Discomfort at Swarthmore


I come from a traditional Asian family, with parents who didn’t see the point of going to a liberal arts school. Given that I wanted to major in computer science, we all thought that it was going to be a no-brainer to choose a school with the most reputable computer science program.

When I visited Swarthmore, I wasn’t immediately captivated by the campus. I didn’t have that “love at first sight” feeling. To be completely honest, I felt pretty uncomfortable. I felt intimidated by all the academically-inclined students and by what I perceived as tremendous academic stress. I felt confined in a small campus, and I always thought that I would go to a big university because I would be comfortable there. My perception of college was feeling surrounded by a pool of people and having the most fun four years of my life, making new friends, and partying often. To top it off, Swarthmore isn’t really a household name that is thrown around, and my parents had never heard of it. From the outside looking in, these reasons should have been clear as day for me not to choose Swarthmore. But something inside me kept urging me to go to Swat, and what made it worse was that I knew exactly what that was.

Looking back, the people I looked up to the most weren’t necessarily extremely smart, extremely rich, etc. They were people who were grounded by their human values, people who could genuinely connect with other people, and people who wanted to truly expand their lives. What is most important to me is cultivating those human values, and I knew that if I went to Swarthmore I would be in an uncomfortable environment, where I would be forced to be introspective and truly understand why I’m doing things. I noticed how there was nothing related to computer science in the books I read about music, acting, or death. Interests are plastic, and they will continue to change and develop as long as I am open to them.

With regards to the academics here at Swarthmore, I was not the most studious student in high school. But discipline and focus were lifestyle traits I wanted to cultivate, especially for the rest of my life. And I knew that at Swarthmore I would be able to work on this part of me. There have been days I’ve stayed up late working on math problem sets, understanding computer science concepts, or reading religion papers, but on the inside I am smirking because it is fun and this is the reason why I came here. I didn’t like the idea of constantly working; college is supposed to be relaxing! But the reason why I came here was to grow, to change. How much would it suck if I came out of college exactly the same as I was right now in high school. Something my Swat admissions officer told me was that yes, Swarthmore is going to be extremely challenging. Honestly though, that is how I’m going to grow. I had been coasting throughout my whole high school career, and although it was fun, it left me bored and ultimately unfulfilled. If I’m going to be coasting through college all four years, then basically it’s like me wasting my time at an expensive summer camp.

At a technical school, I could see myself graduating, meeting people who will become my best friends, and probably working at some tech company — which indeed is a great life. At Swat, however, I honestly have no idea who I will become or where I will end up, but maybe that’s the why I wanted to come here so badly. I would’ve never seen myself going to a liberal arts college, but hey, that’s a whole new world that I will be able to be a part of.

Every time I’m struggling with my classes, struggling with the relationships I’m making, I am still able to smile because I know that is the very reason why I chose Swarthmore. I will face these fears in order to grow. My best friend told me something that I will hold onto as I go on exploring my life in college:

“You need to cast away the chains of comfort to become the man you never were.”


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