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Rachael Kiti and her brother walk along the the Indian Ocean at a beach in Kenya. Courtesy | Rachael Kiti

“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.