It’s hard to believe that my freshman year is just a few short weeks from ending. It has been a whirlwind experience, and God has surprised me in ways that I never expected. I found my first surprise on my floor this year, Fischer 4West. I grew up as the only girl with three younger brothers, so the idea of suddenly living in close quarters with 50 other girls was both exciting and a little daunting. I had heard great things about residence life at Wheaton (or Res Life, as it is endearingly termed), but I also knew that housing that many girls together held potential for some serious drama.
All of my hesitancies have disappeared as I’ve gotten to know my floormates this year. I have laughed heartily and cried bitterly with these girls, shared lots of meals, enjoyed fun days in Chicago and long nights of good conversation. They are so much more than floormates to me now. They have become some of my closest friends, and I am 100 percent confident that those friendships won’t end with the close of this school year.
A second surprise came through landing a job in Wheaton’s Academic and Institutional Technology (AIT) department. As an English and secondary education major with no prior IT experience, I wasn’t expecting much when I turned in an application to AIT at the beginning of the year, but a few weeks and three rounds of interviews later, I was offered a position as a student tech in their office.
Learning to “think like a computer,” in the words of my supervisor, has definitely proved to be a challenging process, but everyone with whom I work has been incredibly patient and gracious to me as I learn to stretch this part of my brain. One of the best feelings in the world is seeing someone’s face light up when you fix their computer’s problem, and I love being able to help people in that way.
I discovered the third and final surprise—Wheaton’s community diversity—through class discussions and informal conversations around campus. In these spaces, I have found dozens of fascinatingly different nationalities, upbringings, and ways of thinking. I didn’t expect an explicitly Christian school of 2,400 students to offer that kind of diversity. I am so thankful that I thought wrong. Hearing other people’s opinions and worldviews has challenged me to think critically about my own beliefs as well as the beliefs of others.
People often ask me, “Are you glad you chose to go to Wheaton?” With newfound friends, the opportunity to learn to think like a computer, and a broadened view of life and the body of Christ, how can I say no? In fact, I’m so glad that I chose Wheaton that, next year, I’ll be serving prospective students as a member of the Diakonoi and building community as a returning resident of Fischer 4West. I look forward to seeing what other surprises God has in store.
Chloe Keene is a freshman studying English and secondary education. Learn more about her Wheaton experience by visiting her author bio page. Photos from top: Chloe and friends enjoy a square dance on campus, visit HoneyRock in the winter, and enjoy their proximity to Chicago and its landmarks.
In Hawaiian, “Ohana” means family. “Koinonia,” a transliterated form of the Greek word κοινωνία, which means communion and joint participation, basically holds the same meaning for me. “Koinonia” is an idealized state of fellowship and unity that should exist within the Body of Christ. Koinonia, a club within the Office of Multicultural Development at Wheaton that exists to glorify God through the unique cultures of Asian community, is definitely not this idealized perfect community. But with all its imperfections, it has been my refuge at Wheaton.
Before I got involved with Koinonia, I was its biggest critic. Like many Wheaties, I wrote Koinonia off as an exclusive Korean club. As a racial minority on campus and an ethnic minority among the Asian community, Koinonia seemed unwelcoming to me as a Taiwanese. However, as a cabinet member of the Chinese Culture Club, the opportunity I had to work with Koinonia in organizing the campus-wide Lunar New Year Festival event during my sophomore year proved me wrong.
During the two-month-long planning period, Koinonia’s cabinet showered me with love, acceptance, and inclusivity. Despite not being part of the cabinet, I was often invited to have dinner with them and was included in many casual conversations. Due to the kindness that Koinonia cabinet showed me, I could no longer stubbornly hold on to the negative image I had of Koinonia. Coincidentally or not, I discovered that Koinonia was preparing to recruit for the following year’s cabinet. My prideful self still desperately wanted to cling on to the bitterness I had towards Koinonia, but after a hard period of struggle, I surrendered my pride and pain to God and asked Him to give me the chance to be part of this community.
