The 'C' in community college stands for comfort zone
A collegiate experience is more than sitting in class and learning from a textbook. It is a life experience where similar-minded students grow and excel in early adulthood independence. Most graduates, including professors, will tell you that most of the learning in higher education takes place outside the classroom.
Community college is different though. A sense of belonging can often be hard to find, especially for international students, out-of-state students, and even some local students.
At four-year universities, students are presented with a myriad of social opportunities that range from campus events, compulsory meetings with their dormitory floor, to late night food adventures with a roommate and the famous "p-word" — parties.
In contrast, students at commuter colleges like Santa Monica College are often subjected to a sense of aloofness and detachment. This is attributable to two things.
First, many students have part-time jobs and other unshakable obligations which result in a flurry of packing up books and writing materials followed by a quick-paced exit as soon as the professor says, "That's it for today."
The second, more subliminal reason is the presence of a comfort zone, more so, the lack of reasons or motivation to be uncomfortable. A large percentage of students at community colleges, like SMC, have the safety of high school friends, childhood hangouts and familiar neighborhoods. Therefore, there is no urgency to reach out and take that extra step in getting to know a stranger from class, or trying a new activity, unlike students at a four-year, where a social environment is pre-planned.
As an international student, I arrived at SMC last spring with a social blank slate. I soon realized that professors dictated connections for students who merely attended lectures. Solely lecture-style classes often led to an absence of relationships outside the classroom, while professors that encouraged discussion and exchange in contact information often fostered friendships among students.
I was not lucky enough to have made many connections through classes my first semester, so I joined clubs (the ones without loud music, short dresses and dancing people).
I had a great time at Alpha Gamma Sigma, the community service based honor society. It was a great avenue to meet new people and try new things. During one of the meetings, the founder and then-president of the college's psychology club, Narhyn Johnson — who is a member of AGS — handed out fliers promoting her club. Seeing as psychology was my major, I decided to attend a meeting the following week.
While the packed room — filled with students listening to a UCLA psychologist giving a presentation — was certainly an interesting experience, it was the announcements made at the end of the meeting that changed my life. There was one spot left for the trip to San Francisco for the Western Psychological Association conference. Feeling adventurous (and noting that the three-day two-night trip would only cost me $55), I signed up. One thing led to another, and a month later, I was running for the position of internal vice president. The trip up north also led to an opportunity to conduct research with Dr. Alex Schwartz, the club adviser.
Since I first stepped foot on the campus, I have learned and grown significantly. But, most importantly, I have found a community of students and professors who make my days worth waking up to. Now that's what I call a community college.