Thursday, November 17, 2011

First Impressions

After attending Macalester for about two months I have noticed that a large part of my Macalester College experience is centered on the quest to define identity. Backing up a little bit, I graduated from a relatively small high school of about 400 students that provided a very familial environment but also became very repetitive after four years. Although the course load was rigorous I graduated high school with a sense of uncertainty because I really had not identified a lifelong passion. Although there is no single reason I decided to attend Macalester, I was determined to utilize my time here to learn more about myself, learn about the world and perhaps find my true passion or purpose in life.

I arrived at Macalester College a month earlier than most of the other students because I was fortunate enough to make the varsity soccer team. Arriving on campus the first day felt like charting a new world. I essentially was beginning a “new chapter” in my life where I didn’t know the place or people very well. During the one-month of pre-season we trained as a team, ate as a team and partied as a team; and in the meantime I learned bits and pieces about the life experiences of my teammates. Despite having been on campus for only a month, by the end of preseason I knew I had people who I could turn to at any time for support or just to hang out.

Although I established brother-like connections with many of the people on the soccer team, orientation week was when I began to feel the real breadth of the Macalester experience. Some of my more memorable social experiences during orientation week include playing dominoes with people from Australia, England and China, and trying to keep up in a Ping-Pong match against a boy from Lithuania. I also attended a seminar given by a student about ways students could combine various elements of the Café Mac cafeteria food and make eating creative and exciting. (Although the food is already pretty impressive as it is.)

Built into the orientation experience for all first-year students is a program called Into the Streets. The program gave students the opportunity to work with various organizations in the local Minneapolis-St. Paul community as a mode of civic engagement. My orientation group volunteered at an organization that aids in the resettlement of Sudanese in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Into the Streets, as with many other aspects of Macalester student life, allowed me to not only give back to the community, but also to take the things we would learn in the classroom and actively apply them engaging in the world at large.

As a first year student I was encouraged to take a wide variety of courses. My first year course is “Refugees and Humanitarian Response.” It’s taught by the head of the department of Anthropology. It is a residential first year course, meaning all sixteen students in the class live on the same floor. One of the most pleasant surprises of my first year course was when my professor took our class to the St. Paul farmers market and invited us to her house to cook and eat brunch together with her family. In the classroom we recently focused on the elements that define an ethnic group, and are often challenged by questions such as “what gives a nation-state the right to humanitarian intervention in the ‘emergency’ of another nation?” I think the most important thing I have learned from my classes, and particularly my first year course, is that from an anthropological perspective, people, culture and life in general cannot be viewed through objective lenses, but must be viewed in a larger subjective framework. I have also found that the Mac experience is about finding your voice and taking ownership of your beliefs and thoughts.

Outside of class, I am a member of Mac Attack—the club volleyball team on campus—and a leadership program called Pluralism and Unity. I think an immense part of my Macalester College experience is the connections I have made with a wide variety of interesting people through various organizations.

I feel like the majority of liberal arts colleges have many things to offer students. However the character that I feel distinguishes Macalester College from the rest is that the college challenges students to engage with the world in every aspect of its curriculum and student life. The reason I called my time at Macalester a quest to define identity is that my ways of perception and thought towards many aspects of life have been challenged, reshaped and strengthened. It is a quest, a constantly changing endeavor, for something larger than myself. All in all, as the hearty cheer heard at every Mac sporting event goes, “Macalester is Wonderful!”

- Jonathan Goh '15
(Post written October 8th, 2011)