My Different World: From PWI to HBCU

I never imagined that I would be attending an HBCU my junior year of college. I had already been attending Rutgers University for two years (and loved it) and had my twin sister by my side every step of the way. Life was great, right? Wrong. I guess the universe decided it was time for my twin sister and I to emancipate ourselves from one another and start our own lives in 2014. I found out my sister was expecting my niece (the super adorable chunky baby all over my instagram) and I knew it was time for me to find myself. I swear it was like fate because two months after we found out she was pregnant, I received an email about the National Student Exchange program (nse.org). I received the same email in 2013 and ignored it, but that year something about the email seemed more appealing than before. My twin sister would now be a mother (basically leaving me *sad face*) but it was time for me to do something for myself. Studying abroad in Africa or Paris would be extremely too much considering that I was never away from my twin before so going to a school within the US seemed like a good start.

When I saw the options, I never expected to see HBCUs on the list. So I was even more anxious about doing the program. I later learned that I could stay for a semester or a full year and I would only have to pay that school’s IN-state tuition. Now the idea was to go to an HBCU that was somewhere I’ve never been and with no one I knew (just in case I had a little too much fun lol). So I chose North Carolina Central University. I actually ended up knowing a few people but it wasn’t too bad.

Over the summer, I was so excited about going. I even watched all six seasons of A Different World in two weeks (I was eager AND unemployed, one hell of a combo). So I really thought I would find my Dwayne Wayne and life would be great. On August 12, 2015 I shoved all of my things in my dad’s car and we headed to NCCU. Lots of music and 8 hours later, I arrived at what would become my new home for the next four months. All I can remember was thinking, “people are so nice here!” Everyone would greet me and ask if I was a freshman (which annoyed me). Nevertheless, people were extremely friendly on campus. On top of being in a new environment, I also had my very first roommate (I always lived with my twin). We were both exchange students which made it a little easier for me but also sucked because neither of us knew anyone. We went to the events for the first week together and we basically got along really fast. Our very first weekend there, we went to predawn. We don’t have those parties at Rutgers so I was anxious to party until 5am. Unfortunately, I learned a very important lesson that night: never ever drink on an empty stomach. And I’ll just leave it at that. Then I found out about fried chicken wednesdays. And if anyone has ever attended an HBCU, you KNOW fried chicken wednesday is like a fashion show. It was at NCCU, anyway. And the first time I went, I was definitely underdressed. I was still cute, of course.

On move-in day, I met a very charismatic guy. He helped me move my things into my room and he talked with my family and I for a while before moving the next person in. That conversation made me feel like NCCU would be a great new home. Unfortunately, a few short weeks later, after coming from class I saw a police car and a crowd of people outside the residence hall beside mine. Of course, I asked people what happened and I learned that someone committed suicide. I was immediately saddened but I doubted it was anyone I had known. I went on with my day, and right before I took my online exam, I received an official email from the university. I’m not sure why I opened it right before I took a test but I never would’ve expected that I would see his name and picture pop up in the email. I immediately broke down. I was so hurt, confused, angry. I had never experienced anything like that. Where I come from, young people are often murdered. What made matters even worse was that everyone was carrying on like nothing had ever happened. I felt like I was stuck in one place and life was moving on around me. I was depressed. I cried so much. And I didn’t hide that I wasn’t okay because I wasn’t. Losing my first friend was very hard for me.

Just before this tragic experience, I was lucky to get my very first job in retail. Of course, it was very different from my usual office jobs but it was a great experience overall. Shoutout to my roommate’s boyfriend for recommending me for the job! I met a lot of really cool people at my new job and I wish I could’ve spent more time with them. I was also linked with a few people my family members knew that happened to attend NCCU. One of them was about four or five years older than me, about my older sister’s age. I was so grateful to have her around. She really looked out for me which I appreciated a lot. I also met a girl through my older sister on Twitter. She is a mess but I can definitely say she’s one of my friends and made my experience in NC fun. While I’m acknowledging people, I guess I should give the guy next door a shoutout too. He was adventurous to say the least but I actually learned something from him. Shoutout to my RA. He was clutch! He let me try Krispy Kreme for the first time (it was sooo good!). My roommate thought she was my mother on too many occasions and I can’t believe I’m admitting this but I’m so happy I got stuck with her and not a crazy roommate. Don’t get me wrong, she was definitely crazy but it worked.

Academically, I had some of the best professors of my college career this semester. I had the pleasure of being taught by three exceptionally great educators in three extremely different courses. Each of these professors taught me valuable lessons in their respective subjects as well as life lessons. Naturally, many people are wondering what the major difference between Rutgers and NCCU are academically. I will explain the two main differences I noticed. 1. Classroom size is significantly smaller at NCCU. Being a psych major at Rutgers meant having a bunch of classes in lecture halls every semester. At Central, my largest class consisted of about 50 people and my smallest had only 11. I have to say I absolutely loved that aspect. I was able to connect with my professors more easily in the smaller environment and I felt more recognized. I was cautioned before going to Rutgers NB that I would only be considered a number and despite being a good student, it’s sadly true most times. Which brings me to my next realization: 2. Professors genuinely cared that my peers and I dreams come to fruition. I found that my professors required more of me and made sure I pushed myself. From the weekly extensive reading assignments, to holding me accountable for all of my actions; there was an overall sense of care that exceeded what’s required of professors. I really appreciated feeling like my success was linked to my peers and professors instead of separated from theirs.

A major part of this journey was for me to learn things about myself and explore new things. I would say I definitely learned a lot. I learned that no matter how long it seemed to take, I could get over my ex. That the last bus to leave Southpoint on a Sunday came at 6:19 and if I dared stay at the mall past that time I’d be getting a ride from an old ex-bus driver who was lowkey a creep. And I never ever need to work in retail again until I learn how to shop less.  l learned that people have the ability to impact my life in short periods of time. That no matter how much I try to please people everyone won’t ever be satisfied so I can no longer make decisions to benefit others. And that change of pace is necessary. Also, if the Panthers won a football game, Krispy Kreme donuts would be $4/dozen (I clearly did my exchange the perfect year). I learned that alone time allows us to reflect on the things we try to block out with company, and this is actually quite helpful. Ultimately, I learned that I have the ability and power to control my experiences in familiar and foreign places.
As my experience came to a close, NBC’s rendition of The Wiz premiered. In search of myself, just like the main characters, Dorothy and her friends, I realized I already had everything I was looking for. Like the lion, I had the courage to go hundreds of miles away from everything I had known and do something I really wanted to do. Because of this experience, I know I have the ability to do whatever I put my mind to. Like the tinman, I discovered that I am a sensitive, caring person. I’m not afraid to show my emotions publicly and I no longer view crying and being emotional as a weakness. Like the scarecrow, I learned that I am very intelligent and even when challenged, I can excel. As a result, I received a 4.0. And like Dorothy, I realized that no matter how hard it was to get home (and surprisingly, it was a very difficult task and I had to sacrifice some of my things), I would make it there and the people I love would be waiting for me.

Faiza is a junior Criminal Justice/ Psychology major at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. When she is not killing it in her classes, she is a full-time afro wearing, dark lipstick loving baddie. Pro tip: she probably dresses better than you. She is also my little sister and one of my favorite people on earth.