“They’re too good for me.”
When the words “for me” are added, it sounds like an indication of despair. Someone is saying that they won’t push harder to be worthy of good things. But what if ‘too good’ is taken as a compliment or a challenge to be undertaken, rather than resignation?
When I first came to Hillsdale College, everything seemed to be beyond me. I would be lying if I never wondered whether or not I really deserved to be on this campus. Now I can say it is my home away from home.
I am from coastal Kenya. I had never been out of my country before I decided to come to the U.S.. School in Kenya is different. In fact, a student is commended for staying quiet in class. Striving for top grades is the only known reason you go to school. Everyone focuses on getting the papers to determine the next level. The transcript is everything you need from school. Friends just happen and no one expects them to become family, like what happens at Hillsdale College. Here I got education, friends, and family.
And, it makes sense. The popular Hillsdale saying is that college is a partnership.
On my first day, I walked into a well-arranged room. There was almost everything I needed to start college. I had lunch with my Zawadi Africa sisters at Hillsdale. Zawadi Africa Education Fund is a nonprofit organization that helps young African women leaders to secure education opportunities abroad. They showed me the dorm and helped me unpack. They had arranged the room for me.
On my bed, I found letters from people of the Hillsdale community. I had not spoken to them before. I could not even pronounce their last names. From the letters, they knew that I was from Kenya. I wondered how they knew that. I learned later that the community is also invested in the college. They just wanted me to feel welcomed and comfortable. They left their contact information for if I would like to have dinner or lunch, or just visit their homes and local churches. One of the families I ended up calling are now my host family. I spend breaks with them.
But what surprised me the most was that girls in my dorm kept coming to introduce themselves with handshakes. Everyone was sure to tell me where they were from, and asked the question, “What brought you to Hillsdale?” I really did not know what to answer. I was unsure because I thought that it was an obvious question. With a shocked face I would say “to study.” For me, making friends was a bonus.
Though I knew that I would interact with people in my classes, I was surprised Hillsdale offers so much more than just classes. But as time went by, I realized Hillsdale College was more than just school. Inside and outside, Hillsdale College is one big community. It’s an environment that feels secure.
Despite the overwhelming kindness of people that I was still learning to appreciate, my first semester was not easy. I was insecure, especially about how I could communicate in English even though I had learned the language for more than 12 years. English was the language of instruction throughout my education in Kenya, and at my boarding high school, we would speak English for six days and Kiswahili for one day every week. There was a serious punishment for breaking this rule.
But somehow when I first arrived, I thought I was not good enough. I thought no one would understand me when I talked especially with my heavy Kenyan-British accent. Though I am very proud of my accent, I was tempted to remain silent in the beginning. However, I needed to express myself. I had to participate in class to get points. I needed to talk. I decided to communicate actively.
To my surprise, most people thought I was clear in everything I said. They wanted to know how I learned to speak English and were impressed with how many languages I could speak. I realized I had a rare ability to speak four languages fluently (English, Kiswahili, Giryama, and Chonyi). Though that’s normal in Kenya, it gave me confidence. I started teaching some of my friends some Swahili words and songs. My insecurity was gone. I could speak like everyone else.
One of my friends asked me if I would come play intramural volleyball. I had never played any sports before, and I knew nothing about volleyball except that the ball had to go over the net. I was about to decline, but I realized I didn’t really enjoy staying in my room alone, so I decided to give it a shot. While playing, everyone wanted to teach me how to play and every time I got a good hit, my teammates would say “good job.” Every trial was awarded with a high five and a compliment, “good hustle.” From that day, I showed up whenever there was a game.
Bible studies and church meetings are some of my favorite events on campus, and one of the quickest ways I got to know people. I believe religion is universal, and everyone who went to these meetings tried to be genuine. I joined my dorm Bible study and before long, I was attending other Bible studies too. It was refreshing to talk about higher things, and hearing people talk about their experiences of the week. I met some of the kindest people I have ever known.
These experiences, among others, made me realize that thinking something is “too good” for me is not scary, but a challenge to grow. The Hillsdale motto is “strength rejoices in the challenge,” and I have learned this to be true. I chose to write because starting school can be hard no matter where you come from. You may find the kindness of people is too overwhelming and maybe question whether or not you deserve it. It is easy to decide to withdraw, but that is the challenge. Take it up.
You may have communication insecurities like me, or feel everything around you is too good. It is an opportunity to learn to communicate with everyone else. Allow yourself to learn and have fun. You cannot know everything at the beginning, so don’t be too hard on yourself and stay humble. Make new friend groups, even if they do not know your mother tongue-it can be an opportunity for a good laugh listening to your friends butchering your language.
Take courage and have a full Hillsdale experience. Don’t let ‘too good’ intimidate you.