Being from a foreign country and knowing little about Iowa or the Midwest, I thought of Grinnell as a little campus in the middle of the tall prairie grass. Indeed, I chose to come here not only because I wanted the isolation and oneness with nature that Grinnell seemed to offer, but also because I desired a retreat where I could nurse my tired body while nourishing my hungry mind. I had a fantasy image of Grinnell as the perfect retreat center, where all was quiet and serene.
As my parents helped me unload the station wagon and carry my belongings up four flights of stairs on that hot afternoon in late August, the realization that this was the place where I would spend the next four years only added to my excessive perspiration. College. I was about to embark on the adventure of roommates, late night cramming, and defining myself.
I never expected it to be a one-year stint.
It’s a strange feeling, accomplishing a goal you didn’t know you had. It’s happened to me a few times at Grinnell, most markedly, when my former professor, Tim Arner, turned to me in the campus pub and said, “People who don’t like ABBA are bad people.” It happened again a few days later, when he wrote on his [plan], our Grinnell blog community, “If I could have a genie grant me just one wish, I would wish that everyone I know would sit down and watch Teen Wolf.
I arrived at Grinnell my first year as a wannabe physicist and a wannabe writer, and I had no idea which of these subjects I wanted to follow. If I had been stuck with such diverse interests at any other college, I might have been in trouble, but at Grinnell this dilemma was not as serious as it might have originally seemed. By pure luck, I got the perfect first-year adviser to help me work through my science-humanities schizophrenia: Professor Paula Smith, an English professor who teaches creative writing. Her husband, Professor Paul Tjossem, teaches physics.
One of the first people I met when I came to Grinnell College as a student was my future friend Alyssa. As I hauled my huge bags out of the car, Alyssa approached me and my family with a big smile. “Hi! Welcome to Grinnell!” At first, I thought she was just volunteering to help first-year students move in, but later I found out she was my floor’s student adviser (SA). As my first year progressed, not only did I become close friends with Alyssa, but I also learned about the unique structure of residential life at Grinnell.
Issue: Spring 2009
When my fellow Alt Breakers and I started to give each other nicknames, I knew all barriers between us had vanished. It surprised me — after less than a week together on our spring break service trip, our group skipped the polite acquaintance period that exists after introduction and went straight to familiarity. After all, you don’t call someone “Creepy Voice” or “Lost in Boys” until you feel they won’t take it the wrong way. The nicknames signaled we had become family.