Through being part of Koinonia, I’ve learned the importance of race-specific ministries. Growing up in Taiwan and China, I’ve always held strong prejudices against other East Asians for political and historical reasons. The bitterness I harbored in my heart against non-Taiwanese Asians was eliminated through the relationships I built with my Asian brothers and sisters. Furthermore, I began to explore and find my identity in Christ in a contextualized way through living in a community that understands and affirms my Asian experiences in this country.
Serving as Koinonia’s president this past year has been the most humbling thing I have experienced my whole life. Not only did God expose an array of shortcomings I never knew I possessed, He showed me His abiding love and grace through my cabinet members. Despite the countless times I failed them, my cabinet chose not to hold grudges, but instead confronted me for the sake of reconciliation and love. They’ve seen the worst side of me, yet still choose to love me and respect me—if this is not family, I don’t know what is. They showed me that this community is not about perfection and performance; Koinonia exists for the imperfect and the broken.
In Hawaiian, “Ohana” means family. Koinonia means family to me. It is my family.
Jennifer Fu ’15 is a senior studying geology. Read more about her Wheaton experience on her author bio page. Photo credits: Daniel Sung-Min Yoon '15.
While it’s not unusual for many college students to live in four different buildings during their four years of college, that’s not the experience Kathryn Brightly '16 has had at Wheaton.
“My freshman year I lived on Fischer 4 West, and then sophomore year also,” Kathryn explains. “This year, I’m an RA on the same floor.” As part of Wheaton’s Residence Life staff, Kathryn, a junior, chose to forego the privileges that come with upperclassman housing—like having her own kitchen and unlimited “open floor” hours for opposite-gender visits—for the sake of embracing the unique joys and challenges of being a Resident Assistant on a floor of freshman and sophomore women.
“It’s been so fun to walk through their freshman year with them and just be with them as they experience Wheaton for the first time,” she says. “That has been my favorite part.” While Kathryn’s responsibilities as an RA are varied and include everything from specific coursework to meetings with the rest of the Residence Life staff, many significant aspects of RA life revolve around relationship-based, community-building activities. For Kathryn, these include making time for one-on-one meals with every girl on her floor, being available in her room for regular “in nights” so her floor mates can casually connect, hosting weekly tea times, attending floor dinners, and planning events with the RAs of her brother and sister floor.
These activities are articulated by Kathryn more as an inventory of blessing than as a to-do list. “I feel like I’m so privileged to be able to have room where people can come and feel safe and welcome and they can share their stories with me, both the joys and the sorrows,” she says.
She’s grateful, too, for the framework that Wheaton’s liberal arts education and her Christian Education major classes are providing when it comes to thinking about her RA experience. “It’s cool to see how you can disciple people in a one-on-one relationship,” she says. “I’ve really loved my classes because they seem so intertwined with the ministry that I’m doing as an RA.”
Despite all the things she loves about her role as a facilitator and leader on the floor, though, Kathryn also acknowledges the bumps along the way. “There’s so much in Residence Life that’s really challenging and hard and heavy,” she says. But in spite of difficulties, Kathryn clearly doesn’t regret her choices to get involved. “In reality, the Lord has put me in this position, but also he is the one who is performing and working, not me. This year has been a lesson of learning that I am, in reality, inadequate for this job. And that’s ok because the Lord is sufficient.”
Learn more about Wheaton College’s residence life on their website, apply to be a Resident Assistant, and read more about Kathryn’s story on her author bio page.
Upon coming to Wheaton, scientific research was not my idea of an exciting extracurricular. For me, science was a means to an end. I needed certain classes for graduate school. But I wasn’t that into the science itself.
As I entered my second year at Wheaton, this began to change. I was studying human anatomy, and could frequently be found telling anyone who would listen to me about the incredible things going on inside their bodies. The human body was like a divinely directed magic show with invisible, unbelievable complexities that somehow worked in tandem to allow me to do activities as simple as lifting my arm.
