Big Friendships of a Small School

Three people in Pomona’s Class of 2017 are from Vermont. All three happen to be friends of mine. And I have already been offered, with not a single word of request, three places in Vermont to visit while I intern in Boston this summer.

Not bad for a school of just 1600 students, right?

Vermont in California?
One of my Vermont friends trying to be Vermont in California. It’s actually working. (See Ski-Beach Day)

Coming from a high school with a population 1.5x larger than Pomona’s, I wondered as a first-year how limited my social circle would be. Would I get sick of seeing the same faces over and over again? Would I have enough friends to fill even half my (enormous) room in the case of an elaborate post-midterms celebration? I consider myself an outgoing individual, but between about 50% of my peers studying abroad, seniors graduating, and humans simply operating in discrete social spheres, I wasn’t sure if I would find enough of the brochure-promised lifelong relationships I sought at a college as tiny as Pomona.

Rest assured. It turns out that Pomona’s intimate community actually plays to my advantage in my ambition to meet and befriend multitudes of fascinating people! It also turns out that lunch dates at Frary aren’t the only way to move from the I-sit-next-to-you-in-Chemistry friendship stage to the let’s-hang-out-in-a-foreign-country stage. Let me explain.

At larger schools, it is quite easy to meet someone at a party and never see them again, especially if the night ends without a Facebook friend request or an exchange of phone numbers. At Pomona, it’s safe to say that you will run into them again at some point (for better or for worse) while picking up mail, sipping coffee at Honnold Café, or while literally running through Marston Quad on your way to a class. My peers at Pomona generally exhibit eagerness in getting to know one another, too; I was pleased when I found myself excused from the nerve-wracking pressure of deciding whether to wave at that person, who may or may not remember me from that thing, as others often initiate the greeting first. When my friends from other colleges visit, they comment on how popular I seem. But I give credit to the intimacy of Pomona. I genuinely believe that by frequently seeing and interacting with people beyond that first encounter, I have created more friendships here than I would have at a larger school: a surprising counter to my original intuition.

Brief encounters around campus aren’t the only way I develop these relationships. I find that many organizations strive to create safe, inclusive spaces that allow students to feel comfortable with one other. For example, as a Mentor for the Asian American Mentor Program (AAMP), I opened up to others on a deeper level than I have ever before. With AAMP’s solid support network, I grew closer with my peers and made new friends in those who reached out in empathy and consideration. And AAMP is just one strong community of many, through which these bonds are formed (see this post about being a first-generation, low-income student and this one about being an international student). In such intimate spaces, Pomona’s small size has contributed greatly to both the quantity and the quality of my friendships. As some Mini Cooper commercial probably said at one point or another, bigger isn’t always better.

Then comes the very understandable concern: What if I don’t want to see people I know? What if I want to be anonymous?

You definitely can be! At least temporarily. One of Pomona’s greatest assets is being a member of the Claremont Colleges, which houses over 7,700 students (More than the number of pillow-related injuries seen in U.S. emergency rooms every year. Read: more than you’d think). A simple 10 minute walk can take you to Pitzer or Harvey Mudd, foreign lands to which few Pomona students venture and where you peacefully can sink into oblivion. (Completely kidding. There is a good amount of inter-school mixing, so you’ll probably run into a few familiar faces, but nothing a nod and a quickened pace can’t solve). Alternatively, with the Metrolink train station just a block from campus, you can easily leave the Inland Empire and get into the city of Los Angeles itself. Claremont is sometimes described as a “bubble”, but it is not an inescapable one.

Mostly, however, I count myself blessed to have the welcoming community of Pomona follow me wherever I go. This summer, I will be spending 2.5 months on the East Coast, where I haven’t set foot in over twelve years, and I have friends from Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, and Philadelphia offering personalized tours. I will be studying abroad in Scotland next fall and already have friends warmly offering places to crash in England, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Iceland. A Pomona alumna even reached out to me via LinkedIn last month, asking about my Pomona experiences and hoping to meet up during my time in Boston. Such acts of kindness never fail to melt a bit of my heart. Pomona College may be small, but it has afforded me these boundless friendships that I will relish now and for another 47+ years. The brochures really don’t lie.

Driving down Highway 1
I drove to Monterey last week to pick up my other Vermont friend, who was performing there with the Pomona College Orchestra. We drove down the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway before I brought her to my home and dropped her off at the San Jose airport.