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The Culture Shock of Adjusting to College

California dreaming! That was Elena during her last years of high school as she contemplated where she wanted to go to college. She loved the idea of California – and loved what she saw when she visited. She also was favorably impressed by both what she saw on campus at Pitzer and what she heard from her older brother who was already a Pitzer student. Naturally, she was ecstatic when she was accepted.

Having heard that her college years would be the best years of her life, she figured her college life would be immediately blissful. The reality, however, of her first ten weeks on campus has been a story of adjustment. Elena knew she wanted a small college. Her top choices of schools were Lewis & Clark, Colorado College, and Pitzer, which all fit that style to a “T,” but Pitzer was California! It was her top choice. She was glad that she decided to do the pre-semester adventure trip.

The orientation trip helps students make new friends in its small group setting. Once school began, it seemed that most people were meeting each other at parties. Although the motel style of the freshman dorms allows students to step out of their room and see beautiful mountains, it doesn’t easily promote a tight knit hall community. The pool is the main gathering place at the dorm and Elena has found that limiting at times.

The campus setting is beautiful – with giant mountains a mere two miles away. That’s not far – if you have a car, but many don’t. In fact, the general look is much different than what she had expected. She had envisioned lush green, but it isn’t the lush green typical of the East Coast. The greenery found on the Claremont College campuses are a striking and artificial bubble amidst the dry brown landscape that surrounds it. Of course, the lights of Los Angeles aren’t terribly far away. Elena had been excited to have access to Los Angeles, but, although the city is somewhat close in miles, it’s not close enough to grab a quick dinner, and Elena is used to having a city close at hand. Overall, it’s made her realize she had not envisioned some of the realities of college life.

In general, she’s noticed that the Pitzer students who are from the West Coast are a little less high strung than many from the D.C. area even though Pitzer academics, as expected, are rigorous. She expected that and isn’t afraid of hard work and is enjoying every one of her classes. In addition to taking a required freshman seminar course (the one academic requirement at Pitzer), she is taking Science and the Environment, Intro to Portuguese, and Asian-American Women’s Experience, a discussion-based class that is currently her favorite. Her path will ultimately lead to a major in Environmental Science, and she is excited about the curriculum options in that field that she has ahead of her.

Of course, she also has access to any class in the Claremont five-college consortium and the resources they offer. Not only can she use facilities on the other campuses, but, if she chooses, she could either live in a dorm or select a major from one of the other colleges without sacrificing her standing as a Pitzer College student. That’s an exciting prospect for her.

Elena’s early weeks have been one of discovery, for sure, and they have brought a number of surprises. She keeps very busy from Monday through Friday with classes and study time each night and says she is still figuring out weekend options. There is a lot of partying on campus, but she’s not an intense partier, so she is still exploring other options and finding others who are looking for the same weekend experience.

Elena would like to encourage high schoolers to look really carefully at the colleges and universities they are considering so they aren’t faced with too many surprises. She says the best thing to do is to spend an overnight in a dorm so you can really get the feel of the place.

Elena is clearly someone who observes what’s around her and knows her own mind. Sometimes that means taking a little longer to find your own niche. With a little time, Elena is up for it though and  knows that she will soon experiencing those ‘best years of your life.’

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