Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Today, The Daily Gazette welcomes a few new writers with an issue written entirely by first year students. Welcome to Swarthmore, Class of 2019!
As my encroaching nerves about my first semester of college consume me, I remember the advice my grandmother gave me over the phone: “Celine, watch out. People spend the whole summer planning out how to ruin a freshman’s life.” After hanging up and a couple more promises to “call your grandma before she dies already,” I belt out “Mommy!!!!” and run down the steps to hug my mom while she tells me it’s all going to be fine.
My grandma never left home until she was thirty years old when she moved from an apartment in Cairo to a studio in Boston. She now spends her days watching Frasier and feeding peanuts to her pet albino parakeet. My mom was eight years old when she immigrated, and she had to worry about mastering a foreign language. What do I have to worry about? Remembering to do my laundry? I guess if I were a more empathetic person, I’d be able to realize what a lucky son of a gun I am.
In fact, I took a Buzzfeed quiz the other day that told me I was “seventy percent privileged.” Seventy percent! Even more life-altering than the quiz was my sudden realization that there is no letter “D” in the word privilege, and I’d been spelling it wrong this whole time. Still, I was about to flip a table, until I was reminded of a conversation I had earlier that month which led me to realize that I’m probably even more privileged than “seventy percent” (whatever that means).
I spent the summer volunteering at the Literacy Center where one day, I heard a group of refugees talking about jobs. One single mother applied for a job at Lowes but couldn’t take it because they expected her to come in at 4:00am to unload boxes, when she doesn’t have a car and has two sons she has to get to school on time. A man whose wife is pregnant couldn’t get a job because people hear his accent and assume he doesn’t know any English, even though when the teacher drew an egg on the board and asked “Can anyone tell me what this is?” he responded by saying, “The dead embryo of a chicken.” I spent the summer working with a group of people who had no choice but to move oceans away from their homes, and here I am, twitching with anxiety about moving six-hours away, by choice, only to come back in October for Fall Break. I’m not even changing coasts!
A few times while working at the literacy center, confused volunteers have come up to me and (usually in a baby voice) asked me where I’m from or told me that I “speak English very good.” I resisted the urge to respond with, “I think you mean well,” and instead, politely explain that I’m a volunteer. I find these situations ironic because I’m usually just as “American” as the person questioning my nationality. My dad is African-American and my mom is Egyptian. I’ve lived in The States my whole life, and I still get questions like, “But where are you really from?” Even though I am not an immigrant, immigration has had an effect on my life– whether it’s my own family or the people I met this summer.
Putting the Big College Transition into perspective is comforting and unsettling. On one hand, I can look at this as “no sweat” compared some people’s further and more difficult transitions. But on the other hand, going to college isn’t quite like going to a two-week summer camp. I hear stories about being uprooted nearly everyday, and all I can say is, “Boy, I sure hope I don’t get carsick on the way to college.”