“On Campus” Means the World to Me

by: Kayla Cohen, Class of 2019 | Oct 29, 2018

For all practical purposes, wifi has rendered the physical campus obsolete. YouTube serves as a modern lecture hall and college libraries have largely been digitized. In which dystopian model of a university are students asked to pay thousands of dollars toward the upkeep of flower beds and Olympic-sized swimming pools? With a computer and an internet connection you’ve got access to more information than Sir Isaac Newton had in all his years at Cambridge. By definition, technology is disruptive. Mixtapes become playlists and photo albums give way to Instagram. The latest evolutionary technology is such that it’s time we added “campus” to the list. That’s certainly how I felt in 2014, when I became the first student ever to enroll in Minerva, a visionary EdTech startup that has been rebuilding college from scratch without a single brick or slither of mortar.

Minerva is a liberal arts university program where students travel to seven countries over four years, taking seminar classes online. My version of walking through manicured lawns to a lecture hall is grabbing my laptop and landing in cyber-class where my professor greets me from a different hemisphere. By building an interactive learning forum, Minerva freed itself from the constraint of a campus. But if they’d simply offered online seminars without the global rotation, I would never have applied. Virtual learning has a notorious reputation, and, besides, I wanted the option of having a social life. Luckily, founder Ben Nelson understood the importance of human connection. When I learned we’d be traveling in groups of around 150 students, “setting up campus” all over the world, my rucksack was as good as packed. I’d been saving for a gap year before college, and now I could do both simultaneously.

Thinking back on my experience so far, a little over three years and six countries into my degree, my memories swirl into a kaleidoscope of places. Smells of döner kebab wafting past me as I cycle home from a cafe, hands turning blue in Berlin’s winter. Moving in time with a stranger’s body at a late-night milonga in Buenos Aires, attempting to tango. Tasting Korean food so spicy that even still water sparkles. Waking up in Hyderabad to the sounds of Muslim prayers at dawn, broken by a cacophony of hooting auto-rickshaws. Such are the joys of being a Minerva nomad, where I am encouraged to engage with the world from multiple perspectives.

Perhaps what I like best about my college experience is how resourceful it’s helped me become. Not having a fixed campus amplifies the usual array of student-life challenges. With every relocation we have to reassemble a bespoke campus of local libraries, gyms, pharmacies, groceries, wifi cafes, and other practicalities. Even the most simple task of getting from A to be B is a struggle when you’re navigating a new megacity. Inevitably, when I’m lost on public transportation, I attempt to translate my predicament into German, Spanish, Korean, Hindi, or let’s be honest, hand-signals. Over time, these difficulties have become empowering. My feelings of cultural alienation have morphed into a visceral knowledge and affection. I’ve spent my college years experiencing international politics in a tangible way, questioning my identity within a global context. Whereas, in America I blindly accepted the advantages afforded by my British accent, in Argentina I discovered my speech was a trigger to tense reactions against the Faulkland-Malvinas conflict. Again, I could have read about this history at a campus library or by sitting in a lecture hall, but these environments are limited. There are other ways of learning that are less abstract and more thrilling.

Now approaching my final semester, I’m getting ready to relocate once more. I’ll be responsible for my capstone project, a final product of professional quality that makes a novel contribution to my field. I’ll be reaching out to mentors I have met around the world. Most of all I will be drawing on the inner resources cultivated at Minerva, where I’ve helped to pioneer one possible solution to the “on-campus” problem. Globetrotting might not be the only way forward, but being a nomad is no madder than tending a primrose patch of Ivy.


If you were inspired by Kayla’s insights and are interested in pursuing a path of meaningful growth, as well, apply to Minerva today.