This week's TIFM features our first featured alumna, Vi Ha PO '00—a classmate from my time in Claremont. I didn't know her until well into our time at Pomona, which is my loss. She is a trained cellist, super easy to talk to, and one of the smartest people I know. As you will see in her words below, she never could have anticipated what was waiting for her in Claremont.
Vi Ha, PO ‘00
Female, second generation Vietnamese American. Majored in American studies, Editorial Board member of Provençe (a TSL insert), head of the Insomniac society, member of a string quartet, avid user of the VAX intranet. Currently a librarian living in Los Angeles.
As an L.A.-raised kid of color of first generation war refugee parents, I did not come from a family that really prepared me for a residential college, let alone the privilege and wealth that comes in places like Pomona. It was a big adjustment.
1) Don’t be afraid of wealthy kids of privilege.
Or, at least understand how your family of origin affects you. It’s difficult to emphasize how pervasive and present wealth and privilege are in Claremont. I came from a very different background than my classmates. My parents grew up under communism and thus are imbued with this sensibility of both poverty—a sense of frugality and deprivation—and rational paranoia—a wariness about who is watching you. You can’t help but absorb this—and it affects everything you do.
Then, I was at a school where the message is “do everything, try everything, say everything.” Interacting with professors and the administration gets you nervous about interacting with what feels like “the state” and a sense of danger and the mistrust around that. I had the intellect, but besides feeling ill at ease and a lack of feeling safe, I was so used to deferring and hiding like my parents taught me. I lacked the confidence to put my thoughts out in front of people who had so little understanding of my frame of reference.
The kids I was in school with—the wealth, the degree of confidence, the willingness to be contentious–it was all very alarming and disorienting. Everyone was a bit more confident, better dressed, better fed. It wasn’t impostor syndrome but more a fish-out-of-water experience.
Frankly, I wasn’t really let out of the house except for school; I had never even been to a party before. Then, I was in a residential college and being told “You are responsible for yourself here” and everyone went to parties. I didn’t get it. I was like, who the f*** are these people? Eventually, I adjusted, but it took me several years.
2) Get out of your room and do actual things.
For those who interact with me in daily life, I am someone who “is going to make a really cool, eccentric old woman.” For the reasons described above I wasn't leaning into my weird and ignoring my gut instincts during college. Specifically, I spent too much time on the VAX system (sort of an intranet on campus) rather than doing actual things, trying and failing in real life and actually growing and building out my neural network for real. As for romance, I had one boyfriend. We had liked each other for a while but it took a lot of teeth pulling to make myself vulnerable enough to get actually involved.
Get out of your room. Do things. Go analog. Speak to people in person, open up, read an actual book, listen to an album on vinyl or see live music, or—even better—start a band. Get out there and do stuff! If you are going to stay in your room, at least make it the most unabashedly awesome, invested space you can, but do it.
My pre-frontal cortex, the risk-averse part of my brain, hadn't formed yet during college.Take advantage of that and do the scary things. My fear of getting lost would have been mitigated if I had in fact chosen to drive across and back the United States during Spring Break my freshman year. FOOL. It did happen and I wasn’t in that car.
Do the crazy shit now. Don’t wait. Attempt crazier things—not drugs, that's not what I mean by risk. Stop playing dumb, speak up, go and get lost, explore your limits, go hiking, camping, GO PLACES.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions and comments, or if you are interested in participating in this project.