school had given a good enough presentation for me to add it to my growing list of places to apply to, I was able to spend my time looking for small things that would influence my decision.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time in a home that looked straight out of Country Home and Living Magazine, with many wicker baskets and an odd number of duck sculptures and paintings. (I counted once and made it to double digits for ducks/items with ducks on them.) I would meander around this home while eating blueberry pie, admiring the immense gallery of artwork that my grandma created over her 95 years of life. Her quaint yellow country home is where my love of art started.
I was asked to purchase six books for a single class my first semester at Connecticut College. Being overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of assignments in my first week of classes, I decided to purchase the books for that class one-by-one. A couple of weeks later, I walked into the bookstore and discovered that the lovely piles of books had transformed into empty shelves featuring a couple of incredibly tattered, used copies and many order forms. I’m always a little averse to used books because I want my books to look nice; I don’t like having books that have been marked by other people or treated roughly. I chose to buy new copies of most of my books for that class online, which only cost a few extra dollars, something I could afford.
Most incoming first-year students are excited about the idea of new classes, new friends and new experiences. One of the last things on their mind is the process surrounding a prospective internship or (yikes) a job down the line. Finding a job was the last thing on my mind too but, luckily for first-year students at Conn, the College begins the process for us right away.