After returning from my year in Israel, the question that always came up while catching up with friends or making polite conversation with adults was “What are you up to? How’s Stern?” Until about a year ago, I would answer with something along the lines of “It’s going well,” and would try hard not to have to go into more detail. My first semester at Stern was difficult for me and while I was doing fine enough, I would not have said it was good. I found myself frustrated with my life at Stern College because I felt that nothing had changed. I had just gone to Jewish day school for 12 years and nothing about the education I was receiving in Stern was revolutionary or interesting. Because of the small nature of classes in Stern, classroom dynamics felt similar to those I had experienced in high school. As I was taking mostly intro courses, there was not much in the material to really intrigue me. This caused me to feel intellectually trapped.
Another aspect of my frustration was social. When I first came to Stern, I had this notion that everyone already had their place, their group of friends from before and that these groups were exclusive. I felt that the seminary you went to or being a true freshman decided for you who your group of friends would be in Stern and there was no way to get past those clearly defined lines. Now, I was very close with many girls from my seminary and high school and really did find my community amongst those girls at Stern. However, this led me to believe that the only people like me at Stern were those people who went through the same exact pre-college experiences as me. Whether those imaginary lines between social circles were really there or not, I did not have the courage to branch out and meet other, new people outside those lines. This contributed to my frustration that nothing had changed for me and that nothing at Stern was new or exciting.
The only thing that gave me a glimmer of hope during my first semester was my Intro to Computer Science course. I had never learned anything about coding before and I was genuinely interested in learning more. By the end of my first semester, I fell in love with Computer Science and declared it as my major. Choosing this major has transformed my experience at Stern. Taking more advanced classes in the major that I loved engaged me intellectually while in the classroom and continued to push me out of my comfort zone outside the classroom. When it came to classes, I learned that while taking easy A’s might be what is good for my GPA, taking more advanced classes, even outside of my major, is what will make me happy.
My new major also brought me into a wonderful new community, beyond of those social lines that had prevented me from branching out during my first semester. The Computer Science cohort is small enough that I know almost every other major. Because of the size, everyone my year takes the same classes at the same time, allowing us to develop a community through shared academic experiences. My new major allowed me to meet many new girls at Stern, breaking down those barriers that had kept me back before. Unlike what I had assumed, the people I met were in fact like me; we had the same intellectual and religious values even though we did not come from the same seminary, high school, or hometown. I also met people that were different from me and do not necessarily value the same things. However, our mutual passion for learning Computer Science brought us together in a new type of friendship that has really allowed me grow.
Not only did my new academic direction improve my experience at Stern, my involvement in extracurriculars did as well. At the end of my second semester on campus, I was asked by the outgoing Israel Club presidents to take on the role for the following year. Like my major, being a part of the Israel Club my first year also helped me make connections with people I otherwise wouldn’t have met. It pushed me branch out to others, whether is was meeting people at events or working on committees. I realized how important the Israel Club was to me personally, not only because I believe deeply in the mission of the club itself, but also because it transformed my personal experience at YU. I was truly honored and privileged to take on the role as president. My time as president not only allowed me to further my relationships with new friends, it also gave me a newfound appreciation for the institution I am a part of. Taking on a leadership position showed me that I was involved in something greater than my own personal college experience; I was able to be a part of a group of people in YU who work tirelessly to benefit their peers. It allowed me to understand that not only do I have my community of high school and seminary friends, or the community of those who share my major, but also I am part of a bigger community that works on behalf of YU students.
To those of you searching for a community of your own at Stern, do not allow imaginary lines stop you from crossing over into untred territory. Stern may be small, but there are many surprising places to find a sense of belonging. Allow yourself to explore the things you are passionate about and find places where that manifests itself in the many facets of YU. Put yourself out there by asking someone you don’t know in your major to study with you or go to an event where you don’t necessarily know anyone. Breathe a breath of fresh air into your college experience by challenging yourself to do something new or different–by stepping outside of your pre-defined lines.
So if you asked me today, “How’s Stern?” I would answer “Thank God, it is really great,” with a smile on my face because I know I would be telling you the truth.