Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Freshman Year at Stanford University - Jennifer Kuang

As I sit here in my living room typing, I am still quite in awe that I have finished a year of college. It is truly unbelievable, and I can honestly say that this year has been the best year of my life. That is not to say that I did not experience any challenging times or hardships, but I feel that in all, my freshman year has been very positive and exhilarating and I have learned a lot and grown as a person.

In the beginning, I admit that I was very unsure and apprehensive about Stanford. It is after all one of the most prestigious colleges in the world, and I wondered if I would be able to keep up. In my first couple of months there, I definitely had a sort of culture shock. Students at Stanford are very different from students at El Cerrito. Everyone here had a work ethic, everyone was very focused and intelligent and they knew what they wanted out of Stanford and where they were going in life. Almost everyone I talked to knew what they wanted to major in, or at least had some sort of plan, whereas I was just winging it, my "plan" to figure it out as I went along. The people and the rigorous environment of Stanford made me realize that my concentration and work ethic from high school just aren't going to cut it here, that getting accepted, which seemed like a big deal at the time, was only the first step. I still have a lot more work to do if I want to survive through the next few years and come to possess the self-confidence in academics like my peers do.

More specifically with academics, I used my freshman year to explore my interests. Within three short quarters, I have taken classes from various fields, such as psychology, environmental science, archaeology, race and ethnicity, and much more. I can't say whether taking all these classes has helped me narrow down my interests toward a possible major, or made it even more confusing to decide, but I know I'll figure it out eventually. Apart from that, I really enjoyed my classes, although again I felt very incompetent compared to my peers during discussion seminars. I felt that they were all able to contribute so eloquently and used such substantial vocabulary while speaking that it was hard for me to keep up. However, what I always had to remind myself was that Stanford wasn't paying for my education in order to let me sit like a lump and not make the most of my education. I think that was a very important thing to think about in terms of academics at Stanford. You have to make the most out of every opportunity, whether that is in classes and learning to not be self-conscious about your intelligence and asking questions, or social life and stepping outside your comfort zone and talking to people you would not otherwise talk to. Something else that I learned at Stanford that is very crucial is that you have to be very proactive if you want something. It was very hard for me to come to terms with the fact that everyone at Stanford is good at something, and they are not just good, but also exponentially better than YOU. So if you want to do something, such as get elected to a government position or apply to be a part of some program, you have to put your all into that application. Doing things halfway gets you nowhere at Stanford, because you can bet that there are plenty of other people more capable than you who are fighting harder and better than you for that same spot.

Although the academic part of Stanford was downright intimidating at times, I had a lot of support from the friends I made here, and this is where the amazing aspect of an all-freshman dorm comes in. Living in an all-frosh dorm was exciting and the best part of my freshman year. It's great because everyone else is going through the same thing you are, transitioning from high school to college life, figuring out classes and getting to know Stanford. We have such a tight bond within our dorm, and I feel that we have really become a family that we can fall back on in the years to come.

I feel that my freshman year has been very successful. In addition to the amazing academics, I also spontaneously decided to walk on to the crew team, and it's been a lot of fun, despite the fact that I spent a majority of freshman year waking up before sunrise for practice. Because of crew, I had the opportunity to travel to other schools, such as Harvard and Princeton, to race, and I also obtained a lot of free gear, which is definitely a plus. I am also proud to say that I am a part of the team that won the national championship this year! That's right, look it up: Stanford Lightweight Women 2010 National Champions! Sorry, I had to. Apparently, it was a big upset.

Anyway, for me, freshman year seems to have been more like camp than school. Actually, I often like to say that it has been like an extended, year-long version of SEAD! Yes, the academics were hard, but the life experiences and the friendships I garnered are immeasurable. I absolutely cannot wait for sophomore year, where new and exciting things are awaiting. Not only will I be continuing crew for as long as I possibly can (before the realization that waking up at 5 AM is abnormal hits), but I have also been selected to serve as the Professional Development chair for Stanford Rotaract, as well as the Public Relations intern for DreamCatchers, a tutoring program for East Palo Alto middle school students. My freshman year has been a great foundation on which to build the rest of my Stanford career, and I, like Susan Rice said at Stanford's commencement just this past Monday, do feel that Stanford really is the best university on the face of the earth!

I thank you for reading, and I am especially grateful to everyone who has helped me to get to this point - my parents, family and friends, and especially the SEAD Program and Jay Davis, the ILC and all of its supporters, and of course, Ms. Kronenberg and Mr. Ramsey. You have all been there to witness my growth from a freshman in high school to a freshman at Stanford University!

Jennifer Kuang
Stanford University Class of 2013
El Cerrito High School Class of 2009
SEAD Class of 2008

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