Storytime: My First Visit to ETSU 

In 2007 I was coming to the realization that I was barely making headway with friends and social life at college. Everyone was so country, dating someone or people old enough to be your parents. I wasn’t part of the “I graduated from Morristown High School” group, the ghetto click or “redneck romeo”. I was really standalone, slowly discovering that there were more sociable people online than the people in front of me.

In February or March of that year I had started getting into contact with one of my cousins. He, his brother and another cousin were all attending East Tennessee State University, or ETSU. I hadn’t talked to them much earlier, but was beginning to learn that this mystical college was well within reach. All I had known that it was a big school and was more like a “university”.

I cleared a day out on one of my less-busy schooldays, making the large “jump” all the way to Johnson City. I clearly remember that day coming in; I had called my cousin and asked him to talk me in for directions. I had no GPS or anything at the time except a printout from either Google Maps or Rand McNally. After ten minutes on the phone, I finally arrived outside Davis Hall.

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Raj, my cousin who had invited me up to ETSU.

I was just amazed at first that there were actual “apartments” that people were living in, first of all. Every single student I ever met at Walters State commuted. As I may have known the world “dorm”, I never was introduced to actually seeing them. Within the next hour I talked to my cousin, seeing how people shared a kitchen and two beds in one room. I got to see shared living in a different light, wrapping my head around that people were only minutes away from their classes.

I then got a tour of ETSU. I spent over an hour or so walking over the entire campus, following my cousin and one of his friends. My cousin did a skilled job pointing out almost every feature to me; from lecture buildings, restaurants and other dorms. The sheer size of the campus amazed me. Walters State was roughly half or one-third the size of the total land area, but the sheer amount of buildings told a different story. There was life on this campus; it may not be something I was familiar with, but it was something that the community college didn’t have.

A photo of the bell-tower I had snapped while walking around campus that evening.

A photo of the bell-tower I had snapped while walking around campus that evening.

Later on I was treated to a free meal at the Culp building. Here I met several of my cousin’s friends, many of them girls. Within ten minutes of meeting them, I had met a girl that liked techno, a girl that was doing something not medical, and another one that laughed and hugged me. The latter was a big jar to reality; Morristown (or the attitude of the people there) had this attitude that girls didn’t want to be with someone or interact with them unless you were “dating” them. Yet within minutes of being introduced to new people, I was being hugged and had found more common ground with people than I ever did attending two years of school at Walters State.

Kacie, one of the girls I had just met in the cafeteria. I was caught off-guard and quite surprised at this point.

Kacie, one of the girls I had just met in the cafeteria (and the one responsible for the hug). I was caught off-guard and quite surprised at this point.

It was was then I suddenly realized that I needed to do something else with my education. I didn’t know what exactly I needed to do, but I was coming to the realization that it wasn’t attending Walters State. I also was screwing up math badly at the time, so a study change was welcomed.

Unfortunately, my parents would not see the logic of switching schools until I was jobless a whole year after my graduation. I would continue to go up there to visit occasional acquaintances and see my cousin, up until he graduated. By the time I had enrolled myself into ETSU at 2010, the magic that I wanted so bad to grow didn’t get a chance to blossom. I certainly had a much better experience than I had at Walters State, but the momentum of getting with “the flow of life” I missed.

Still, I had milestones. ETSU was the first time I had an Asian friend. It was the first school I never had a grade lower than a C+, and most of my classes had a good grade of B or above. It was the first time I lived out on my own. I actually picked a field that I was mostly good at and confident that I could do the work presented to me. When I left school I actually felt prepared for what was given to me to take out to use.

Part of this came from an Asian/Indian/West Indian thinking of focusing on school and living life afterwards. That is not the case, it is far from it. Life happens; abstaining from life to focus on something is noble and good, but only to a point. I focused so much on an education that I have no developed social life except for the few people that actually bother to keep tabs on me after all those years. There was no “Indian girl to get ready” to marry when I came out of school with anything in common to me. Most everyone I know who’s been married or are getting ready to do so mentioned how they were friends with their partners for a bit, growing closer to them over familiarity eventually. I have never met a person with my background that just randomly met someone with similar interests and suddenly got married.

Morale to take away? Live life while you’re focusing on your goals. If you’re at school, pick one that gives you a social outlet as well. That’s just as important as studying. You’re only going to accomplish one thing if you focus on education; get a degree and work skills. You won’t know how to network, you won’t forge friendships and finding someone becomes so much harder. You’ll come out “unbalanced”; good in one thing, poor and lacking in the other.

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