Parallel Journeys from Ohio & Abbottabad: Part One

Written by Emma Stiefel, Class of 2021 and Edited by Dana Bakke, Class of 2020 | Aug 19, 2017

At the end of the month, Emma and Ezza will join their fellow students in the Class of 2021 for the start of their undergraduate experience at Minerva. They live 7,000 miles from each other ー Emma in Ohio, USA, and Ezza in Abbottabad, Pakistan ー but with their first year on the horizon, they’re asking many of the same questions: What do I need to do before I leave home? What should I pack? How will San Francisco change me?

In this two part series, Emma and Ezza exchange letters to share what they’re feeling leading up to their four years at Minerva, an experience that will expand their worldview and challenge their assumptions. Below is Emma’s letter.

Hello Ezza,

How are you? I hope your post-assessments are going well! I’m Emma Stiefel, one of your Minerva 2021 classmates who will be leaving West Chester, a large suburb north of Cincinnati, Ohio, to join you in San Francisco this fall.

I have to admit: it hasn’t fully hit me that this summer is the last time I’ll permanently live in West Chester. I got my high school diploma, gave a sappy speech that I hardly remember, threw my graduation party and attended dozens of others, but I think I’m still subconsciously preparing for another year with the people and places I’ve been surrounded by since I was six months old.

Regardless, I’m forcing myself to go through the motions of leaving the only home I’ve ever had. I bought plane tickets and sheets, began purging clothes I won’t be able to bring from my closet, struggled to understand loan paperwork and insurance forms, and (mostly) kept up with my Python coursework. Somewhat terrified about the prospect of feeding myself, I’ve started to collect cheap, healthy recipes, and I’m trying to brace myself for the loss of my favorite petty luxuries: my queen size bed and private bathtub.

I’m trying to be mindful of the tiny details of my life I’ve overlooked for too long.

My friends and family are also trying to help. My mom sends me a different article every day (one of the most recent ones was titled “Obituaries My Mother Wrote for Me While I Was Living in San Francisco in My Twenties”). A few of my friends’ parents believe that I am at risk of straying into North Korea when I’m a sophomore and have taken it upon themselves to disabuse me of this supposed inclination. Both my friends’ engineer parents and the veteran reporters I work with have tried to convince me to find a career in technology, science, or anything but journalism.

Less practically but more importantly, I’m also attempting to emotionally prepare myself for my departure. I made an Ohio bucket list that consists of activities I feel that I have to revisit: eating our signature but slightly disgusting chili one last time, canoeing, and going to a great hipster waffle place downtown. I’m trying to be mindful of the tiny details of my life I’ve overlooked for too long, like the perplexingly beautiful view of factories and forests from the tops of the southern hills and my old car covered in dents and bumper stickers. My two summer jobs ー interning at a local newspaper and delivering pizzas ー are immersing me in the area one last time.

I’m fortunate to have spent the last three years writing about my community as a journalist, and I feel like I’ve come to understand West Chester in a way that too few of my peers have. Unlike many suburban expats, I’ll look back on the sprawling neighborhoods and strip malls of my childhood not as a shallow set for my earliest memories but a nuanced community full of both flaws and beauty.

I don’t know whether my understanding of Ohio will morph into appreciation or contempt when, or if I learn to call another place home. Perhaps more relevantly, I have no idea how I’ll feel once I actually arrive in San Francisco. Part of me is terrified: of leaving behind my friends (the best of whom I’ve known since kindergarten) and making new ones; of taking classes that promise to be light-years beyond my often-underwhelming high school courses; of living 2,500 miles away from my parents’ advice and reminders, both annoying and endearing; of navigating a place I don’t know like the back of my hand; of growing up and finding my place in the world.

All the things that scare me are opportunities for tremendous growth.

But I’m also beyond excited. Maybe the reason I still haven’t fully comprehended that I’ll be attending Minerva is because it seems more like stepping through a portal into a dream world than hopping on a plane to San Francisco. All the things that scare me are opportunities for tremendous growth. Yes, the thought of not doing amazingly in a class is horrifying, as is the idea of resorting to living off ramen noodles. Reading our classmates’ Facebook introductions is downright intimidating (seriously, how have they all accomplished so much?). That being said, it’s exhilarating to know I will learn and live alongside these amazing human beings for the next four years.

Once I arrive, my next major plane ride will be not to but from San Francisco. At that point, all my anxieties will have been assuaged, and all the bright possibilities I can only wonder at now will have been made concrete. Until then, I’m left with preparing as much as I can for the chaos of my first year in college, away from home, surrounded by 218 people I can’t wait to meet.

See you soon!