Everyone romanticizes college at some point in their life. Whether it’s the anticipation of Elle Woods’ girlboss attitude in a Harvard Law classroom with a neon pink and fluffy pen or the desire to relate to the exclusivity of societies like the Final Clubs in The Social Network. Going to college seems like a rite of passage: the ultimate mark of freedom, a time when one truly learns who they are outside of the care of their parents.
However, everyone’s story of assimilation is different. Mine is respective towards the family I grew up in, the high school I went to, and the motivations I had for going to college. Take my story as you wish, and I apologize in advance that it doesn’t follow the romantic notions I had originally intended for this article.
Myth #1: Yale is extremely diverse.
I grew up in a disproportionately Korean-American community hidden in deep Queens — I could name 5 H-Marts off the top of my head — and attended Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan, a magnet high school that is disproportionately Asian-American. Approximately 10.8% of New York is Asian-American; a whopping 74% of Stuyesant looked like me.
I’ve heard horror stories of students feeling openly discriminated against for being Asian-American or another marginalized race at school, and I’m still extremely glad that I never had to go through that. Don’t get me wrong: there were still microaggressions or the occasional encounter with someone who seemed so curious — borderline obsessed — about Asian-American culture that it left a bad taste in my mouth. Still, nothing had ever led me to internalize feelings of animosity because I was born Asian. And due to the diversity of both my neighborhood and my school, I naturally developed a close circle of Asian friends.
So when I got back from my FOOT trip, where an urban city girl took on hiking and not pooping in a toilet for five days, I felt ready to try other experiences that I never would have otherwise in high school. My roommate told me that there’s a darty (day party) on Lake Place, and I immediately thought of American Pie (but kill the neon lights and insert natural Vitamin D instead).
The party started at 1:00, and because people from my high school told me to never go to a party early, I got there at 1:30. I could hear music pumping in the background, but I couldn’t really see a crowd in the front yard. I would later find out that people at Yale take ‘fashionably late’ to mean close to an hour late. I saw six girls and guys lounging on the front porch with an indistinguishable flag with foreign symbols sprayed on front.
I was shocked to see that every single person on that porch was white. The house suddenly felt completely out of my world, and although I knew I’d be invited inside, I wasn’t sure if I’d feel welcome. Without second thought, I spun on my heels, called my FOOT friends, and went to Shake Shack with them instead.
On paper, Yale is extremely diverse. Statistically speaking, our population census supports the sentiment. Yale is 49.6% White, 20.8% Asian, 13.5% Hispanic, 8.4% Black or African American and 0.3% American Indian or Alaska Native. One of the most prominent marketing strategies of Yale and its stake on diversity is the presence of the Cultural Houses, or institutionally-placed infrastructures meant to curate support for marginalized communities.
I propose, however, that Yale is as diverse as you make it out to be. My experience of Yale’s diversity changes rapidly based on the environment I am in: a sports house, a cultural show, even down to the specific class that I am taking leads to a different experience of diversity. You can choose to make your Yale experience as diverse as you wish, with the effort that you are willing to put in.
You can celebrate different cultures by going to their music or dance shows. You can read the Yale Daily News, where people will talk about their roots. And you can fight for diversity.
Search for diversity, and you will find it.
Myth #2: People wear their money.
It is a shock that disposable income does not correlate with one’s family’s assets or income. My friends often tell me that I have the worst spending habits out of all of us, and I can’t completely disagree. One look into my overflowing closet and the need to buy formal dresses (This is Yale after all… wouldn’t I find a need to wear a fancy dress?) gave them the impression that I had to be rich.
But, occasionally, I’ll see peers pile into a Porsche next to my residential college or on the side of Starbucks on High Street and crack a smile. The furthest you have to walk is fifteen minutes to Pauli Murray College, and in that sense, Yale University feels smaller than it is. In others, however, Yale University feels much bigger than it is.
In general, most people don’t want to wear their money. Everyone comes here knowing that there is someone richer than them, but no one gauges how rich or poor someone has to be. Yale seems like this amazingly elite or fancy institution, and there are times that I definitely melt its luxury. Every time I go on the Yale Instagram, I’m shocked by how beautiful Sterling Library or Branford College looks in pictures. But, the people are more or less your average population of college students. Twenty-year-olds scrolling through Yale Menus, taking Ubers to go to Target or Ikea, and lining up at coffee shops to feed their caffeine addictions. And although I’m sure that there are exceptions all around, relationships really flourish on these commonalities, allowing you to quickly realize just how normal people at Yale are.
Myth #3: Everyone is extremely worldly.
Frankly, I’m trying to convince myself of this as I write this article. During your first two or three weeks at Yale, you will feel the need to become friends with everyone. And to be friends with everyone’s friends. And to be friends with their friends.
It was maybe during my second week at Yale, when the sun was still setting after 7pm. (Especially for those from the West Coast, be aware of how quickly the sun sets during the winter. If I didn’t have to leave dinner at 5:30 in the dark, maybe my seasonal depression wouldn’t be half as bad). Back then, I had the enthusiasm to sit next to other first-years and become acquainted with them.
We barely went through the usual ice breakers — where are you from, what do you study, what do you want to do in the future — before one guy mentioned taking Latin and Greek at Yale University. He wasn’t the first one to mention being interested in ancient languages — someone on my FOOT trip was similar in that regard. Both individuals had something in common: they went to private high schools with tuition similar to Yale.
I did not. I went to a public high school in Manhattan, Stuyvesant, where I woke up at 5:55 in the morning to catch a bus, then a train, and then a subway to get to school. The commute every day was approximately 3 hours long, meaning I spent close to 15 hours a week with my butt glued to a seat traveling through Manhattan.
I was never interested in taking those classes when I was in high school. Everyone took Spanish or French, romance languages that are applicable and widely spoken in the world. Somehow, I remember feeling like knowing a language such as Latin and Greek made you seem more intellectual than others, because it was more scarce than other languages.
Other friends of mine had spent their summers traveling to Egypt to observe ancient architecture or doing research in a lab in Morocco. I never did. In fact, not only had I never traveled to South Korea, but I had never been on a plane before I came to college.
But, I realized that there is a standard for who is ‘worldly.’ Some students were fascinated with the fact that I was born and raised in New York City, where I could experience different cultures based on what avenue I walked on. Other students, to my surprise, were impressed that I could speak Korean. Unaware of my haphazard pronunciation, they were amazed by the way I said apple.
Everything is simply perspective, and the only thing that really changes about all students when they get to college is their perspective. You no longer find it all that surprising when you walk past a secret society next to Branford College. You no longer feel intimidated by someone who speaks Greek or Latin, since you can now speak Korean in a way that your mother can understand. You no longer feel scared to grab lunch with people who live in houses four times the size of yours. They certainly aren’t thinking about that, so why are you?
Perspective morphs naturally, and amongst all the myths listed above, that is the sole truth that you need to survive here at Yale University.