An Interview with Bethel Geletu: Pomona College

Pomona College is a private liberal arts college in Claremont, California. The school has approximately 1,640 students. One of the more exclusive colleges, Pomona has a 10% acceptance rate. It has been consistently ranked as one of the best schools in the country by Forbes magazine.

1. A little background. Where were you born and raised?
          Born and raised in Addis Ababa (arguable according to some people)

2. Why did you decide to attend this institution?
    I’ve always wanted go to a small liberal arts school but the primary reason is just financial aid and the fact that they bothered to accept me.

3. When you came here two/three months ago, what did you expect you’d have to do to form an environment that makes you feel at home, or at least comfortable?
From what I had heard, I felt like I had to make really good international friends. So I went to a lot of international student events and reached out to my international student mentor. I really love kolo and it’s a part of my daily routine (I can’t study without it) so I brought 5 kilos with me and rationed it. It took a while to get used to American seasoning. So it helped that I has some mitmita and berbere with me. Having things from back home in general helped me (whether it was my gabi, my bible, some pictures or a mug I’ve had for 10 years.)

Ethiopian Kollo

4. Looking back, what part of your expectations were met, and what were you surprised to find out you had to do?
        Even though the first few weeks of the year made it seem like the process of making friends would go on, groups formed really fast. Unlike high school, people run on very, very different schedules in college. So even though you might find that you really “clicked” with someone, you might not see them again for a week. So I found that I had to take initiative and invite people to dinner or ask them if they want to come to an event with me to make friends and find my own group.
      This one might seem obvious but if you need help with a course or see some gaps forming in your understanding, don’t be stubborn and suffer alone. Go seek out help from someone in the class or mentors and use resources on campus. I was scared to go to one of my professor’s office hours but it really paid off when I finally did. College is more enjoyable when you’re doing your work efficiently and that almost always means with some form of help from those around you (in my opinion).

5. How often do you miss food and/or people back in Ethiopia? How do you deal with it?

     I miss Ethiopian food and people a lot. I get the most homesick during Ethiopian holidays or when I feel really stressed. I don’t think I have found a good way of dealing with it yet.

But what I do is reach out to my international student mentor because she’s been through the same thing. I meet with the Ethiopian students on campus for dinner and that helps. So even though, they say to step out of your comfort zone and you should, there’s no shame in finding people with similar backgrounds you can relate to.

From my experience it’s almost always a bad idea to go to an Ethiopian restaurant in a very gentrified neighborhood or eat Ethiopian food from such places. My dining experiences in such places have always resulted in fury and utter disbelief that “tofu tibs” is a thing!!! I just ended up getting mad at Americans and getting more homesick afterwards.

6. How do you think your school’s attributes, such as it’s urban/rural quality, it’s total size, it’s curriculum requirements  . . etc have affected your comfort zone?
       My school is a small liberal arts college in Claremont which is a suburban/college town. There are four other undergraduate schools about a 5 – 10 minute walk from campus and they’re all together with my school under a consortium. Since I’m easily overwhelmed by big crowds, I really like the small size of my school and the town as well. I like the fact that my classes are small because I think I would be frightened in a “big lecture hall” scenario.
        A special thing about the school is that when I get tired of my campus, I can go to the other colleges (eat at their dining hall, sit in on a lecture etc…). I really like that the consortium is there because I’m not just limited to my school, I can take courses and attend events at the other campuses. In fact most student organizations include all five colleges. Same with the town. It’s really close to LA so students go to the city for the weekend. I’ve only been twice due to financial limitations and because of my laziness. It is really tempting to just stay on campus. So, in general, I like that I have an environment that I am comfortable with but can easily step out of when I need to.

7. Anything else you want high school seniors choosing colleges to know about finding comfort in college, or about your college?
       Know that you will be confused and uncertain at times (and this would also apply to things outside of your academic future). But also know that this is okay and happens to everyone. This is true for most of the struggles you will face. If you are finding something hard, chances are many others are struggling with it as well. So always remember that you’re not alone in this.

Stay in touch with your friends… nuff said

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