For those who know me, you’ve probably heard the interesting stories I have about my college experience. I have a love/hate relationship with the college I attended for several reasons: I made some of the best friends I have now, I was challenged in so many ways (my ideas, beliefs, convictions), I became a minority for the first time in my life, I wrote more essays and read more ancient Greek and Roman literature than I cared for, just to name a few. Let me start from the beginning.
I attended Reed College, a small private liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon from 2006 to 2010. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology (yes, you read that right Arts). To be honest, if I had talked to any of my friends from high school who were enrolled at Reed when I was applying, there’s a good chance I would have said ‘no, thank you, I’ll try my luck at a different college’. But for some reason, I didn’t. All I knew when I was applying to Reed was that it was a small liberal arts college with excellent academics, a small ratio of students to professors, they were generous with financial aid for international students and you would graduate a well-rounded student with lots of prospects. All of this is true, by the way. What I did not know was that I was going to be a minority and I was going to feel it. Not just a racial minority but also when it came to religion. And it was going to affect my interactions with other students. I also didn’t know it rained 9 months out of the year in Portland. Not the rain I was used to, you know, the one where it gets dark, it pours for a few hours and the sun comes out like it never left. Nope, in Portland it’s grey and overcast (you could go days without seeing the sun), we would get some showers but it was mostly a weird drizzle/mist type of thing where you didn’t know whether to tough it out (after all, I’m neither salt nor sugar) or to use a rain jacket (as the true Portlander would do) or an umbrella (like some of us where prone to). Come Thanksgiving break, we were all suffering from major seasonal affective disorder. Additionally, the classes were equal parts exciting and challenging. Although I was a biology major, I also took classes in English and French literature and Psychology. I became a better writer and critical thinker. I had the opportunity to spend my summers conducting HIV research which led to my senior thesis. Oh yes, writing a thesis was a requirement for graduation and not only did we have to write a thesis, we had to defend it in front of faculty. And before you could write a thesis, you had to write a qualifying exam after you’d declared your major. To balance out the stress of academics and preserve my sanity, I was also involved in a number of extracurricular activities including being a house advisor, a tutor, peer mentor and served on the international student advisory board.
Here are some of the highlights from my college experience:
- A diverse group of friends – some of my dearest friends come from all over the world – Jamaica, Nigeria, Bulgaria, Zimbabwe, Romania, Cameroon, France, Germany, Spain, England, Singapore, China, South Korea, Ecuador, Nepal (you get the picture)
- Renn Fayre – this was a yearly end of academic year celebration that started on Friday at 3p.m. (if I remember correctly). That was the deadline for seniors to submit their final thesis drafts. The seniors brought all their previous drafts and tossed them into a huge bonfire in front of the library while being doused in champagne by the rest of the student body. Oh, and everyone is making out with everyone (yeah, not making that up). After a procession by the seniors, the weekend long party begins. Nothing is off limits (you can use your imagination lol). This is the only weekend the campus is closed off to outsiders (you can only be on campus if you have a wrist band). My favourite part of the weekend though were the fireworks on Saturday night. They were even better than the city’s 4th of July fireworks.
- ‘Carbon Atoms’ dance parties – Carbon Atoms was a group formed by my friends and I (the Ghanaians) to throw dance parties on campus (where the music was actually good) and to give DT5Mil (the other group that threw parties) a run for their money.
- Events organized by the Black & African Student Union and the International Student Union and Advisory Board – From talks given by the then chairman of the NAACP to celebration of the diverse cultures represented at Reed through food and performances.
There were also some not so fun parts including dealing with racial prejudice, living in an environment that was intolerant and sometimes outright hostile to Christians, trying to cope with the stress culture and a rigorous academic program. Looking back, I can’t say if the hard/negatives times outweigh the good ones or vice versa. If I had to do it over, I’m not entirely sure I would choose to go to Reed College. However, thanks to Reed I was better prepared for graduate school and to a certain degree life in general and I made some amazing friends.