“Why do you want to go 3,000 miles away for college?” My mother must have asked me that question on a weekly basis throughout the entirety of my senior year of high school. While Whitman College is actually 2,983 miles from my home, my mother’s 17-mile over-exaggeration did nothing to dispel for feeling of foreignness the distance evoked in my 17-year old self. Growing up on the small island of Kaua’i, deep in the Pacific Ocean, I never found reason to leave my small corner of the world for more than 3 weeks prior to my departure for college. So, why then, did I apply almost exclusively to West Coast schools, giving up the lush, tropical heat and familiarity of a vast network of interconnected people? Like many high school seniors, I hoped college would provide me with a wealth of opportunities to explore, from which I’d garner an overabundance of experiences and figure out what I wanted from the world. What I found 2,983 miles from all that I knew was so much more than an understanding of what I wanted from the world, but a deep and meaningful realization of all I could offer to the world. I realize now that I could not have come to this understanding by relegating myself to the familiarity of what I’d always known.
For me, college was never a choice. Coming from a family where neither of my parents completed degrees at a four-year institution, it was instilled at an early age that more was expected of me. My parents did everything to provide me with the opportunities they were not afforded, but it was up to me to put in the hard work, to take the rigorous courses offered at my school, and to involve myself in service activities for which I was passionate. The small island of Kaua’i does not have any 4-year schools, so I’d always know I’d be leaving home for school. My line of thinking was: “Since I’m leaving anyway, why confine my search to in-state schools?”
Like many high school students, I cast my net wide, but eventually decided that several West Coast schools were the best fit for me, both academically and geographically. Out of the five schools I applied to, Whitman College out in Walla Walla, Washington drew me in the most because the familiarity of a supportive community appealed to me. Knowing that I would be heavily dependent on financial aid, I spent the majority of my senior year of high school trying to convince myself that any of the five schools I had applied to would provide me with an excellent education. However, by the time admittance letters began to arrive, Whitman was buoyed by rave reviews and found its way to the top of my list. From alumni to the random people I would meet in the grocery store that had some distant connection to an alumnus, I heard nothing but glowing recommendations about the small school in the Southeast corner of Washington state.
Looking back the six years it has been since I was a senior in high school, I know I would have gotten a decent education at any of the institutions to which I had applied, but what cannot be duplicated is the enthusiasm and loyalty of Whitman students. Leaving the community of my small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I found another community, willing and waiting to accept me, support me, and inevitably, provide me with the tools to be an active citizen of the world. Hawai’i is where I’m from and it will always hold the title of home, but by challenging myself, to explore schools away from home, I was able to travel the world, gain perspective, and eventually earn myself a BA in English and an MA in Teaching. Now, when I go home to visit family, I’m asked: “Did you have to go 3,000 miles away to get a good education?” No, but I did have to travel 2,983 miles to find the education that was right for me.