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October 24, 2013

Fourth week marks five weeks in America

About seven months ago, I got home at 4 a.m. after a night of interesting decisions. I hadn’t known it was admission results day, not until—for whatever reason—I found myself on the UChicago admissions Twitter feed. On the computer screen, I saw the four years ahead of me in the acceptance letter sent to my Malaysian address. Those swirling little red balls threw tears down my face and made me scream. That letter stared down at my face and told me, “Congratulations, you’re in!” I smiled for an entire day as I took pictures and received phone call after phone call of congratulations.

So time passed as I waited for my college life to begin. A month ago, I was saying good-bye to friends I’d known for 10 years; I was afraid, anticipative, wantonly happy. I had no American friends, no experience with the culture of your country beyond binge-watching marathons of Breaking Bad.

And I was worried.

I was worried that you wouldn’t be what I had set my heart on: that your quirkiness, your strangeness, your respect for academia, would all crumble like a windswept house of cards on a table of frosted glass.

I remember idealizing this college and harboring expectations of both the best and the worst kind. From Kuala Lumpur to France to O’Hare, I took the longest flight that I’d ever taken in my life.

I remember what it felt like to be a prospective student: a boy from a little village called Malaysia, wondering whether I would be good enough to apply, wondering if I would belong in these walls, here now in the global village where everyone wants to be.

I wondered if the role I would play in this community would represent or ultimately mean something.

Four weeks ago, O-Week came, and I met so many people that many of their faces and names blur together, now forgotten. Three weeks ago, O-Week went, and I attended my first class at the College (16100, Eugenia Cheng!), bashed my head against a wall because I didn’t understand what was required in my p-set. But I also had my first 2 a.m. conversation about finding meaning—a place on this campus to belong.

Some of my expectations about UChicago have been met; others have not. Ratner is smaller than I imagined; Chicago not as cold as I thought it would be; the girls are actually cuter than the squirrels; people fall asleep in the Reg, discuss Plato, or discuss Plato while falling asleep. There’s an insane workload now attested to by the 100-plus pages of Sosc/Hum reading, the 30-page math p-set that I just completed, within the seemingly endless quantity of RSO applications that lie on my plate.

One week ago, I finally memorized my U.S. phone number, a full three weeks after I entered this country. It seems strange that just a month ago, the notion that I was going to one of the top colleges in the United States was so far away and out of sight.

With each passing day, this place becomes a little less foreign to me. Building names become less alien, more familiar, and I have started making connections of the unfamiliarly mundane.

For one, dimes are smaller than nickels—and I’m starting to think that that’s okay.

Victor Tan is a first-year in the College.

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