Moving away from friends and familiar faces. New classrooms, new campus, new city. A whirlwind of introductions and different student groups to join.
For most students, these sensations only hit once: at the beginning of freshman year. But for transfer students, a new school means navigating the same set of obstacles a second time.
Vanderbilt’s transfer students, a small but unique community, face the challenge of breaking into a new campus environment without the traditional Commons experience. Regardless of the student’s former college or university, several transfer students reported that finding friends and integrating into Vanderbilt’s social scene was the most daunting aspect of their experience.
For many, first friendships at Vanderbilt were with other transfer students. As Christopher Lee, a sophomore and transfer from the University of Puget Sound, said, “We’re all in the same boat.”
Julie Wilson, a transfer from Syracuse University, echoed Lee’s comments, saying, “The transfer community stuck together.”
For others, diving into extracurricular clubs and activities proved an effective way to integrate into the social culture at Vanderbilt, especially when it came to meeting other non-transfer students.
“I made a conscious effort to join organizations as soon as I could. Obviously when you’re not a freshman and on The Commons, organizations make it easier to meet people,” said Christie Bok, a sophomore transfer student from the University of Miami.
Going Greek … or not
Another option for social activity at Vanderbilt is Greek life, though the transfer students interviewed had mixed opinions about the possibility of joining a fraternity or sorority.
Joanna Palmer, a sophomore transfer student from Wellesley College, participated in fall recruitment and is now a member of Alpha Omicron Pi.
“I didn’t think I would do it, but I realized, as a transfer student, it’s hard to make friends and break into things. I think that being a part of something like (Greek life) is a really easy way to have a community,” she said.
Lee, on the other hand, felt that Greek life might have made the transfer experience more difficult.
“You’d assume that fraternities would be a good outlet to start off with, but as a transfer, they’re not really accepting, as much,” he said. “You have to basically choose your friends in a month, and I wasn’t really up for that commitment.”
Other transfer students, like sophomore Caylyn Perry, are curious about Greek culture at Vanderbilt but have not used Greek life to immediately assimilate into Vanderbilt culture.
“I’m signed up to do it, but I’m not sold on it,” Perry said.
Still more students, like Reuben Talukdar, a senior who transferred from Case Western Reserve University as a sophomore, and Kevin Clavin, a junior transfer from Boston College, considered Greek life but decided against rushing. They acknowledged that even though Greek life is a large part of the Vanderbilt community, it is not necessary for every student’s social life.
“I wasn’t that interested in it,” Talukdar said. “I feel like if you’re a freshman here, you have all of your friends rushing. But when you transfer here, no one talks about it.” He found many of his friends by spending time playing basketball at the Student Recreation Center instead.
For her part, Wilson quickly made friends with many students involved in the McGill Project when she arrived on campus, instead of rushing.
“I was told that the only way I would survive as a transfer at Vanderbilt was to rush,” Wilson said. “It really scared me, and I really wish people had not told me that. It’s not true at all. Once you find your group on campus, I don’t find that it’s necessary to rush.”
“I wasn’t really interested in it,” Clavin said, echoing the others’ comments. “I know some people, who have come here and did Greek life, and it seemed like it worked for them, but I wanted something else.”
A Commons-like option?
Some may wonder if transfer students should be given a Commons-like experience, with the opportunity to live together in on-campus housing. From the perspective of transfers themselves, this question remains unresolved.
“I think it would have been nice to have been in a dorm with all transfers, because then you can go out and get to know people together, but it might also be good to room with non-transfers, because they know what they’re doing,” Lee said.
For her part, Palmer feels that attempting to simulate the Commons experience by housing transfer students together is a poor choice.
“I don’t just want all of my friends to be transfer students. Most of my good friends are transfers because we can relate to each other, but I don’t want that to be my whole experience,” she said. “I already had the freshman experience. Granted, it was somewhere else, but I had it. As soon as possible, if you can just be thought of as another student, that’s fine.”
Before its demolition, the Kissam Quadrangle was the home of transfer students. Talukdar, who lived on Kissam his sophomore year, felt that living around other transfers didn’t really help his experience.
“What they did was they threw us in Kissam, mostly in singles,” he said. “It was luck of the draw — hopefully you met people on your floor. It was hard.”
Positive feelings overall
Several transfer students noted that, even without the benefit of the Commons experience, they feel generally welcomed by others at Vanderbilt.
“Everyone has been so supportive,” said Yudong Cao, a junior transfer from Centre College who is originally from China.
“Maybe it’s less Vanderbilt and more the student body that I should applaud, but in terms of being open, it’s great,” said Perry, echoing Cao’s sentiments.
Despite the challenges, the majority of students interviewed said that being a transfer student at Vanderbilt has been a positive experience overall and worth any obstacles they’ve faced along the way.