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St. Francis opinions: Is your college dream really yours?

This summer, I decided to take a writing course by myself in New York City. This is that story.

I observed the skyline from the inside of an old cab that drove me out of JFK. The driver was a middle-aged African man who was telling me about this outlet outside of Manhattan where he would get all kinds of high-end items for half the price, all that while being behind on his rental payments. As he said that, he offered to take me there for a fair amount of money. I declined, kindly. I was not there for shopping.

It was too early to go to my dorm room, so I decided to take a walk around Soho and find somewhere to have breakfast. Of course, as I had just left the airport, I was carrying a massive piece of luggage around the city. 

It all hit me when I found a café that required me to take a flight of stairs, while, yes, trying to take my bag with me. I can still remember the scene very vividly: There I was, a skinny teenager trying to carry an enormous container, which I had to pay excess for at the airport. I could feel my heart pumping while I tirelessly pushed the luggage up until it would fall back again, and I would repeat the process. The waiters and customers all sat there, watching me as if I was a character out of a Charles Chaplin movie. Nobody helped me. I felt weak. I ate my scrambled eggs and received a bill I did not ask for. I did not belong in this city.

During the months prior to my trip, I had been getting ready to apply to university. NYU was my dream. I had been working tirelessly in order to achieve the perfect scores required to get in, reading my personal statement countless times until it sounded perfect, studying endlessly with SAT tutors, consumed by the never-ending pressure that was put into me by the application process. For months, I heard my classmates go on and on about different tricks to get into college, including getting a 20.000 reais college counselor who fed into your soul while promising to get you into Columbia.

The truth is: When everyone around you has the same dream, it is hard not to get sucked in. We copy those who are around us, which explains my desperation to be a part of the so-called college acceptance culture. What is not taught and talked about in school is the fact that not everybody needs to go abroad, or even go to college right away. There are plenty of options: going to a Brazilian university, taking a gap year, participating in volunteer work, or even taking an internship- Life offers enough time to try, make mistakes, and maybe follow a different path than others, and there is no shame in doing so. 

Before having this experience, I found myself picturing the New York college life exactly as what I had seen in the Hollywood Movies that shaped me so deeply. I wanted the glamour and the seamlessness of a scripted life. I wanted to go back home and tell my Brazilian friends that I lived in New York City. I wanted people to know that I had gotten into college; I wanted them to realize I was smarter than I seemed. My insecurity brought me to believe that being in New York would create a persona that wasn't mine.

Joan Didion once said that you only get to know a city once you know the names of all the bridges. That is when you have seen the raw, impartial vision of it. In retrospect, I can say that she was right, and indeed, creating a lifestyle within a metropolis can be either a liberating or very lonely experience. I can now conclude that I am grateful to have had this experience (even though it was not so great at the time). Going back home meant appreciating my family, my home and the little things that make it so great. I now understand that no city is perfect, and neither should anyone be. I learned to breathe deeply and accept the changes that come my way, even if they are not what I had initially planned. 

The truth is: There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to universities. People are made differently, and will thus have different reactions to college life. "Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing. I'm not afraid of chaos and I'm happy to talk to strangers. I really love not knowing where I'm going."


What the students think:

"What is not mentioned is the aspect of really living abroad and how different it is for everybody"

"Whoever decides to stay suffers some judgement from friends, family and teachers"

"There should be a bigger process of self-discovery, afterall, not everybody fits into the United States. I know a lot of people from my graduating class who don't know what they want to do to this day."

"Going to an international school, we are often blinded and made to believe that Brazilian colleges are not as good. We grow up thinking that going abroad is more prestige because we are isolated from the Brazilian system of teaching. Besides, often, going to college abroad has more to do with status than with the learning itself"

"I feel like in most cases staying in Brazil is not even an option"

"I think there should be more focus in Europe! Having a university fair with countries other than the USA would also be helpful"

"Brazilian colleges are not as well seen" 

"Maybe not pressure, but the idea of going to the USA is constantly sold"

"I think there is more pressure from the students than from the school itself"

"Just because you go to an international school, it feels like the whole world expects you to go abroad"

"There is a lot of pressure, but mostly to do with the USA and SAT grades"

"Going abroad should be the objective of an international school"

"There is some pressure, but not as much if compared to other schools"

Written by Manon Zarvos


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