By Theresa Kuhlmann
Every September, first-year students arrive at Knox to begin their college career. Consider it a rite of passage.
On that first day, they fling open the door to their room to be greeted by a naked bed, a vacant desk and dresser, and four blank walls. They bring their favorite tennis shoes and blue jeans, a refrigerator, microwave, maybe a fan, and anything they can pack into a suitcase, car trunk, and backpack. And, most important, many of them bring that one piece of home that says, "This is who I am."
Here are the stories of five students and what they brought with them to help negotiate their first year on campus.
It took Tashi Ongmo more than a wing and a prayer to Buddha to get to Knox from Bhutan, her South Asian home. It started with a 45-minute drive skirting the curving roads of the east end of the Himalayas to get to the airport in Thimpu. Four hours later, she arrived in Delhi and spent a week processing her visa. She then flew nine hours from Delhi to Amsterdam, took a breath during a layover, and jumped on another plane for another nine-hour flight to Boston. From Boston, she flew to Detroit and met her host family, doctors whose countless mission trips introduced them to the Ongmo family when Tashi was five years old. Her host family then took Tashi shopping for college supplies and drove her to Knox.
But for all of her frequent flyer miles, this potential art history or studio art major remains well grounded in Buddhist belief. Her excursion required bare bones baggage, so rolled up and tucked under one arm was a painting mounted on a silk banner. "It is the White Tara, the goddess to whom I pray. My mother and I bought it together," she says.
Tashi, who is interested in Knox's cooperative program in architecture with Washington University in St. Louis, is always looking for the mountains while on campus. "Even though I am used to seeing mountains out my window or as I walk down the street, I am getting used to seeing these trees and then the sky," she says. "I do love this campus."
Although the landscape has changed, Ongmo's view at the end of the day is the same. "Each night I offer my prayers to the goddess. That brings me peace," she says.
More than Warmth
From her small cradle to an 11' x 14' room in Post Hall, Rachel Clark brought with her a small six-inch-by-two-foot blanket she has had her entire life. The neuroscience major says her mother started making the blanket while she was pregnant with Rachel.
"My blanket reminds me of my childhood. I had it throughout all the stages of my life, and as I grew older, it grew older," Rachel says.
The fabric feels cooler than her sheets and pillow and provides Rachel that strong connection to home. The blanket eventually ripped into two pieces, despite her efforts to protect it. "At least a part of it can be here with me, while the other half is still on my bed at home," she says.
Not many people see her blanket, as she keeps it under covers in her bed. But her roommate says it shows Rachel's strong connection to her family and her home.
"It makes me think about my family, memories of slumber parties with my sister, and bedtime stories from my mom and dad," Rachel adds.
Unpacking, Rachel says that she immediately put it on her bed, and the room felt more like home.
A Picture Says a Thousand Words
Rebecca Beno lives in Knox's Sherwin-Neifert residence hall, and posters of Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and The Smiths are scattered across the walls of her room.
But it's the vintage photo booth picture strips above her desk that Rebecca relishes the most. She says she loves pictures and that some of the greatest memories of her life are held in them.
"If I am a bit homesick, I'll look at them, and it perks me up," she says. The oldest photo on the board shows Rachel in sixth grade with her best friend.
Rachel plans to pursue a career in creative writing, and she says she wants to remember the special moments in her life. "They tell people I am sentimental, but they also show that I am slightly silly at times as well," she says.
Rachel laughs when she looks at the photos but admits that some of them make her cringe, "but that was me, and I want to remember."
Her voice is wistful as she remembers putting the photos on the corkboard when she first moved in. "It definitely made my room more of a home," she says.
A Free Spirit
As a player on Knox's Prairie Fire soccer team, Jeremy Shaw arrived on campus earlier than most of the first-year class. His roommate would not arrive for several days, but that didn't stop Jeremy from unpacking his things. "I was in touch with my roommate before arriving, and we had a pretty good idea of what our room looked like and what we wanted to do with it," he says. In making his room a home, Jeremy unpacked two special items -- one was a framed copy of the poem "Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann; the other is a small pot full of scraps of paper.
The framed poem sits at the top right of his desk in plain sight. "It completes my idea for my room," says the pre-med hopeful. It was a gift from his high school French teacher, and the poem speaks about how he will be more successful in his career and with people by staying true to himself. "It also shows my appreciation for the arts and about taking care of me, so I can better serve others," he adds.
Crafted by his own hands, the small pot contains conversations he had with his closest friends back home. He reads them frequently. "Whenever the day makes me tired, or I want to remind myself of the promises I made, I take a look at both of these. It is something I do that brings me peace," he says.
Giving a Small Bear a Big Hug
He stands no more than 12 inches. He is tattered, and his age shows. But "Brownie" has been Monica Prince's companion since just before her eighth birthday.
Monica's sister gave her the bear as an early birthday gift. Though his fluff and stuff is thinning, Brownie makes a statement without saying a word. "It says I plan on clinging to my childhood as long as humanly possible," she laughs.
Moving from Lakewood, Colorado, to Knox's Campbell-Elder residence hall, Monica says that bringing Brownie to Knox gives her a sense of comfort and reminds her that she is not alone, "even though my sister is like a million miles away."
Brownie was the first thing Monica unpacked -- just after those extra-long twin bed sheets. "She sat there proudly on my pillow while I finished unpacking," Monica says. "The entire process of unpacking was so robotic, but having Brownie there made it better."
Not just cuddly, Brownie serves as an inspiration for Monica's journal writing. She says she finds it easier to write to the bear. "The process of having someone to listen to me makes me feel better," she says.
First-year students grow up quickly, and Monica says that late at night, when she has had a bad day, her teddy bear is the one thing that keeps her sane. "She is always the beacon that tells me I have made it."