At Pomona College, I am among the 10 percent of international students. In China, I am one of the very few people who know of Pomona at all and who were lucky enough to be accepted into this premier liberal arts college.
I first heard of liberal arts colleges thanks to Hillary Clinton, who graduated from Wellesley College and is famous in China. I figured that if a liberal arts education could make Hillary so successful, that kind of education must be really good. When I decided to study in the United States, I checked the U.S. News and World Report rankings and saw that Pomona ranked number six (as of 2010). I also read several articles about Pomona on cuus.org, the largest website for Chinese undergraduates in America.
Pomona sounded terrific to me. I came from a public high school with 900 students in my class. We all followed the same curriculum and took the same courses, with around 60 people per classroom. On the contrary, Pomona has fewer than 400 students in one class. You can major in anything you want to and take classes at any of the Claremont Colleges. When I heard that Pomona even has funding for professors to eat with students, I couldn’t believe it.
That’s how the 5Cs were marketed to me: small classes, close interactions with professors, friendly student community, flexible choice of majors and a bright future after graduation. However, for international students applying to American colleges without having taken a tour or having an on-campus interview, the most common way to see if a college is good or not is often to look at the rankings. That’s why every time I mentioned Pomona to someone, no matter how comprehensive my introduction, the following conversation always ensued: “What is the ranking? What’s Harvard’s ranking? Oh, that’s a fantastic school.” It took my parents months to pronounce Pomona correctly and not say “Pamana” or “banana.”
Interestingly, after a year and a half at Pomona, I have realized that the reality is different from what I had read. The Chinese Wikipedia article states that Pomona hates nerdy students and loves leaders, but I’ve met several happy nerds who enjoy the school and found that there is no fixed stereotype of a “typical” student. Before I came here, I heard that students at the 5Cs were more academic than students at big universities, but I’ve realized that some of our parties, like Harwood Halloween, are even crazier than theirs. I heard that students talk about Western civilization and philosophy all the time, but now I know that we have diverse discussions about topics ranging from the financial crisis to political correctness to popular culture to masturbation. There is even a Hunger Games debate among professors arguing about which department is the best.
But these discrepancies between my initial beliefs and the reality make me love Pomona even more. I love its laid-back community, diverse discussion topics and enjoyable life. It is even better than my expectations.
The good news is that more and more people in China are beginning to learn about the 5Cs and liberal arts schools in general. More people have started to ask me questions like “What’s the biggest benefit of a class of ten?” or “What’s special about the Claremont consortium?” rather than “Why do you go to a college instead of a university?” or “You learn spoken English at Pamana for two years now. When do you plan to go to a real university like California State?” I am so happy to see changes in people’s reactions when they hear about the 5Cs. That means the colleges have a better presence internationally, and more people are starting to recognize, as I did, the benefits of the education we have to offer.