Second semester of my sophomore year, I took Physiology with Dr. Hunt. On the first day of class, he assigned each student a long-term group research project. He approached my group with an idea, spouting off foreign sounding words like “flow-mediated dilation,” “endothelial cells,” and “meta-analysis.”
I remember feeling even more lost after our first meeting with Dr. Thom, our other collaborating professor. But we pressed onward with the research, investigating the potential negative impact of eating carbohydrate-rich meals on vascular health because of the high rates of cardiovascular disease in America.
As summer approached, I was asked to stay on campus and continue researching, an opportunity provided by donations made to the Wheaton Research and Residence Program, or “Wheaton in the Lab,” as we affectionately called it. Since Dr. Thom was the professor guiding the process, I became his research assistant. And our meta-analysis became my project.
Although I spent a significant amount of my summer reading articles—due to the nature of a meta-analysis, which is essentially a fancy literature review but with a quantitative representation of the dependent variable—it was by far my favorite part of the research process. The more I read about Flow-Mediated Dilation (FMD), the more I understood it, and the more interesting it became. Dr. Thom gave me a lot of independence, while offering enough guidance and mentorship that I did not feel abandoned. Approximately once a week, we would have longer meetings to discuss articles I had been reading and our next steps, with brief interjections about Dr. Thom’s kids. Occasionally, we would go running down the hall to Dr. Hunt’s office with some urgent question about endothelial cells or FMD.
As the summer drew to a close, we had started the initial stages of data analysis, a process that has continued throughout this year. This March, I have the incredible opportunity to present our research at the Experimental Biology Conference, before we complete our analyses.
Over 400 hours of research later, all of those big, science-y words from that first meeting intimately describe the latter part of my time at Wheaton, along with the project that I have poured my time and energy into. Now that I voluntarily do research in my spare time, I suppose it is finally time to proudly take my place among the ranks of the “science nerds.”
Amy Early is a junior studying French and pre-health. Learn more about her on her author bio page.
“Submit to Kodon.” I saw the ominous phrase plastered all over campus in simple font on cream-colored posters. As a freshman with an overactive imagination, I promptly looked into whether or not it was as scary as it sounded.
After a bit of research, I found out it wasn’t. Kodon is Wheaton’s art and literary journal, a collaborative endeavor between students, faculty advisors, and the College Board of Trustees. Each semester, students all over campus—regardless of major—are encouraged to submit their works of poetry, fiction, visual art or nonfiction to be published in this journal that the whole campus can read.
As an aspiring English major lured by this prospect of glory, I submitted my first poem to Kodon in the fall of my freshman year. It was about cats and a really big world-changing metaphor of ignorance and practicality. It did not get published.
My sophomore year, armed with a sharper pencil and a narrower topic, I submitted a second poem that did get published. And as any writer will tell you, getting published is about as exciting as it gets—whether it’s a literary journal or an online magazine—as long as someone who’s not your mom thinks your words are worth their time.
I guess that’s why I’ve stuck with Kodon, and why I’ve stuck with writing in general: I want to find the right thing to say. Sometimes you’re lucky and the first draft says precisely what you mean, clearly and enchantingly and precisely specific to your own voice. More often than not, though, you’re left clawing your way through the same four lines of a poem that has all the right intentions and none of the cadence for months on end.
Writing is a mess. It’s a process. And now, as Kodon's assistant editor, I can tell you that editing is no different. Organizing and drafting your own work is frazzling enough; navigating your way through 150 poems to find 10 publishable ones is an entirely different animal.
And that is where collaboration—the great guidepost to artists everywhere—becomes invaluable. Working with fellow staff members on anything from decisions to omissions has forced me out of complacency when the magic of writing has momentarily lost its shine. Reading the work of students on campus forces me to square up with other creatives in a way I otherwise wouldn’t, causing me to constantly reevaluate the necessity of my work at Kodon, and my work as a writer in general.
Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t ignore those ominous cream-coloured posters my freshman year.
Jessie Epstein ’16 is a junior studying English writing. Read more about her Wheaton experience on her author bio page. Photo credits: Whitney Bauck '15.