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.
As someone who can’t remember a time before she was involved in singing for other people, it’s perhaps unsurprising that vocal performance major Hannah Benson ’15 has found a home in Wheaton’s Conservatory of Music.
“I love the way that studying voice makes me feel,” Hannah says. “I’m creating the sound physically, and it’s a very rewarding major to me because of that.”
As one of the lead roles in Wheaton’s Opera Music Theater production of Dido and Aeneas, Hannah has had ample opportunity to exercise her vocal talent in a community of fellow artists.
“I love the people in the conservatory,” she says. “Because there are so few of us and we’re constantly in the same building, we get to know each other really well. It becomes a really close-knit community.”
From Hannah’s perspective, this community includes professors, too. Working closely with well-trained professionals is made even more beneficial when paired with small class sizes and ensembles in which all participants know one another by name.
“It’s really rewarding in both the academic and emotional aspects,” Hannah says. “It’s been awesome.”
Hannah Benson '15 is a senior studying vocal performance in the Conservatory of Music. Learn more about her dreams and aspirations on her author bio page.
One of the most rewarding things I have done this year is to become a 1-2-1 leader as part of a program through the Office of Multicultural Development. As a 1-2-1 leader, my job is to be a resource to minority first-year or transfer students at Wheaton. 1-2-1 leaders make sure their 1-2-1 students know they have someone who is available to listen, hang out, study with, pray with, and help them adjust to life at Wheaton.
College is such a unique phase of life, and the change from senior year of high school to the first year of college is a dramatic transition. Being a minority adds an extra layer of complexities—at Wheaton, there aren’t many people that look like you or think like you, understand your background, or even share the same humor as you. 1-2-1 leaders provide a safe place for these students to express how they feel and know they are not alone.
College is hard. Being at Wheaton is hard. Being a person of color at a predominantly white institution is hard. But I believe that these hardships are meant to ultimately bring us together—we don’t have to navigate these unfamiliar waters alone. 1-2-1 provides a space where people can connect and begin to cultivate their own identity. Acceptance of that identity ultimately helps us begin to understand how best to interact with the people around us, regardless of race, class, gender, or other differences.
Early at the beginning of this semester, one of my 1-2-1 students sent me a text out of the blue that said, “How can you deal with being the only black person everywhere you go?” I called her and invited her to come over to my apartment, and we stayed up talking until the wee hours of the morning. Sharing our experiences ended up being so life-giving for both of us. Before she left, she gave me a huge hug and said, “Now I want to be a 1-2-1 leader!”
As part of the Wheaton community, we all have the potential to broaden each other’s horizons. We often develop false assumptions about people, and if we don’t check ourselves before acting on these assumptions, the repercussions can be hurtful. Being a 1-2-1 leader has taught me about the importance of taking time to listen to other people’s stories, pushing me to throw my preconceptions out the window. Everyone—no matter the race or culture—has a story that’s worth listening to. That is why we should approach our interactions with patience and grace.
Photos (above): Aseye Agamah '16 (front, center) gathers with her 1-2-1 students in Lower Beamer Center, fall 2014.
Jon Thornton ’16 couldn’t have guessed when he was first applying to Wheaton that working in the on-campus café—Sam’s—would become such a formative part of his undergrad experience. “I’ve made super strong relationships at Sam’s that have carried past when people have graduated from Wheaton . . . It’s a really good hub, not only for people who come to Sam’s, but for the employees to be able to get to know each other and hang out.”
Thornton describes Sam’s as one of the central meeting points on campus, and says he loves the chance to interact with “everyone on campus who doesn’t grab Starbucks on their way to work.” Located in the Beamer Student Center, which is sometimes thought of as the “living room” of campus, Sam’s workers like Thornton enjoy serving everyone from current students and professors to the visitors attracted by Alumni Weekend, Wheaton Connection visits, or community events like concerts or lectures.
Thornton’s love for people doesn’t just influence his preferred working environment—it also spills over into his chosen double major. Though he came into Wheaton as a freshman with the intent to study business and economics, Thornton discovered a passion and talent for new subjects through some of his general education courses. A communication and anthropology double major, Thornton loves to study “people groups and communication within people groups,” which he hopes will prepare him for work in advertising and marketing after graduation.
Thornton, who intends to pursue further studies in business at the graduate level, believes that the faith-based teaching he has received at Wheaton is part of what makes his education worthwhile. “I’ve interacted with a lot of really big ideas, and to be able to interact with those ideas in a Christian setting has been amazing,” he says.
Jon Thornton ’16 is a communication and anthropology double major. Video produced by Wheaton College Media Producer Kevin Schmalandt.