The first time I realized that I needed to seriously consider transferring from Vanier College was when I asked a teacher if I could take my final exam a couple of days after Passover. The exam fell out the day after a holiday, and I received the blunt response: most students have a part-time job.
This was not the first time that year that a professor had told me that my religious beliefs were only a hindrance to reaching my full potential in the educational world. Another professor of mine, who was previously modern orthodox, would repeatedly ask me when I was going to ditch this “religious thing,” because it was impossible to be successful this way. Although I loved the classes that I was taking, and was fascinated about the amount I did not know, and how much I was on the cusp of gaining, my religious identity was being questioned. I realized that I needed to be in an environment where I would be able to learn and did not have to compromise my religious beliefs in order to gain the education I desired.
When I first got to Stern, I was lost. When I was at Vanier, I was the Jew, whatever reference it was, if it had to do with Judaism, it was directed towards me. That was what was expected of me, to know, and be, Jewish. I will never forget when a girl came up to me and asked: “What were Abraham’s sons’ names? You should know that Jew girl.” Jew Girl– I was not Shira, I was not someone who showed promise in her intellect, I was Jew Girl. When I came to Stern, everything changed. I entered a sea of people that were all Jewish, and that was no longer my identifying factor. Yet, I had spent a whole year focused on Jewish Shira that I forgot I had an identity. And that’s where I found myself lost.
It was a huge adjustment, and although it was not easy, there was something valuable that I was able to learn from the many times I broke down crying. I was far from home and did not understand where my place was here. This wasn’t one of those moments where I had an epiphany, or someone gave me some great advice, or in the movies when the character just plays some upbeat music, dances in her room, and then everything improves. I definitely still had a hard time, yet it was the little things, like making friends outside of my original friend group and volunteering a little more, that helped me. It was the realization that you can’t expect everything to be amazing for you if you do not put a little effort in as well. I think they phrase it as “give a little to get a little”. It was through all this that I came to the realization that: Stern is like a grocery store. It won’t give you the ready-made food, but, it will offer you the ingredients in order to make what you would like. Stern was my grocery store, and it had all the ingredients that I needed to succeed. I could not expect them to give me a cake, or dinner, I just needed to learn how to utilize their opportunities that they threw my way and build off of that. So, halfway through my first year here, I learned that we had a YU email address and that I was actually getting emails sent to me… a crazy amount of emails. Once I discovered this email account, I began to be engaged. Or, if we’re going with the analogy, I began shopping at the store.
Slowly, as I became more involved in school, and the opportunities it gave to me, I was able to learn that there are definitely aspects that I may never understand about this place. Yet, over the past three years, I have found people I never would have known, extracurriculars I would have never been involved in, and experiences I never would have imagined, had I not made a leap from the comfort of my home to the unknown by transferring to Stern.
Although there are many experiences that I can pinpoint, I think I want to share the full circle that I feel I have come to in my last year here. After having put in three years here, the pieces of advice I have to offer are: follow what you really want. It may seem like the easier thing to do is drop a class, or stop pursuing something because your work got a little tougher, but in reality, our abilities will surprise us when we push ourselves to the edge of what we think we can do. Definitely stay away from the cafeteria fish on days where it looks fresh out of the water; it is most definitely fresh out of the Hudson. Sit back and enjoy the ride. I used to look at college students and think that they were in college forever; however, being in that position now, I realize the time goes by fast. It’s a blink of an eye, it’s over, and then the real life begins. That’s the tricky part, we leave this religious oasis we associate with comfort and enter a world filled with secular norms and opposing thoughts and religions. Don’t associate your beliefs with a part-time job like my teachers told me to. Advocate and become educated about your values, and let them be what makes your life events better.
Four years ago I was told that my religion was ultimately going to hold me back, that it was a burden. Although I came to Stern to learn how to balance my religious beliefs and the education I desired, I gained a lot more than I ever realized was important. I gained a community of friends who support and motivate me in whatever I choose to do. I found a place where I was able to find a version of myself I am in love with and the skills to be able to feel comfortable with myself. The choices that I’ve made are lessons I will carry around forever.
Four years ago, I began college. I was so excited and all I was met with was a bunch of faces telling me what I was supposed to feel, know, and be because of the Jewish star that apparently defined me. Four years later I am so happy that the same Jewish star is the identifying factor about me because it is within it that I have found my pathways to personal, religious, and social success.