Transfer Roundtable “The Middle” - An Open Conversation with Yale Transfer Students

Welcome to the second “Transfer Roundtable” blog!  Joining me to discuss “the middle” - our experiences after our first year at Yale, after we’ve settled in, joined clubs and made friends - are Dianna and Stephan, two transfer students who were a part of my transfer cohort.

Let’s first get introductions out of the way. 

Meet Dianna (she/her), an Ethics, Politics, Economics major in Pauli Murray College and my fabulous suitemate. 

Dianna (furthest on the right) transferred from Wilbur Wright College in the City Colleges of Chicago. She participates in the Transfer Peer Adviser program, MeCha de Yale, Yale FGLI Advocacy Movement (Big Sib), Pauli Murray College (Big Sib, College Aide), MacMillan Center - Council of Latin American and Iberian Studies (Fellow), Migration Alliance at Yale, Yale Institution of Social and Policy Studies, Lowenstein Program at Yale Law School, Geotech Project at Yale Policy Institute, Women in Economics, and Ecuatorianos y Amigos Unidos.

Meet Stephan (he/him), a Psychology major in Trumbull College and fellow Californian.

Stephan transferred from El Camino College. He is a Peer Liaison for the Office of LGBTQ Resources, a Transfer Peer Adviser, an undergraduate research assistant in CANDLab, an intern at Yale’s Child Psychiatric Unit, co-host of a transfer student radio show on Yale’s Radio Station, and works off-campus at Strange Ways. 

Me: The first “Transfer Roundtable” blog focused on experiencing Yale for the first time, which seems like a bit ago for the three of us. But, thinking back and using three words, how would you describe your first year at Yale?

Stephan: Messy, anxious, disoriented

Dianna: Unfamiliar, overwhelming, hopeful

Me: I definitely associate my first year with all the words you two mentioned. I think I would add “thrilling, unexpected, and worthwhile”  into the mix as well. Something I’ve come to realize as I’ve moved my first year at Yale is that you don’t really ever stop choosing Yale. It’s a continuous decision you make to be here and be in the moment so to speak. Stephan, can you explain why you chose Yale when you first got in? Why do you still choose Yale now?

Stephan: It was just an automatic reaction, I felt like I couldn’t say no when I saw that I’d gotten in. Over my time here, I’ve kind of wished that I’d gone to a public university or one that was more vocationally oriented, but I think that I had to experience Yale because there would have always been that doubt in the back of my mind about whether I was actually where I should be. Yale taught me that I really appreciate interdisciplinary work and vocational work rather than exclusively research oriented or theoretical work. The work I’ve done here has given me a pretty wide sampling of a lot of different experiences, which has helped me pare down what I want to do and where I want to go in the future.

Me: Is Yale what you expected it to be?

Stephan: That’s really hard to say! I think that going to Yale was a bit of a stretch in my imagination, so I’d actually hyped up my experience that I’d have at a lot of other schools I’d applied to. I could envision myself at so many other places and hadn’t thought of what I’d be like at Yale because I didn’t want to get my hopes up and get disappointed. I think I’ve learned a lot about myself and grown in ways that I’m looking forward to taking with me beyond my time at Yale.

Me: I think that’s one of the big things associated with deciding where to go to school. You can do hours upon hours of research and watch hundreds of videos on the school but, until you’re actually here, you really don’t know what to expect. Dianna, would you say you’re happy you chose Yale?

Dianna: That’s the big question, isn’t it? Having experienced Yale through a different lens––being thrust into the ivy league environment at the age of 20––it is sometimes hard to know if I’m happy I chose to be here. Some days are harder than others, and some days are happier and brighter than others. So I guess I would say it depends? Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate being at Yale every single day. The odds were against me, as they were and are for all transfer students, and when I joined my cohort of eleven other transfers, I knew what we had accomplished was…absolutely insane. I have made so many friends here, ones I can even call family, have taken classes that have changed the trajectory of my career, participated in activities that I still can’t even believe, and will leave Yale with security I perhaps could never have imagined. At the same time, I miss my family every day, miss the life I established for myself back in Chicago, miss my long-term boyfriend Pasquale, and miss the memorable and final moments with the loveliest Chicken anyone could have asked for. Am I happy I chose Yale? I guess it depends.

Me: That’s completely understandable and something we’ve talked about as friends several times before. I’ve written a blog on homesickness and it’s definitely a tough thing to experience, especially when you add that on top of being a transfer student. Stephan, can you explain what your Yale experience is like now, especially in comparison to your first year?

