My first semester at Penn has been enriched with wonderful experiences that I have been blessed to enjoy. I am grateful for having gone through this first semester and made it out alive! There are tonnes of things that I have learned but the lesson that comes close to my heart is: Surround yourself with people who are good for you!
I had a horrible experience in my Chemistry Recitation. Chemistry is my major, and I expected to do well in that class. Three weeks into the class made me think that I was downright stupid. I felt like an imposter. “I do not belong here,” I thought to myself. Questions like these started to fill my head, “How did I get into this Ivy League school- 9.4% acceptance rate? Did admissions make a mistake?” I was performing horribly in that class. I realized it later than I should have that the group that I had been placed in for in-class discussions was not good for me. My contribution to the discussion was not regarded as worthy. When I did not understand how a problem was solved, the group would not wait to make sure that I understood what they had just done. I spoke out and I was literally ignored. Plenty of times I squeezed back tears in the classroom. This led to a bad first midterm.
My fate turned when one of the other groups had a shortage of members. The teaching assistant asked the class if anyone wanted to join that group. I stood up as the words came from the TA’s mouth and I packed my things quickly and unapologetically walked away from my group.
I was amazed! That was the first time I felt like I was in a group. I sat down with my new group members and they asked me for my opinion on every single problem. Even though I did not know answers to some of the problems, I felt very important and wanted. That class session went by faster than I wanted it to. I learned a lot from those students and I knew that is where I belonged. I realized that I had wasted half a semester by sticking to the first group which had treated me like trash. However, I am glad that it only took me half of my first semester to realize that. The worst case would have been to learn this valuable lesson in my last semester of senior year. I am happy to say that after I changed groups, all the midterms and exams after that had better results.
I knew beforehand that people would judge me because of the way I looked and the way I talked. I had prepared myself for this scenario. My plan was to prove that I was just as intelligent as all of them and in my mind, I had imagined that after solving a complex problem, then they would realize that I was worth listening to, and I would earn their respect. However, it did not go as I had imagined. That complex problem never came and I was the one who did not know how to solve any of the tough problems. I was always behind and I missed a lot of announcements and important pieces of information. This only magnified my uniqueness but in a negative way. For awhile I felt like a charity case from Africa who was there for improving statistical purposes.
But when I was courageous enough to stand up and walk away, I realized that a student can only be as strong as the extent to which the environment in which she/he is in empowers.
So again I will emphasize the lesson I learned – Surround yourself with people who are good for you!
Author Angela Kumirai is a first year USAP student at the University of Pennsylvania who hails from Fletcher High in Gweru.