We’ve been following a group of first-generation college students from Delaware as they transition to higher ed. In addition to running periodic stories about their journeys, we’ve helped each student keep an audio diary.
The below diary is from Jada Smack, a freshman at Swarthmore College near Philadelphia. You can meet Jada and read more about the first year, first generation project here.
June 19, 2015: Hello
Hello my name is Jada Smack and I am a Slower Lower Delawarean. Many people might ask what that means, but it basically just means I’m from Sussex County, Delaware. We like to take our time doing anything here and the world likes to take its time letting us know what’s happening. I’m just another college student on the quest of figuring out what the world actually has in store for me and discovering things outside of Sussex County, Delaware and chicken farms and, y’know, the beach.
July 26, 2015: Getting ready
I find out who my roommate is in the first week of August. They didn’t really give us an exact date, but just in the first week of August we should know who our roommates are and we should know what their e-mail addresses are so we can talk to them and figure out who’s bringing the refrigerator and who’s bringing the TV and whatnot.
And I go shopping for all of my college items on the 15th and then we move in on the 25th. So everything’s moving pretty fast. It’s almost time to go. I’m really excited and nervous at the same time. But everything seems to be falling into place.
August 11, 2015: An empty room
Hi it’s Jada. I didn’t really want to say anything long today. I didn’t really think I was gonna be recording anything today. But I just finished completely packing my entire room and it’s really bare and there’s no character to it whatsoever at all anymore. And this is kind of like the first real step I’ve made to, I guess, mentally preparing myself for college and it’s kind of scary because everything in my life has been in this room for the past year and now I’m just picking everything up and going away to college. I’m just really…anxious…but I’m also excited and I feel like it’s gonna be a good year.
September 14, 2015: A narrow mindset
I’m on my way to class now. My gender and sexuality intro class and I just wanna talk a little bit about how even if you go to a very liberal arts school and you have all these expectations there are still people who aren’t going to, like, fit what you thought life is gonna be. For example, my gender and sexuality studies professor is very…um…straightforward about everything and direct. She says she goes German on her class. I’m not really sure if that means she’s, like, direct in what she’s saying of if she just calls people out. I’m still trying to figure that out. But she’s not what you would typically expect out of a gender and sexuality studies teacher. She’s more along the lines of what you expect from like a stereotypical history teacher or math or some discipline that’s a little bit more rigid. And I just thought that was interesting because I expected to have a professor that was very…from the 60’s or 70’s…sort of hippie-ish. Or maybe a very feminist-driven woman. Or man. I don’t know. I guess that kind of plays into how narrow a mindset I had or I still have.
September 25, 2015: “I know I have something great about me”
Ok. So today I’m gonna talk about the academic transition from a public high school in southern Delaware to Swarthmore.
I think the biggest difference between high school and college in general is the amount of time you need to dedicate to do your work. Soooo it’s not necessarily that everything is harder or harder concepts that you have to grasp, it’s just that you go way more in depth on everything that you talk about. And you need more sources to back up how you feel about certain things in different situations.
This is a lot different than what I thought it was gonna be. I thought college was just gonna be like high school but more hours of study. When really this is more about understanding concepts and building theories and sort of using your own experience and your own ways of interpreting things to formulate opinion. And that’s really great. But at the same time it takes practicing. It’s not something that’s easily just attained. So that’s what I’ll be working on for the next four years at Swarthmore
And I’m not so unsure about whether I belong here or not anymore because I feel like everyone at this school…they have something special about them. And instead of pointing out what’s special in each person everyone brings their specialness together. And that’s why this community is so great.
So I know I have something that’s great about me that I can contribute to this college and when I figure it out I’ma let everyone know.
October 13, 2015: “Everybody has some kind of debt”
Sorry for the late update. I’ve had a lot of stuff to do with family and fall break and coming home for fall break and everything. And I’m feeling a little bit sick, too.
But in regards to money and college. Money…it’s a big deal when it comes to doing things outside of school. But as long as you’re in school, as long as you can take care of basic necessities—like soap, and things to take care of yourself with, and just hygiene things, and clothes—you’re pretty much fine. Because everything is pretty much given to you at school through whatever you’re paying for tuition. So money is a big deal if you make it a big deal. But you can get through it. Everybody has some kind of debt.
October 19, 2015: First test? Check.
Just wanna give a quick update. I just got back my first actual exam grade in college. I don’t think I did that bad. I got about…it rounds out to about an 89. So I just thought this is something you might wanna know about. And it was for my astronomy class.
November 11, 2015: Talkin’ parents
I’d say my parents are very supportive when it comes to, like…my confidence in myself and my abilities. They are really the people that push me and make me think that I deserve to be here and that I can finish things that I start. Sometimes it’s kinda hard. I broke my phone and my laptop broke at the same time so it’s hard to communicate with home and it was hard to do these audio recordings and neither one of my parents really had the money to go out and buy me a new laptop or buy me a new phone at that time. I mean my mom can pay my phone bill, but she doesn’t have the means to go out and buy me a brand new phone that could be as much as 200 dollars. So…yeah…sometimes it’s hard. But at the same time they really always find a way to get me what i absolutely need.
December 7, 2015: Stressed out
I’m just really stressed out about taking finals. I have to take four. None of them are like papers I can turn in on the last day of finals. They’re all sit in. So I’m really stressed because it’s gonna take up a lot of time and I’m gonna have to study a lot. But it will be fine and hopefully everything goes well. Also I have to come back early. I think January the 5th for basketball. And I most likely will be trying to play basketball next year so I’m gonna have to start learning how to balance a basketball schedule with everything else that’s going on. That’s basically it.
December 27, 2015: “Finals were good. I lived through them.”
Finals were good. I lived through them. There were a couple I really dreaded doing. And it sucked because I had to do all the finals for all my classes. I didn’t get out of any of them or have a paper of something, so…it was mad stressful. But it was good. I think I did pretty well on all of them. Life’s pretty good. I made it through my first semester, so that’s great.
January 20, 2016: Slightly overwhelmed
Ok so spring semester started yesterday for me. The start of a semester is always rough. But I think I can be pretty successful. Just like last time. And it’s a little bit harder to do things and get distracted now because it’s two degrees outside everyday. I feel like I’m excited, but not…slightly overwhelmed but not really overwhelmed. And there’s a lot more time for me to take on other things as soon as basketball stops.
February 1, 2016: A second home
I’m waiting to get on the shuttle to go to my second home—Bryn Mawr, of course—to go to a poetry reading that’s entitled Black Magic poetry. I really don’t have any idea what it’s about. But I’m interested so I’m gonna go. Life’s been pretty busy. It’s not like it’s not manageable. But it’s pretty hectic. I really don’t have much time to do anything that I like to do like sleeping or, you know, eating. Those are hard things to come by nowadays because there are so many things I wanna do. But other than that, life is pretty cool.
March 2, 2016: Excited to go home
I’m really excited to go home and have a break. I think I’ll be working a couple days at Diary Queen and shadowing a couple days at Sussex Central High School. Yeah. That’s basically it. Nothing really new. After spring break basketball workouts start so hopefully that goes well. That’s about it.