February 28, 2013
My first party at Hamilton ended with a river flow of tears by the steps of the Events Barn. Having experienced the great college phenomenon called grinding, complemented with kegstands and beer pong, a question began bothering me whose answer I was unsure of: What had I done? Why, why, why had I come here? Five thousand miles away from my country and inescapably trapped in the vast empty plains of upstate New York, I felt more far from home than even before.
The struggles persisted beyond the party scene, and coming to terms with college life meant first coming to terms with this country. One of the things I remember missing the most was the intensity of European identities: living in Bosnia, you are constantly embraced by Bosnian sounds, smells, looks and atmosphere. Here, everything looked more removed, detached, almost clinical.
And then in class, my ingrained sense of European skepticism made me cringe at every mention of the “Greatest Nation on Earth”; I felt offended by unjustified patriotism and uncritical rhetoric about freedom and democracy. I wondered how one could ever feel captured or fascinated by a society so fluid and neutral, yet so firm in its own complacency.
Four years later, these impressions are still there. But they have been deepened by a more subtle understanding of the complexity of this country, and an appreciation for all things that Hamilton has to offer. I found that beneath the seemingly fluid and neutral feel lies incredible richness and diversity in which every individual can find his or her own place.
At Hamilton more than anywhere else, the identity of the community is reflected not in the intensity of a uniform trait, opinion, look or archetype, but rather in the dynamic multitude of unique individuals who make up the Hamilton unique. It is a community that nests the streaking team just as well as the football team, that integrates members of Greek life just as well as international students and that draws its social tradition both from all-female Kirkland and from former all-male Hamilton.
In that sense, the often-cited American freedom has for me taken the meaning of thecontinued capacity of this community to let people from around the world feel like they are a part of it, in some small way. Not necessarily be integrated, maybe not even feel at home, but still belong to a certain niche in which to get meaningfully involved.
Its seemingly ubiquitous complacency is obscured by some of the most critical academic thought out there, which embraces every and any opinion as a valuable contribution to our intellectual debates. Such a complex mix of individuals and opinions, which I still struggle to comprehend, has made this a marking experience in which home is less about the sounds, smells and atmosphere, and more about the inconspicuous comfort of the niche I’ve found.
My American friends often tell me they tend to forget that I am foreign. While at first this struck me as insensitive, today I see it as evidence of how warmly I’ve been welcomed to this community. In a place where everyone is in some way different, it is the common experience of academic and personal growth that makes us all equal.
Four years later, the bubble and the vast empty plains of upstate New York make me feel safe rather than trapped, and I will leave knowing that I will forever have a place, a niche, to return to.
“From Where I Sit” is a column dedicated to the international voices of Hamilton’s campus. If you are an international student and are interested in contributing a column, contact Barbara Britt-Hysell (firstname.lastname@example.org)