To All the Times I’ve Wanted to Leave the Hilltop

To All the Times I’ve Wanted to Leave the Hilltop


“I’m definitely coming to Georgetown!”

A high school senior said this to me a few weeks ago, after I shared my study abroad experience with prospective students and families while on a panel for a Georgetown Admissions Ambassador Program (GAAP) weekend. Her palpable excitement reminded me of how I felt as a prospective student, four years ago. As I said goodbye to her, I made a silent wish that she would love her time at Georgetown, love it enough for the both of us.

Freshman year, I entered the College with an undeclared major and a vague notion of pursuing environmental science and policy. I took a mix of classes, none of which I particularly enjoyed. At the end of freshman year, I applied to transfer to the School of Foreign Service (SFS) to major in Science, Technology, and International Affairs (STIA). When I learned over the summer that my transfer application had been approved, I said yes without giving it much thought, mostly under the impression that the SFS was the most prestigious school at Georgetown.

Come sophomore year, I balked at the sheer number of core requirements in the SFS. I took 19 credits that spring, and unsurprisingly, that did not go well. I decided to take Multivariable Calculus to fulfill a STIA requirement, and let’s just say it was not an experience I would choose to relive.

Having left home and gone to boarding school when I was 14, I did not feel particularly liberated by coming to college. I was used to living in dorms and making decisions for myself. I made good friends at Georgetown, but everyone always seemed to be too busy to go on hikes or explore the city with me. I remember being particularly appalled one day when a friend said her outfit was too perfect to sit on the grass. I also noticed that people claimed to care about important issues in the world, such as climate change, but their daily actions fell short of their articulate words. I knew there had to be more to college than endless deadlines and reading long, dry academic articles.

Desperate to free myself from this beast of a school that seemed to be swallowing me alive, I decided to study abroad for my entire junior year at the University of Melbourne in Australia. This was not easy, as Georgetown seemed to make my wish to leave impossible. “You know, it’s very uncommon for STIA majors to do a full year abroad,” my dean warned me. But I was determined; I had to get out of the belly of the beast. I wanted air. I needed to breathe. After many persistent emails on my part, my application was approved. I happily boarded a plane to leave D.C. for the summer and the year ahead, hoping not to look back for a very long time.

My year abroad was everything I wanted and more. I discovered that entire worlds existed outside of the Georgetown bubble of academic stress and extreme privilege. At the University of Melbourne, I loved my elective classes (especially Postcolonial Literature and African Music and Dance), the beautiful library filled with natural light, the university food co-op where any student is welcome to cook and share a meal—not to mention the Wine Society that handed out free wine samples on the lawn on a regular basis.

In Melbourne, I met like-minded students from around the world, and I loved living off-campus and having my own kitchen to cook. I relished the eclectic musical and culinary spaces in the city. During the summer, I travelled to Tanzania by myself to live with a host family and taught English and a girl’s empowerment class at a primary school in Iringa. In my six short weeks there, I made lifelong friends and ran my first half marathon. I also started learning Swahili, hoping to return to East Africa in the future.

By the end of my time abroad, I had convinced myself that I was ready to embrace my senior year at Georgetown. When I returned to the Hilltop after my 15-month absence, I was glad to see that my friendships had all lasted and remained strong. Unfortunately, in other ways, Georgetown proved to be exactly how I remembered it: lots of deadlines and lots of stress. Adjustment proved difficult, and I felt constantly overwhelmed. I dreaded my weekly Middle East I discussion section because I never had time to do the readings, and the class was a constant reminder of how little I knew about the subject and how much everyone else seemed to know. The beast swallowed me back up, and this time, I had nowhere to run.

This is my last semester at Georgetown, and I’m finally free from the seemingly never-ending list of required classes (well, apart from International Trade). Finally able to take what I want, I decided to enroll in Biotechnology and Security, African Politics through Film and Fiction, Ethnicity and Nationalism in Africa, and Beginner Swahili.

Only in my final semester  have I truly enjoyed my classes and established relationships with professors outside of the classroom. Yes, I do wish it had happened sooner, but better late than never, right? As I get ready to graduate in May, I realize there are so many classes that I wish I had taken but will no longer have the opportunity to.

Even amidst all the stress and struggle, I’ve discovered so many little joys during my time at Georgetown. During spring break of freshman year, I went on a backpacking trip with Outdoor Education to Utah. There, I fell in love with the weight of my giant backpack on my shoulders and the inexplicable exhilaration that comes with walking for miles and miles with layers of dirt under my fingernails. After that trip, I bought my own backpack and went on to do more backpacking trips—in Iceland over the summer, in North Carolina my sophomore year, and in Australia and New Zealand during my year abroad. At Georgetown, I have found room to breathe on the trail in Glover Archbold Park, the Capital Crescent bike trail, and the weekly DuPont Circle Farmers’ Market. Most importantly, I have formed so many beautiful friendships here, and I would not trade them for anything else in the world.

If there’s anything that Georgetown has taught me, it’s that growth is uncomfortable. The truth is, college is hard regardless of which university you choose. When I talk to friends at different universities across the country, I realize we all share this sentiment of stress and sleep-deprivation, but also the excitement of exploring various newfound passions. Despite all the times I’ve wanted to leave Georgetown, I have discovered so many aspects of myself and my interests here, and I can’t wait to see where they take me beyond the Hilltop.

“Congratulations and welcome to Georgetown!” I said to that high school senior during GAAP weekend. I surprised myself when I realized that I wholeheartedly meant it. I know that she will have her fair share of struggles and doubts on the Hilltop, but she will also learn about herself and grow in ways that she would never have imagined possible. And for that, she will be forever grateful.


Image Credit: Olivia Stevens

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Stella Cai

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