Thursday, May 14, 2015

A New Chapter

The summer before college, I was occasionally preoccupied with thousands of stray thoughts – from the idea of being a freshman again, having to learn all the new names and faces, going into college undeclared, and moving to a new place thousand miles from home. I was excited for a new journey, yet nostalgic for high school. I was happy that the college application process was forever over, yet worried about the future yet to come. In addition, when I applied to colleges, all I knew about Minnesota or Macalester was hearsay. I never had the chance to visit the campus. The truth is that although Macalester was on the top of my college list, it was not the first-choice school that I applied early decision to and I waited until the very last day to submit my application to Macalester. I thus came into college with a lot of uncertainty. I was not entirely sure if Macalester was ultimately the right choice for me.

But all of my worries were soon alleviated after I arrived at Macalester, where I now call my second home. From the very first days, I was impressed by the professionalism, the big smiles, the warm personalities, and the kindness of Mac students and staff. Although I went to a high school where there was a diverse student population, I often felt that there was still an intangible line between domestic students and international students. But at Mac, that border hardly exists. Students, professors, and staff all come from many different racial, ethnic, socio-economical, and academic backgrounds, and hold different religious and political beliefs, but everyone respects others’ opinions and voices, embraces all the differences, and more importantly genuinely wants to learn more about others.

At the beginning of the school year, I was also lucky enough to be selected to participate in the Ametrica Project sponsored by Macalester’s International Student Programs. The Ametrica Project is an annual program composed of weekly dialogues, where domestic and international first-year students come together to discuss everything from the very mundane topics of relationship and love, to more global and controversial topics such as privileges and identities, foreign relations, and global citizenship. Participating in Ametrica was a really rewarding experience to me as I got to not only voice my opinions, listen to my friends’ perspectives, and develop a greater intercultural sensitivity, but also to make new friends and have a great time with some great people. 

I and some other Ametrica participants gathered for dinner at the house of Mr. Brian Lindeman, Macalester Director of Financial Aid.

Through Macalester’s International Student Program and the Host Family Program, I have a host family. My host family often kindly invited me over for traditional American holidays’ celebration such as Thanksgiving dinner and Easter and always made me feel like home.

Academics life at Macalester is challenging, yet intellectually engaging. Before coming to college, I was often prone to enjoy classes that I did well in more than classes in which I didn’t do as well. However, I have come to realize that what matters more than the numbers on the tests is the process of learning itself. Instead of just taking what is written in the textbooks at face value, I have learned to embrace knowledge. Trying to derive equations and figuring out the origins of equations and their underlying principles on my own has now become an intellectually stimulating habit that exhilarates me and gives me a rush of adrenaline each time. Moreover, at Mac, I never view my professors only as professors, but as as intellectuals, scientists, philosophers, and all-rounded human beings. They are great friends to count on and amazing mentors who are always willing to help, talk, and give advice to students. Thanks to the support from my professors, my family, and my friends at Mac, I recently declared to be a Chemistry and Biology (Biochemistry emphasis) double major in my first spring semester of college!

Me out in Macalester’s Ordway Field Station collecting samples for Biodiversity and Evolution class!
I have learned outside of the classroom and from my friends more than I ever did in the past. My first-year course was Chemistry, which is a residential course. I got to live under the same roof with my classmates in Turck Hall and discuss homework questions anytime I want! Every day, from morning classes to late-night talks in the lounge, I constantly learn so much from my peers. They are all really supportive, fun to be with, and passionate about learning and intellectual pursuit.

My Chemistry first-year course has dinner with the professor.
Outside of the classrooms, I also had the chance to join Macalester Mock Trial team and competed in many in-state and out-of-state tournaments. Before coming to Macalester, I never thought that I would ever do mock trial. As an international student who still often stumbled on words, I never thought that I would be given an opportunity to join this demanding activity. While other colleges with strong mock trial programs often hold auditions and just admit a small number of students into their programs, Macalester Mock Trial is open to every Mac Scot who is eager to learn. I tried out many different roles, from a plaintiff attorney, a defense attorney, a psychologist, to a crime scene investigator, and even the defendant in different tournaments… Being in Macalester Mock Trial, I get to meet, watch, and learn from amazing teammates. It is a delight to watch my teammates using their outstanding rhetorical skills to elegantly make their arguments in examinations and delivering statements with great eloquence in the mock court room. Although people may say that mock trial doesn’t have much to do with my science major, it has truly taught me many valuables skills and earned me some great friendships.
My team - Macalester Mock Trial Team 1361 competed at Regional Competition in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Macalester has helped me to self-explore and become a better person in many ways. I have figured out the answers to many of the questions that I had before I came to college. In these 7.5 months, I have formed many great friendships, declared my major, and figured a lot of things out. Macalester has indeed become a second home. Macalester is the place to be. I am grateful to be here and I would never choose otherwise. At Macalester, I get to be the captain of my own life, and be the truest version of myself. Every day is no humdrum, but filled with challenges, knowledge, and exciting stories.

Hoang Anh Phan ’18, Hanoi, Vietnam