It’s hard to say precisely what I expected
from an exchange program when I signed up in Brazil, but the experience
I’m having at Pomona College now is definitely different from what I had in
mind. It’s much better.
During orientation week, I heard someone say an interesting thing:
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I’m sure this sentence puzzled
many listeners—aren’t we all here to learn new things and expand our range of
skills in different areas of knowledge?–but then I heard a professor say something similar: “Years from now, you won’t
remember a single thing you learned in my class. But you’ll still be friends
with the people you learned those things with.”
In the weeks since orientation, I have already come to
experience what they meant. Everyone has heard plenty about the
differences between the college experience at a traditional university versus a liberal arts
college in terms of academics. But what else is different, aside from the
freedom of choosing classes, the discussion-based learning, and the major
requirements? I’d say the largest difference is found in the people you meet and the
friends you make.
At my university in Brazil, I had to choose my major (computer science) as soon as I applied. During my first class, I remember seeing not only the 80 students in the classroom, but also the two paths we all were on: Either graduate in computer science, or drop out of the university to perhaps reapply for something else. Disregarding the academic
and cost implications of the latter path, the former presents students with an issue that is never
addressed properly. From the very first day, the people in your classes are ones with whom you will take many of the same courses and with whom you probably share a similar thought process.
Unlike Pomona, my university does not have a “class of 2017.” This fact is mostly due to numbers; our engineering department alone is larger than Pomona’s first-year class. But even within the engineering department, there is none of that personal interaction that is so common at Pomona. Students from different majors may collaborate for research groups, but those students are in the minority.
Here in Claremont, I’ve been able to meet
so many different people, from the first-years in my sponsor group to the computer science seniors in my classes, not to mention the students from my Orientation Adventure, conversations at the dining halls, or walks around
campus. Combined with all the different students from the other four undergraduate colleges, the variety is extraordinary.
Thanks to the Claremont Colleges’
residential nature, students spend even more time interacting with each other. It’s
hard to even walk down the hall without meeting someone, and many times it’s a
brand-new face. By the same token, it’s nearly impossible to walk across
campus without finding a familiar face to say hi to.
It’s great that young students have the
opportunity to interact with people from so many different cultures and backgrounds, allowing you to become friends with all kinds of people. This variety provides for interesting conversations—whether about politics, religion, culture, or entertainment—and great chances to learn about things that aren’t in your primary area of knowledge.
These interactions are what the quotes above are all about. By meeting and befriending such a variety of people, you get to
practice skills that no one major can prepare you for. And perhaps one of those
friends might become a person of influence in a company you want to work for or
a country you want to live in, and you’ll be glad you knew them.
When it’s time to go back
to Brazil, I believe I will remember most of what I learned in class. But I’m certain
that, no matter what, I will remember the great friends I made here.
Greca is an exchange student at Pomona College from Curitiba, Brazil, where he studies computer science at the Federal University of Paraná. Renan loves his gadgets and
video games, but he values his friends immeasurably.