Culture,  International Student

The Real Liberal Arts Experience – East Coast Edition

There is more to liberal arts schools than the well-rounded education you’ll receive.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned as an international student for the past 4 years.


1. “Beware, you’re in the middle of nowhere…” 


The majority of top liberal colleges – such as Williams and Amherst – are located in small towns in New England with populations ranging from 7,000 to 16,000 people.

Outside of town, you’ll only find acres of deciduous forests that extend hundreds of miles covering the entire Northeast of America. Here are some of the ups and downs.


Ups: 

  1. A scenic haven.
    You will never find yourself in a more nature-surrounded and beautiful place to go to school.
  2. Experience 4 seasons of the year.
    There’s nothing better than seeing the color of the leaves change and experiencing the first snow of the year.
  3. Outdoor activities.
    Hiking, skiing, and rowing are a must. 


Downs: 

  1. Rough weathers.
    As beautiful as snow can be, it’ll be snowing for 5 months. From late October to early April, you’ll be combating a combination of snow, rain, and heavy wind.
  2. Love-hate relationship with a small town.
    You’ll appreciate the experience of being away from the noise of the city, but you’ll often envy your friends who are going to Chochella from LA, partying in the best clubs in NYC, or swimming in the beaches of Miami.


2. “It’s a small school…” 


Colby College (go mules!) has about 2,000 students school-wide. To prove how small Colby was, we had a “rehearsal” for graduation where we were able to fit the entire class of 2019 in the chapel.

Here are the pros and cons.


Pros: 

  1. You’ll know everyone.
    It’s like being in high school all over again. By the time you graduate, you would’ve seen AT LEAST everyone in your class plus everyone two grades above and below you.
  2. Personal relationships with faculty.
    Whether it’s the professors, administration, or the president of the college, you’ll have the ability to form personal relationships with different faculty. You’ll never have to schedule meetings with your professors and you’ll find that professors will often invite you to their homes for a home-cooked meal. 

Cons: 

  1. Gossip.
    Like any small school, words spread like wildfire. Therefore, people have to be very careful with what they say and to whom they say it to.


3. “Lack of diversity…” 


There is no way to sugarcoat it. Liberal Arts colleges predominantly consist of Caucasians who come from prep schools like Andover or Exeter. As a result, international students stand for about 10% of the student population. Hence, you’re not going to find a lot of Asian folks like us.


Here’s my advice for some of the problems. 

  1. Challenge yourself & stay out of your comfort zone.
    International students – especially Asians – tend to stick to their own. You know what I mean – Chinese with Chinese, Korean with Korean, etc. You’re comfortable and it reminds you of home, but you miss out on the experience of being in America and exposing yourself to diversity.
  2. Be proud of your origins.
    It’s easy to find yourself conforming to the American culture and social norms in order to “fit-in”, but It’s important to remember to never be someone that you’re not. It’s okay to share those bits about your culture and country that make you unique. You’d be surprised how much people want to learn about the world outside of America.


4. “But at the end of the day, It’s a very special place…” 

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Even though there were tough moments being in a small school and having to overcome the geographical and cultural challenges, you’ll realize that you had friends along the way to overcome those challenges with you.  And, that is an invaluable bond to have. 

In addition, you become part of a big family. In the context of Colby, I know that I will always be able to befriend anyone from Colby anywhere in the world because we share that common bond of going to school in Maine, eating ridiculous amounts of lobsters, and experiencing an amount of snow that is enough for a lifetime.

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