By the second afternoon of Bulldog Days, I had my line down pat: “Hi! I’m Jisoo. I’m from Maryland, and probably majoring in humanities or comparative literature. Nice to meet you!” Paired with a cheery wave and a smile, I hoped it would make a good first impression, succinctly answering the two questions that surfaced within the first minute of conversation with any prefrosh: “Where are you from?” and “What’s your major?” Simply put, “Where from, and where to?”
For any new Yalie, grappling with the impending reality of college life is riddled with bouts of imposter syndrome, social anxiety about meeting new people and nostalgia. But it is easy to forget this commonality — and our shared, doubt-ridden humanity — in a sea of peers who all seem so sure whence and whither.
I’ll freely admit that I myself don’t know how to answer “Where from, and where to?” Rather, I increasingly find that the crux of my identity lies in that rift of certainty, in the prolonged pause before I answer.
As someone who immigrated to the United States at a young age, the former question has always prompted a deeper search for identity. Was I from the quiet, sunny townhouses of Maryland whose street names had just begun to live comfortably on my newly bilingual tongue? Or was I to answer that I was from South Korea, from Seoul, where all of my extended family still lives? More often than not, the asker was seeking the latter answer, wondering which East Asian country took credit for my typical “almond- shaped” eyes and jet-black hair, and many would repeat the question until my self-identification fit that preconceived notion.
But more recently, rising awareness of the political and social turbulence in nearby Baltimore and the discourse surrounding it have made me wonder, as a resident of an affluent, comfortable suburb of Baltimore, can I truly lay claim to the city without knowing its struggles firsthand? Was it fair for me to introduce myself to the Midwestern woman standing next to me at the D.C. March for our Lives event by saying I was from Baltimore in order to preclude the questions that came with a more obscure zip code?
Similarly, where to — the city of New Haven occupied my thoughts throughout the FOCUS pre-orientation program. With this move came questions of how I will find my place in and make my mark on the city in the coming years. It is a responsibility and honor for me as a Yale student to give back to the city and its residents who have watched classes of Yalies come and go. How do I enjoy the inherent privilege that is the opportunity to study at such an institution while remaining humble in the face of New Haven’s own history and battles?
And of course, the universal doubt that nags at the minds of new college first years everywhere: that a mere four years will not be enough time to figure out which major and career path to pursue, especially when confronted with the obstacles facing humanities majors in our day and economy. Is my desire for a liberal arts education a valuable personal investment that will pay off in the future, not only occupationally but also socially and intellectually, as I want to believe? Or is there more truth than I want to admit in the constant pressure from well-meaning older relatives and jaded family friends to undertake the more “financially secure” path of an engineering or medical degree?
I don’t know yet. And I’m not sure I’ll ever really know enough to answer those questions definitively. But I am sure that they are fine starting points as I begin learning more about myself and my aspirations, letting Yale show me all the possible answers and questions that follow.
Class of 2022, we are just now meeting the Gothic stone facades and verdant courtyards in which we will construct life- long friendships and commence incomparable experiences. We will doubtlessly be faced with these questions of origin and objective innumerable times during our first year and throughout our time at Yale. But instead of being blindsided by our insecurities or overwhelmed by all we now have at our fingertips, let us embrace doubt as we take this first step together onto the picturesque walkways of Old Campus — let us remember that we need not be defined by our past or our plans and so neatly categorized according to them. Maybe where we are at the moment, simultaneously hopeful and doubtful, can be enough for now.
Jisoo Choi is a first year in Davenport College. Contact him at jisoo. firstname.lastname@example.org .