Edit Desk: How’d you end up here?


“How did you end up here?” 

That is a question I am often asked after I tell people at Lehigh I’m from San Francisco. Now that I’m a junior and not meeting new people nearly as frequently as I once did, I get this question much less. But as a freshman meeting everyone for the first time, it was a part of nearly every initial conversation I had.

I’m not under the illusion that being from a place on the other side of the country is really all that unique. Lehigh is home to students from 79 different countries at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and 16.5 percent of Lehigh undergraduates are international students. 

Going home to the West Coast is not nearly as drastic an adjustment as flying home to another country, and I wouldn’t imagine the culture shock when arriving at Lehigh for the first time is comparable.

Nonetheless, the majority of people that I have met in college are from New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania. This is not to say I haven’t met people from a variety of different places, but the overwhelming majority seem to be from those three states.

I often had trouble answering the “How did you get here?” kind of question. 

I usually offered an explanation based on some combination of wanting to go to school on the East Coast because my extended family lives here, Lehigh’s undergraduate size, its academic reputation and its “quintessential” college campus.

These questions were never ostracizing by any means, but they were enough to make me pause. For the first time in my life, I felt ostensibly different from my milieu. I knew those questions weren’t something that would come up in a conversation between two students from Pennsylvania because the answer would be self-evident.

The next question, almost without fail, would be: “What are you majoring in?” 

“International relations” seemed to be an answer not as ubiquitous as “finance” or “accounting,” so I would start zero for two on establishing commonalities.

The answer to either of these questions is of great importance in Lehigh parlance and provides the basis for a shared understanding on one of two counts. The first is geographical, and helps to establish connections based on the localized knowledge of specific high schools attended, restaurants patronized or friends shared. The second is Lehigh-specific and manifests itself in the form of shared trepidation over an upcoming exam, a recommendation for a particular class or a professor to avoid.

I was privy to these introductory-level conversations in my first year, though I rarely participated in them because of those two differences.

Ultimately, there are plenty of other things to talk about and my ability to make friends was not seriously inhibited, although it could have been easier.

When I decided to matriculate at Lehigh, I underestimated the leap that I was taking and the things that I would miss about home. 

I may have undervalued the ability to go home at a moment’s notice, see my family, eat a home-cooked meal or take a shower sans flip-flops. Oftentimes, I am envious of my friends who can take advantage of these opportunities throughout college.

I may have overestimated how much I would enjoy living through three distinct seasons in a school year, as opposed to the forgivingly monotonous weather in the Bay Area, especially when Pennsylvania remains cold and rainy in April. 

However, besides the fact that Lehigh has proven to fulfill both my academic and social needs, my quasi-outsider status has granted me a number of things for which I am grateful. 

Instead of going home during instances like pacing break, I have gone home with friends and gotten to know their families throughout the past three years. And while I wish I could see my own family more, I enjoy the time I spend at home over winter and summer breaks even more because of how fleeting that time feels.

When the weather finally takes a turn for the better in the spring, I relish being able to spend time outside after months of being inside to avoid the wintry conditions.

When I do meet someone from home, I am thrilled to establish those commonalities because of how few and far between those interactions are.

While going to school across the country has been challenging at times, I believe it has allowed me to grow and establish a sense of independence in a unique way. In doing so, I have fostered a strong sense of individuality at Lehigh, 2,700 miles from home.

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