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Anne Arundel 100
Aunty Em is Right -- There's No Place Like Home
Written by Miranda Russell '11, history major
I never thought I'd be back in St. Mary's County.
I made that clear over and over my senior year at St. Mary's Ryken High School. Nope, this small county where everyone is my third cousin would only see me at the holidays. I had plans.
Vice Principal Wood often would scoff and tell me repeatedly, "Russell, you can never leave this county for good. You'll be back, crabbing and oysterin' like your dad. I know it." I remembered this and laughed that spring as I graduated from 13 years of school uniforms, religion, and routine. In the fall, I headed for the University of Maryland in College Park, declaring my break from the small world of locally intertwined ancestry.
For three semesters, I attended classes along with approximately 27,000 undergraduates and 11,000 graduates. I entered the college as a "Freshman Connection" student, a program devised to cope with the large number of applicants by sending some of us to afternoon and evening classes and having us live off campus. At the time, it seemed great. No stereotypical freshman "roommate from hell" to share an impossibly small and dirty dorm room with. I had a great suitemate, my own washer and dryer, and considered it to be an omen of future good luck. However, that good luck ran out.
In the spring, I was mixed in with the rest of the undergraduates. I had never received a non-Freshman Connection adviser that I knew of. I was overwhelmed and unsure of myself as I attempted to establish my own niche in the student community, hoping to gain acceptance and stronger roots within the social structure. But among the chaotic sea of 38,000 people, I found myself withdrawing, intimidated by already defined deep-set lines of separation between social groups, particularly between Greek (sorority) life and non. Racial and ethnic slurs were commonly heard and hate crimes occurred, making socializing even less appealing for a brand new student looking for a friend. Taking another stab to fi nd myself as well as my place, I switched majors, leaving the large group of psychology students for the smaller, acceptance-based college of journalism. To help make the change, I turned to my old adviser, who I knew by the address line of her occasional e-mails, only to fi nd out she had left the university over break. I was on my own.
The campus became more impersonal and harsh. My smallest class had 100 or so students and was held in a large lecture hall. I frantically attempted to keep up with a mumbling teacher who did not make eye contact or offer help, typically contacting students only through e-mail. Any needed tutoring was handled by teaching assistants and graduate students working to get credit and with no real desire to be there.
Weekends turned into popularity contests where blue-ribbon winners had acceptance from Greek life or other socially accepted individuals who would then decide who would accompany them to a party or bar.
By the fall of 2008, my belief that a person could get along by simply being nice and minding her own business was shattered. The student community, with its system of separation, was so unlike the friendly, small county where I grew up. The community around the college had become terrifying after a very angry old man shouted at me for not telling him which self-checkout line I intended to use. I had had enough.
Before finals, I met with my new adviser to discuss withdrawing from the university and transferring to St. Mary's College of Maryland. At this point, I could have put up fight to returning home, but was too mentally exhausted. As it turned out, transferring out of Maryland was easy; Mr. (I won't even fake knowing his name; I doubt he knew mine either.) - told me: "Don't register or pay for classes next semester. You'll drop out eventually." While I am sure there was probably more to it than that, I took the advice and student 109588XXX no longer attends the University of Maryland.
Fortunately, transferring to St. Mary's proved an excellent fit.
I was placed with other spring semester transfers and changed my major once again, this time to history. As classes began, I was wary, then pleased when I walked on campus and locked eyes with another student, who smiled at me widely rather than avert her gaze. My adviser knew my name; I began building working relationships with my professors. I joined a few clubs, most notably the Intercollegiate Fashion Club where I made my closest friends on campus, and began to greet the people who sat next to me in class. More surprisingly, for a population of 2,000 students, is the college's diversity and accompanying sense of mutual respect. There is a feeling here of an open invitation to explore different perspectives and perhaps alter your own. I have realized that not only has my group of friends expanded, but so have my mental horizons.
Class sizes at St. Mary's obviously are much smaller, making it easier for teachers to keep students on track. The College poses challenges to acclimate students to life without supervision and constant guidance, but it doesn't just pitch you out of the nest.
The one negative is St. Mary's did not accept all my credits from UMD, so in order to graduate on time I was required to increase the amount of credits per semester and include some summer sessions as well. But, now in my third semester here, I am on track to graduate next year and plan to apply to law school.
Being proven wrong about small campuses and, I will have to say, small counties, opened up my acceptance to returning home. It's okay that every Raley, Mattingly, and Poe are my second and third cousins; I now embrace the history and value of the county, with its community of kind words and open-ended invitations.
So my hat's off to you, Mr. Wood; I could not stay away and now I do not want to.