Fitting In – Perspectives from a WG’17 Cluster President

Two weeks ago, the night before the first day of class, I was 25,000 feet in the air, looking down at the thousands of shining lights in the darkness below. That same night, a year ago, I stood up in front of C2 to deliver my Cluster President candidate speech.  It was both terrifying and exhilarating, and just the beginning of my “stretch experiences” here.

I had never held student government positions before. For years, I had also never felt like I quite belonged anywhere. I moved to America as a young child and for the next 11 years constantly wrestled with “fitting into” this melting pot. Moving to new schools and states only made this even more challenging.

In elementary school, I was an English as a Second Language (ESL) student, so language was the natural barrier. The end of the first day of class is still imprinted clearly. When all the school buses drove off, they also left a teary-eyed me who didn’t know how to ask which bus could take me home.  Middle school in a new state meant new beginnings, but the barrier this time was conversation topics. Music. TV shows. Restaurants. And, the list went on. As one of two Asians in the school, I equated assimilation with losing an important piece of my identity. To remain whole, I immersed myself in Asian pop culture, which only lengthened the distance.  High school in a new state was another opportunity. Among 700 students, I was one of the most academically focused (#nerd). Yet again, the distance grew.

In my freshman year at Harvard, my world started to widen as I finally began piecing together a sense of belonging. The talented student body was more diverse in its variety of interests and global composition. In such a multi-faceted environment, no one “fit in” all the time. Instead, we reciprocated “fits”: I used my skills to strengthen those around me and subsequently also learned from others. For example, my academic skills helped others while they, in turn, provided extra dance lessons. Ultimately, the fabric to fit into was to be comfortable with the individuality that we each brought.

Wharton in many ways harkens me back to college with such a diverse and insanely talented group of classmates. However, I’ve witnessed and heard uncertainties around “fitting in” at Wharton, both as a 1Y last year and as an LF for 1Ys this year. I know that during my 10+ year transition period, my anxieties around “fitting in” derived from a variety of reasons. For those in transition at Wharton, concerns can range from career backgrounds to time management to life priorities and more.

The hard part of “fitting in” is not about blending into the perceived uniform cloth that is Wharton. The hard part is about opening up and taking the initiative to reach out and offer your own unique threads of experiences to others. The exchanges of these threads then form the basis of a much richer and more fulfilling tapestry at the heart of Wharton. We were all admitted here for many reasons. Be generous with your strengths and honest in your struggles. Have the courage to fail and be persistent in your journey. After all, Wharton thrives because of its students. So trust your classmates, embrace yourself, and reach out.