CWR Student’s Forum
My College Experience and Life Transition
By Amanda Pile
I entered into the experience of college running from a middle class suburb near Seattle Washington. My hometown and high school had very limited racial, familial, or economic diversity. Even with such a homogonous population, I struggled to fit in and was indifferent towards most opportunities for individuality. I grew up in the same house my whole life, a member of the same school district, with the same students, remaining as close to average as I could now imagine. When the time came, I saw college as the ultimate chance for self discovery but entered into it with very little direction. I was a fairly confident writer, with a vague interest in Philosophy, Psychology, and (like every young person) Music, but I had no notion of a passion to guide me to a major.
Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington has about 12,000 undergraduates students. Freshmen live on campus in one of about half dozen housing communities and each housing community has it’s own social associations. I happened to live on the “Ridge” which had a reputation for being a loud “party“ environment. This may not have been entirely true, but my first year at Western certainly was shaped by my dorm community. I spent time meeting people, staying up late, going to parties, getting up early, and cultivating a social network while remaining unsure of what I wanted to study. My roommate, who was a social butterfly at her own high school was frequently my partner-in-crime. We decided to live together our Sophomore year in dorm style apartments off campus. That year I did more of the same, trying a little bit of everything but never really finding my footing in any particular community on campus.
Naturally, my living environment nurtured my social life more than my studies, but what I lacked in discipline, I made up for in a growing hunger to know the people, places, and things of my college community. Inclusion is a great attribute that Western can boast and what it may lack in diversity of students, it makes up for in opportunity and openness. I have my particular favorite hubs of activity like the Outdoor Center where I can rent any gear needed for a standard Pacific Northwest activity (hiking, biking, skiing, camping, kayaking, etc…) and the Performing Arts Center where I can catch a $2 movie screening, a symphony, a rhythmic Step performance, a poetry slam, a Take Back the Night women’s rally.
I took an eclectic array of classes, from philosophy, to economics, to a class called “The Art of Listening to Music”. My Junior year I finally found inspiration in a literature class, reading graphic novels and David Sedaris, and taught by an eccentric teacher who I have no chance of ever forgetting. I finally chose English as a major and that’s when I began to find a home on Western’s campus. The Humanities building, were I was now attending most of my classes, was an old brick building in the middle of Red Square. As much as I complained about the small stuffy classrooms, or the black board standard of old technology, I loved the intimacy and character of the building. The classes were small and I felt so fortunate to have found an intellectual community I could relate to: lovers of reading and writing who get excited by conversations of literary analysis.
I certainly feel more roots here that I do in my hometown, where I spent the first 18 years of my life. My values that have developed in Bellingham and at WWU start to seem stereotypical when labeled or grouped together: an avid bicycler, interested in local farming, in frequent attendance of local music festivals, a striving minimalist with a primarily vegetarian diet and feminist tendencies. I am lucky to be able to identify with a dominant culture, while still living in accordance with my values. And after four years at Western I can walk confidently across Red Square, speak to anyone who seems friendly, and welcome any opportunity to give directions. I will often bump into friends from the dorms or friends from the bars, I remember the friends that have graduated and moved away, and I cherish the friends with whom I have transcended the struggles of being young and immature.
Going back to Western this fall to begin my Masters work in English, I am not going in search of a community. Thanks to my early years of college, I no longer need to be amongst socializing all the time and can value the time I spend alone. I feel comfortable in my here and now I am heading back to Western to be challenged as a scholar, ready to immerse and let my curriculum, rather than my community, influence me the most.