What My Freshman Dorm Taught Me About Finding The Right College

I did not know what I wanted when I applied to college.

Many of us at my East Coast high school applied to liberal arts colleges, and I followed suit and got into one of the top five.

Trudging up three flights of stairs with heavy luggage, I finally arrived at my new abode; a brick dormitory overlooking a perfectly manicured green. I had never moved from my childhood home; however, I had an inkling that the first thing to do when you move is to meet your neighbors. While I had nothing to offer except a gallon-sized tupperware of winter clothing and the sweaty shirt off my back, my new neighbors didn't seem to mind. We got along; all of us were American, most of us were East Coasters, and we were all excited about freshman year. We exchanged stories about our summers at the beach or in Europe, prospective majors, and pre-orientation experiences. As the year went on, I began to see that my neighbors here were not unlike my neighbors at home. Instead of lending spare eggs for a baking experiment, we lent each other funky garb for the next themed party. Instead of holding the dog while I went for a run, we held study sessions for tomorrow's exam. Our exchanges were friendly, familiar, and devoid of diversity. I was beginning to realize what I wanted from college, and it was something along the lines of variety.

San Francisco. Berlin. Buenos Aires. Seoul. Bangalore. Istanbul. London. This string of cities stuck in my head like the chorus of a catchy pop song. During my gap year at an entrepreneurship program in South Africa I had heard of the university that allows you to travel the world, however, I only became captivated with Minerva a year later when I felt trapped in the confines of comfortability. I applied on the couch in the common room where we did our Psychology homework and ate gluten-free cookies. As I applied, I dreamt of living with neighbors from around the world, all around the world.

The following August, excitement grew inside of me as I scaled up one San Francisco's steepest hills on my way to meet my new neighbors. There were no full-fledged admission teams guiding cars into parking lots or signs with arrows leading towards registration desks. In fact, there was no campus at all. There was one residence building, an arsenal of macbooks, and 110 students. As my RA and I walked up the historical building's creaky steps to my room, she told me that she had arrived from Israel two weeks ago. I thought of my last college, and couldn't remember meeting an Israeli. The sunlight washed over me as I walked into room 411, and the sparkling view of the San Francisco bay greeted me warmly. I took my guitar off my back and noticed that there was already a guitar on the bed. My roommate from Mexico walked in behind me and we laughed about the guitars. She told me that she played classical guitar and knew Mexican folk songs; I told her that I only knew one Mexican folk song, Paloma Negra.

As I continued to meet my neighbors, my heart surged with love and anticipation. On my floor alone there were students from India, Argentina, Nigeria, Italy, Brazil, and Trinidad. As the months went by, I realized that my neighbors here were unlike any neighbors I had ever had before. Instead of lending each other sugar or brightly colored socks, we lent each other personal stories about the Rwandan genocide and communism in China. Instead of holding pets or study sessions, we held each other up when someone faced prejudice for wearing a hijab, or for being a girl. When I dined with my neighbors, we rarely ate ramen or delivered pizza. We sat on the floor and ate tahini from the Middle Eastern market with fresh vegetables. We made lasagna with our resident Italian and compared our nonnas. We spoke about our classes, but we spoke about them each having lived totally different lives in totally different places, and this breadth of perspective gave each class a myriad of deeper meanings.

When I have a baking crisis in the kitchen and need another cup of flour, I know that my neighbors at Minerva would lend me a cup. When I am attempting to end world hunger in the future, I know that I can ask my Minerva neighbors to share their experiences, knowledge, and perspectives to help me find a solution to feeding the world. I didn't know what I wanted when I applied for colleges, but I do now.

I simply want a diverse block of neighbors.

Fiona Iyer is a student in the Class of 2019 at the Minerva Schools at KGI.