Columns / Discourse / September 30, 2015

Columnist gives advice to incoming freshmen

A few days ago Tawni Sasaki, my new discourse editor at TKS, got in touch with me and asked if I’d be willing to write an advice column for this year’s incoming Knox students. At the time I was sipping a lemon margarita on the beach of Mar del Plata in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and just about to join a game of water polo with the rest of the Knox study abroad team. I told Tawni that I was a bit busy, but I could do it. The next day, along with a cold glass of pomelo juice to help me recover from dancing and boliche- hopping until 5:00 a.m. the night before, I sat down and thought about what to write.

(As a side note, while the events in the above account may or may not be based in fact, the Knox Buenos Aires program is in fact the best study abroad program at this college). There certainly are some things I’d love to write to Knox’s incoming class, based upon my own experiences here. First of all, welcome 🙂 I hope you find what you are looking for. If you do not know what you’re looking for, I hope you find that too!

I’ve heard some say that the transition in daily life and responsibility – from living at home to living at Knox – is huge. For me it wasn’t so bad, as I came to Knox after doing a year at community college back home, and had already lived relatively independently. Apart from the overwhelming orientation schedule (were they trying to suck up every drop of our spare time with a sponge?) I thought the immediate transition was okay.

For me it was the longer-term transition in my goals as a person that had the largest impact. I felt intimidated by the environment at Knox; I had never imagined I would go out of state for college, and felt very strongly that this was an experience for other people, not for me. I was self-conscious about leaving my family, and also about spending so much of their money without knowing what I was doing.

Looking back, I realize that the experience became normalized a little too quickly. Once you “get in,” you forget that you were ever “out.” For me, taking the privileges of being a U.S. college student for granted went hand in hand with forgetting about the massive amounts of money being pumped out of me during the process. People want you to feel comfortable here (unless it so happens that they’re out to get you). Resist that! Feel uncomfortable. There is political struggle on this campus. Our generation is afflicted by educational debt. At the same time, many don’t have educations, or basic respect, or basic necessities.

I grew up in the countryside, and didn’t live in a large city until I was twelve. Upon that experience, I immediately decided that the city was where I wanted to be. It had more of everything: people, opportunity, intensity. Knox is like that. At the same time, I’ve realized that what is true both of Knox and big cities is that they lack peace, calm, and time for quiet growth. I’ve been thankful for every time that I left the college to do something off campus. Take advantage of those opportunities, such as Knox’s study abroad programs, the Green Oaks program, the Korean club spa trip or other weekend events.

I believe that this kind of quiet time for processing is important in order to be fully conscious. I also believe that this kind of consciousness is important to be able to develop one’s original voice and direction. I’m not really sure whether following your passion or the money is more important (nevermind picking between passions), but it does deserve heartfelt thought. A solid piece of advice I’ve heard is to pick classes according to the passion and effort of the professor rather than the subject material. I’ve sat through some classes with professors who in the end contributed little to my education. In addition, Cal Newport has very solid advice on picking a career and enjoying what you do. There’s a link to an interview with him in the web version of this article; one of his key observations is that most people really don’t have an innate passion. Is this bad news? Not at all.

The amazing variety of educational and social resources at Knox is accompanied by a huge amount of support for your individual goals and aspirations. The downside of this is that individualism shapes every aspect of your journey here. If feminism or human rights is your personal passion, you have everything you need. If, however, you want to deal with the political crises that face our generation, you’ll want to organize alongside other students in collective action (electing Bernie is not enough). Here is where change interferes with business interests and Knox’s offerings dwindle (the Mexico Solidarity Network program being one exception of which I know).

I have been at times baffled by professors who do excellent academic work on the issues, yet don’t seem to feel or own a political will to resolve them. Yet as I realized with time, my impatience with the slow rate of change on campus caused me to overlook the opportunities and progress that were already there, but less readily visible. Developing a patience for the process of change is what helped me to start forming real friendships and take my growth into my own hands. Don’t miss your opportunities for friendship. Don’t miss your opportunities for growth. And don’t let them tell you that you can’t have more than one take-out container. You can have as many as you want. I mean, you’re paying for them, right?


Leland Wright

Tags:  advice Green Oaks incoming students Knox korean spa trip orientation welcome

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