I was a pretty big shock to Georgetown, and Georgetown was a pretty big shock to me.

I am from central Vermont, arguably the U.S. capital of liberals, agnostics and hippies. Across from my house, there is a cohousing unit — complete with shared heating and septic systems — full of stereotypical Vermonters. My father is an organic farmer who sells his soup at the organic cooperative grocery store and rarely wears anything fancier than dirty Carhartts and mud boots. My sisters, my mom and I enjoy combing through thrift stores, consignment stores and the dump (yes, where trash goes) for fabulous used clothing. In high school, I took belly-dancing classes, raced on the alpine ski team and created the world’s prettiest PowerPoint presentation on the history of maple syrup.

People’s reactions to my stories and experiences have been amusing, to say the least. When I told my friends I had a pet flying squirrel for three years, they laughed before asking, “Wait, really?” A friend, in response to my being atheist: “You would be.” And perhaps the best was a classmate’s reaction three weeks into freshman year: “Wait, your dad is actually an organic farmer? And you actually have 300 chickens? I thought you were joking!”

While the people around me got used to my oddities, I also had to adjust to a brand-new culture. Students here are actually religious, which was bizarre to me. No one at home is Catholic, and even the most devout Christians in my town rarely go to church.

I had never really experienced racial or political diversity, either. The only Indian girl I had ever met in Vermont had been adopted by white parents, and there was one black family in my town. And about half the people here are Republican, which was astounding to me — I only knew a handful of conservatives growing up.

And as for clothes, I’ll just say that I had never heard of Vineyard Vines or seen boat shoes before I got to the Hilltop.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the bewilderment and awe that characterized my first year at Georgetown, it was and still is my dream school. And quite frankly, I’m happy it’s been such a strange experience.

People’s reactions to me and my life seem more educational than some of my classes, and I don’t think I could have learned nearly as much around people who thought me familiar and usual.

After my first semester here, I went to a neighborhood dinner back home with my parents. When my neighbors asked me the usual questions about how school was going, I responded that Georgetown felt a little strange, but that I loved my classes and I felt like I was starting to fit in. One neighbor, a professional potter and excellent cook, cryptically told me that it was good for me to struggle a bit. She said that part of growing up is being unsure where you belong and experimenting with what you are until you figure it out.

Slowly but surely, I’ve found a home here, my little niche. The difficulties I faced adapting to Georgetown have been a big part of my growth into a more mature, well-rounded person than I was in high school. Georgetown has taught me that when thrown into any kind of bizarre social situation, you figure out what the atmosphere is like, decide how you want to fit into it and then adapt. That’s how a community is formed, and that’s how we all learn to live together and cooperate. And that’s why Georgetown has such a strong sense of community: Coming here, we’ve all realized it’s best to mesh with the people around you, accept their differences, maintain your own uniqueness and move on with life.

Which, I’m realizing now, is probably exactly what the hippie from across the street was trying to tell me.

Nikita Buley is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. She is a deputy copy editor for The Hoya.

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