Stephan: During my first year, I was really anxious and felt a lot of pressure to start off on the right foot and be liked. I had stayed in my hometown for my community college which made it just feel like High School: The Sequel, so this was the first time that I had the chance to properly start over and feel like I could be myself. I struggled a lot to situate myself in a community where I felt seen and loved for who I am, but I think that I’ve done a better job now of cultivating where I feel wanted. Yale has a lot of students who are doing so many amazing things and it was weird coming in as a sophomore because I hadn’t had the year at Yale that my peers had had to be able to develop their experiences. I felt small and insignificant and I had to remind myself that I had a lot of impressive things I’d done back in my hometown and my community. Now, I’ve found my niche and been able to get involved in a lot of work that I’m really proud of! 

Me: I was scrolling through my camera roll and I found a photo we had taken with some of our fellow transfer students during our very first semester. Seems like such a long time ago looking at it now. For me personally, the girl I see is so different from the person I am today. I’ve done a lot of growing up here at Yale and have learned so much about myself. Dianna, looking back at your past self - the person who just arrived on Yale’s campus - what advice would you give yourself?

Dianna: Stop being so critical of yourself; enjoy every moment and mistake, and be kind to yourself. Coming to Yale from a community college was filled with so many fantastic and lovely emotions. But with anything, there were also difficult moments of self-criticism and imposter syndrome along the way. The second I stepped foot onto campus, I felt like I had something to prove––like I needed to show everyone I deserved to be here by performing. It sounds silly, but it was one of the overwhelming feelings I felt in my first year. Was I doing enough? Why am I not in x, y, z club? Were the classes I was taking difficult enough? Why do I not have a 4.0 anymore? It was like the Olympics of stress and busyness, something that I felt was important to fit into Yale and to prove I was as competitive as anyone else.

Me: Imposter syndrome is unfortunately another negative feeling that many experience, whether here at Yale or in a university across the country. I also asked myself similar questions to the ones you asked yourself Dianna, especially during my first year. Now those questions don’t take up space in my mind anymore.

Dianna: Looking back, I giggle at my old mindset because, in retrospect, none of that mattered. I slowly found myself and my place on campus, I stopped caring about others’ perceptions of me, and I embraced that I was going through the most challenging transition of my life. At the end of the day, there is only one of us to exist, only one person with the specific drive and passion for changing whatever sector of the world we can imagine. Opportunities come at their own pace, and I wish I stressed so much less about them because what they say is true––trust the process and trust in yourself.

Me: Do either of you feel like you’ve missed out on anything because you are a transfer student?

Stephan: I do wish I’d known that we could have Peer Liaisons as a transfer student, particularly because our transfer advising program isn’t as strong as it could be. I had a really difficult time adjusting and I wish I could have talked it through with someone who shared some of my identities, especially as I figured out how to situate myself on campus with those experiences. I think that I’m really lucky to have transferred when I had because many of the students in the class of 2024 either took a gap year, did Yale remotely from home, or were isolated on campus, so I didn’t have too different an experience from them. 

Dianna: Absolutely! In befriending my friend Sarah during both of our freshman years at Yale, I was in awe at the various integration systems in place that first-year students had within their residential colleges and at Yale as a whole. Whether it be the first-year formal or the formation of FroCo groups, first-year students are able to develop friendships that often last years or a lifetime. It was very difficult to see that all first-year students in Murray knew each other, as I would never be anywhere near meeting or even knowing Murray students in my graduating class––with the exception of a couple here and there. In terms of academics, it is difficult to know about all the opportunities that Yale has to offer and apply to them in a timely manner. Programs such as the human rights or education studies certificates, and the Mellon Mays Research Fellowship, are well-heard of during first-year conversations with years to decide if you’d want to apply. Transferring in as a second-semester sophomore, I would have needed to be familiar with these programs independently and apply immediately, all while juggling my integration and settlement into New Haven.

Me: I agree that there are several things, experiences, and knowledge that we’ve unfortunately lucked out on because of our transfer student identity. How has that - missing out on certain first-year experiences - made you feel?

Dianna: I do not view this bitterly, though, as I look at this as ‘some opportunities weren’t meant for me.’ Would it have been nice to be given the opportunity to apply? Sure. But this doesn’t break my Yale experience in any way. Being here gave me the biggest second chance in my educational career, and I am making the absolute most of it in my individualistic way.

Me: Exactly! The college experience of a transfer student is not going to be the same as the college experience of a traditional freshman straight out of high school. And that’s okay. We have different experiences, have gained different types of knowledge, and are completing our educational journey in a unique way. I first asked you both in the beginning of our conversation to describe your first year in three words. To follow up on that question, how would you describe your experience now in three words?

Stephan: Niche, occupied, loved

Dianna: Comfort, fast-paced, future

Me: Steady, exciting, home