Is it the honeymoon phase?: New students’ first impressions of Vassar

Another semester, another group of students joining the transfer and exchange (TVE) corridor in Cushing House. I decided to interview Kyle Patterson ’20, a transfer student from Caltech in Pasadena, and Yuming Huang ’19, an exchange student from Yale-NUS in Singapore. As you read this article, your mind may travel well-trodden roads as you recall your own arrival at Vassar, however many moons ago.

Satisfaction levels currently sit at a comfortable 8/10 for both students, who had far more difficulty discussing the downsides to Vassar than they did the overwhelming positives.

After three days of lessons, Patterson was excited about his professors, who were all fun and emanated good vibes. He described the student body in similar terms: The typical Vassar student, according to Patterson, is very progressive and very friendly.

Everybody Patterson has met so far has been incredibly accommodating and willing to connect with other students regardless of their background. He is happy at Vassar, which is a testament to the welcome he has received, although he suggested drily that it may just be the honeymoon phase.

Huang, arriving at Vassar as an international student, was surprised by the discussion surrounding identity on campus. For example, he was not used to hearing people weave non-binary gender pronouns into conversation as it is not something that happens where he comes from. The whole idea of an Add/Drop Period is also foreign to him. Although there is an Add/Drop period at Yale-NUS, it is nothing as informal as Vassar’s, nothing like showing up unannounced to a class.

Although Patterson can see Vassar as a home away from home, it is more difficult for Huang: “It feels like a learning stop in a sense,” he remarked. Huang, who is only here for one semester, commented: “I am trying to learn as much as possible about culture, specifically of a place like Vassar, which is a liberal arts institution.” He noted, “The particular way of life here, the culture here, is something that’s special.” Huang views the genuine attention to diversity as a strength of the Vassar system.

Patterson knew what he was getting into, as his family home is situated right next to campus in Arlington. He is impressed by the architecture, especially the Tudor style of Cushing and going into the buildings as a student has offered a new perspective compared with seeing them from afar. Patterson remarked that the campus is very quaint and that the library is especially beautiful.

Huang remarked: “Vassar is a very specific kind of beautiful, the kind you wouldn’t find in Singapore … lots of red brick, nice wonderful architecture… it strikes me that everything is very far away from each other.” In Singapore, he explains, campuses tend to be smaller on the ground level, with taller buildings. Perhaps the most striking thing about the campus for Huang is the temperature. The day he departed Singapore, temperatures had reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit and he arrived to a far chillier 23 degrees.

Huang admitted that Vassar’s rural location makes it difficult to explore the area unless you have access to a car. He finds Vassar disconnected from the space around it—his first taste of the famed “Vassar bubble.” For Patterson, Vassar’s location isn’t an issue, as he finds it is difficult to leave campus regularly while balancing the college workload.

Over the course of our conversation, both students identified the Deece as the social hub of Vassar. Huang finds that although Vassar is very welcoming, the structure of the campus is decentralized and people tend not to come together very often. The most communal space where Vassar students mingle is the Deece.

The long dining hall hours make it an ideal location both for meeting friends and for late-night munchies. Patterson also believes it’s a good place for students to relax together and to see friends. Although the Deece brings people together, the food is only satisfactory for Patterson. A harsher critic than his peer, Huang joked: “Americans need to be more creative with their vegetables.”

At Vassar, all of the TVE students are grouped together, which could potentially provide an obstacle to integration. Living with other TVE students, however, helped Huang find others who are coming to terms with living in a totally different culture and can help new international students with recognizing and filling gaps in their cultural knowledge. Huang remarked: “Connection is easy to find, provided you want it.”

Patterson also views living with other TVE students as a benefit, as initial connections are based on the fact that they’ve all travelled a similar pathway to reach Vassar. The TVE corridor is a bridge to positive experiences and friendships, rather than a hindrance. For Patterson, the most important things are being able to connect with people, having access to decent facilities and receiving a good quality of education. He concluded that Vassar satisfies his criteria very well.

If Patterson could describe Vassar in three words, he would use diverse, bonded and caring, not only with regard to the student body but also to the administration, which he believes really pays attention to students. Although he conceded that this story might be an urban legend, Patterson remarked that the security is prohibited from chasing students because once a girl broke her leg running away. “I’ve never heard of anything like that on a college campus before,” he laughed.

However, there is a downside to the concern the College harbors for student welfare. “We don’t really have a great party space,” Patterson remarked, fresh from the 11:30 p.m. Mug shutdown the night before.

Patterson would recommend Vassar to most of his friends, although not to all, as Vassar is a unique experience. Schooling in Singapore is most public, so Huang’s friends may find Vassar far too small for them.

Huang’s succinct description of Vassar carries particular resonance: “Warm, as in the people; cold, as in the weather; and pretty, as in the campus.” Overall, Vassar College emerged as a welcoming, friendly place with poor nightlife, questionable food, amazing people and freezing temperatures. For the sake of students used to warmer climates, let us hope that spring is on its way.

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