When I first came to the United States, I had no clue how much American colleges cost. Especially being an international student (we have to pay for much higher tuition out of pocket- on a monthly basis.). All I knew was that I definitely did not want to apply to a community college. Why did I think that way? Because of the negative opinions of my classmates and even some grown ups. They installed this thought in my head that community colleges are for "losers" or kids that "are not good enough for the 'real' college".
But like I said, being an international student is not simple. There are not only cultural obstacles, but also financial hurdles to jump. It was because of the financial burden associated with my international status that I (or shall I say- my parents decided for me) to attend a community college. I did not love the idea and thought that community college meant that I was a failure. But I could not have been more wrong.
Back than I believed that all of this was one huge mistake. So I made it my mission for the next two years to try my hardest- to prove to everybody that I was better than OCC. I applied to the Honors Program during my first semester at Onondaga Community College and I began taking honors classes right away. The professors in these classes were passionate about their work, and their passion truly inspired me every day. It might sound silly, but I was surprised that I was actually learning something! I slowly started believing that OCC might be a place where I can really learn who I am, and who I want to become.
Many of us dream about being a leader, having an important title and authority, but that is not what being a leader really means.
My professors at OCC taught me that “a leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes them where they don’t want to go but they ought to be” (Rosalynn Carter).
My professors encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone, and become a person with drive and passion. I decided to tell my honors advisor about how great I finally felt about the decision to come to OCC and after our conversation she offered me a job as an Honors Student Ambassador. As an Honors Ambassador I presented at area high schools and explained to students how important college is and what Honors at OCC has to offer. Many times I met students that had the same negative opinions about community college as I first did. I often heared the same comments that discouraged me from applying to OCC, and I explained that the negative stereotypes are not true - community college is a place to grow and expand your abilities.
The day that I received my Phi Theta Kappa invitation in mail I was so happy! I have already heard from my advisors and friends about this honors society for two year colleges and I couldn’t wait to become a part of it. It was at the first general meeting that I’ve decided to run for the officer position at our local chapter. And somehow, I won! That same summer after my first year I had the opportunity to travel to New Mexico to attend the PTK Honors Institute, where I have heard from some distinguished speakers and met Phi Theta Kappans from all over the country. I was so proud to represent New York and feel like US has been slowly becoming my home.
During the Fall of 2015 OCC has hosted the New York Regional Conference and I was able to see the same familiar faces of people that I have met in New Mexico. They were so excited to see me and I already knew that I was making some life-long friends. During my last semester at OCC, we traveled to New York City to attend another one of these conferences. And I can truly say that we've grown together with other members. Our last trip together was to D.C. to Nerd Nation - the huge celebration of all of PTK chapter’s accomplishments. I already will miss being a part of something that great! But one thing is for sure: my friendships with PTK members will remain lasting for a very long time.
Also, to brag a little bit more- I was nominated for this years Phi Theta Kappa All- New York Academic Team, I have received the Chancellor’s Award for Student’s Excellence and thanks to all of that now I am able to attend Rochester Institute of Technology. Which, by the way, offered me a very generous scholarship.
If the "senior in college Iga" read this article, she would think it was one big joke - how could I possibly be advising people to go to a community college?! So I guess what I am trying to say is that if I could talk to Iga from two years ago and tell about all of the things she’s accomplished, and about how much she has grown she wouldn’t believe me. Back than, I was afraid to call and order pizza, and now I am putting my writing on a public platform that thousands of people visit on a daily basis. In a foreign language! And I still seem to make some sense! At least I hope!
Today I share my story to hopefully change the stigma associated with community colleges. Yes, I do love RIT and I am so happy that I am attending it now. But I feel like I got the best of both worlds by going to a community college for my first two years. Two years ago, I would have never thought that I would be able to accomplish so much and grow personally and academically.
Because I have gone to a community college at first, I was able to explore different majors and minors at much lower costs. I was encouraged to try harder. I had the guidance and time to figure out what 4-year university actually fit me. When applying to colleges out of high school I did not even consider RIT. I would probably end up going to an average school just because I wanted to "live in a dorm room" and "experience the real college". But this time around, I knew what I wanted to get from my future school. (Don't get me wrong I am still excited to live in a dorm and be surrounded by my friends 24/7) And thanks to that- now that I have graduated and transferred, I am not afraid to try at RIT. I feel prepared sitting in a classroom with people who had started here as freshman. I am no different than them - maybe besides the fact that they have about twice as much loans to pay off.
So to the senior in high school that thinks that going to a community college will ruin your life - it is not true. It all depends on you and the effort that you put into becoming successful. I am not trying to discourage you from going to a four year school. But I do believe that community colleges and their students do not get enough credit for their amazing work. We are not any less smart or hard working. Actually, many of us work twice as hard in effort to fight that negative stigma. Chose a school that fits you best. And if it is a community college, don't get discouraged by untrue stereotypes.