A five-minute decision to apply to the Women’s Leadership Program (WLP) became one of my most defining college experiences. My early decision choice for college rejected me, and I was frantic to re-evaluate the remaining colleges that accepted me. George Washington University was the last school on my list. I visited on a weekend in April and knew that Washington D.C. was the college city experience I wanted.
It wasn’t until after I arrived that I realized WLP helped me transition into college.
The First Few Weeks
The Women’s Leadership Program assuaged my initial concerns. I didn’t worry about which dorms were best, who I would room with, how I was going to make friends, and how to navigate D.C. Because Mount Vernon campus houses WLP, one of the dorms there, Somers Hall, has specific floors dedicated to each cohort. The four cohorts that makeup WLP include: International Art and Culture (IAC), International Politics (IP), Science Health and Medicine (SHM) and Globalization Economics and Business (GEB). I met some of the people in my cohort during the short freshman pre-orientation weekend over the summer. So, by the time we gathered for our WLP orientation, I met up with friends instead of strangers.
WLP’s orientation is a week before the rest of the freshmen move in. It felt a little like summer camp with trust-building exercises and museum visits. We lived with our cohort, so everyone got to know each other quickly. Often the doors were left open to the hall while we hung out together. Over the semester, we relied on each other and some of us developed good friendships that lasted throughout the rest of our college experience. I was thankful to start my college experience with WLP. Not only because the program made my transition into college smoother, but I also made lasting friendships. It also gave me the foundation and confidence to feel comfortable making a life for myself after my freshman year.
Adjusting to City Life
Every cohort has a graduate teaching assistant who holds excursions to museums, theater productions, and events around D.C. The TA lives on the same floor as the cohort, so she was always around for moral and emotional support. We took the metro often because of the excursions and I grew comfortable exploring D.C with my cohort. After the first few excursions, I felt confident I could explore D.C on my own. One of my favorite events we went to was Art All Night, an annual event to celebrate artists around D.C. Embassies and galleries open their doors free of charge to allow people to explore the art. One of the best places to visit is ArtJamz where you can paint on the walls. I went to almost every Art All Night since then.
What I Learned
WLP holds weekly symposiums on Thursday nights in which women at the top of their fields come to talk about their experience and give advice. We dressed business casual, and they provided free food, so it came off as a professional meet-in-greet. Speechwriters, journalists, environmental researchers and even the wife of the school’s president came to talk. Those symposiums inspired us and often gave a renewed sense of self-motivation to work through our all-nighters and exams.
Besides the symposiums, WLP tailors its classes to focus on groundbreaking women. I was in the International Arts and Culture cohort, so my classes taught us about great women painters, dancers, writers, etc. Women like Isadora Duncan, Josephine Baker, Judy Chicago and Dora Maar filled our semester. These women are unfortunately not a part of our mainstream media–Google them if you don’t know them. The final project for the first semester course was a research paper on an artist of our choosing. I love the impressionist painters of France, and I wanted to highlight a woman that was underrepresented. So, I chose Berthe Morisot. Her paintings feature the daily life of women and she loved to paint on an easel outside.
After Freshman Year
I didn’t become best of friends with everyone in my cohort because we all had different preferences and things we like. Yet, this makes WLP a diverse group of women. I eventually befriended a bunch of people outside WLP from joining student organizations and classes. Of course, I still keep in touch with my friends from WLP. Looking outside of WLP helped me to understand that everyone moves at a different pace and they have their own paths to follow.
I felt comfortable moving past my cohort for new friends and experiences once freshman year was over. For instance, over summer breaks, I would travel to China and Paris for short semester classes. I even went abroad in the fall for a full semester. Before freshman year, I would have been uncomfortable going to a different city let alone a different country on my own. Now, it seems I can’t travel enough for my desire to experience new and exciting opportunities.
My advice to any introvert going to college: if you find yourself with an option to join a freshman program, apply for it. It will help you better understand yourself and learn how to overcome uncertainty.