College visit is a real eye-opener (and cold, too)

Nora Cassidy found out it was a lot colder in Minnesota than she ever expected.
Nora Cassidy found out it was a lot colder in Minnesota than she ever expected.

I pulled my scarf more tightly around my face so the freezing wind wouldn't find my nose and mouth. All of a sudden, I was tossed into a snow bank by my playful big brother. I lay in the snow, staring at it falling around me, and smiled.

Two weeks ago, I was in Minnesota bearing the freezing weather in order to visit my brother at Carleton College, a small liberal-arts school 30 miles south of Minneapolis, in a higher latitude than parts of Canada.

Flashback to two days before when my mom waved me into security: I was on my way to my first-ever solo plane flight and I was late. I didn't realize this until I got to my gate and I saw the last people boarding my plane. Three hours and four minutes later, I landed in Minneapolis with a quarter of a new scarf knitted and a few more songs from the "Hairspray" soundtrack memorized.

As I walked through the terminal, I drew a few glances: I had insisted on wearing pink flip-flops on the plane so that I could say that I had worn sandals in Minnesota in the middle of January. One couple in big coats and boots commented that "someone must have just come from Hawaii."

After a few more of these glances with eyes asking why I wasn't chaperoned because I obviously didn't have the mental capacity to keep myself safe, I listened to the message that my mom left on my phone during the flight warning me that the weather had worsened and I could now get frostbite in 10 minutes of exposure to the freezing elements. I quickly put on the boots and coat that had been stowed away in my luggage.

I'll admit I was very happy to have them when I stepped outside to meet my shuttle to Carleton. It was so cold! I was stunned; my brother had told me it was cold and I knew that it was minus-3 degrees out, but I never knew I would be so cold that my lungs would begin to constrict.

When I arrived in the little town of Northfield, now home to my brother, he was hard at work in the dining hall, where he scans people in to eat on Saturday nights. He got me a dining-hall hat and I experienced the stimulating experience of working in food service. We were constantly talking and meeting people, so the job wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

After viewing the bathrooms, I decided that given the choice between the freshman work study options of dining services or custodial services, I would much rather work in dining services.

After work, I attended the dance production Ebony II, a combination of 18 dance groups of Carleton students. Brendan was one of the many students participating in the program who had had little or no dance experience. The theater was packed and the audience was very enthusiastic, even during the dances that featured students who were there more for fun than for skill.

Through attending this and other normal social functions with Brendan and his friends, I felt I really got a good picture of what the school was like and the type of students who attend.

For the rest of the long weekend, my knowledge about Carleton and college life increased exponentially. I got a feel for the school that I could not have received from a guidebook. I stayed in the dorms, ate in the dining hall and went to classes.

I attended my brother's beginning Latin class on Monday morning. Even though they had been in session for only three weeks, they were already translating sentences from Latin to English. This gave me a good idea of how difficult classes were. Although I knew that college could be challenging and that Carleton College was a rigorous school, I had to see Brendan and his roommate Matt doing homework constantly in order to really understand the lifestyle there.

I also attended his computer-programming class, which I understood relatively well (a fact that I was very proud of!) until the teacher reminded the students that "letters are numbers." As the rest of the class nodded in agreement, I found myself staring at my brother, completely and utterly lost. He smiled at me knowingly and I made a note to never take programming classes because they seem to contradict logic.

Although neither of the classes were something that I would normally be interested in, I found myself fascinated in both of them, partly because the other students were engaged and partly because the teachers so clearly loved what they were doing.

Along with my new knowledge about the college, I also decided that the cold isn't quite as life-threatening as I'd thought. I stayed inside most of the time and the buildings are kept at very high temperatures (much higher than here in California). When outside, I even enjoyed the snow.

One night, Brendan took me "traying," which is like sledding except on a cafeteria tray. It was about 9 p.m., pitch dark outside and we were shouting and laughing, rolling down a steep, snow-covered hill.

We soon ditched the trays after we found real sleds that some students had left for others to use. After that, I decided that the snow and cold really weren't that bad as long as I was moving or having fun.

When considering colleges, I had assumed that the cold winters in Minnesota would be a deal-breaker, but I realized that I should not choose a school based on weather, but rather on the students and the teachers.

The night that my brother and I frantically left the dining hall because my shuttle to the airport was there and my stuff wasn't all packed, I was hugged and said "goodbye" to by many people. In the short time that I was there, I felt accepted and made friends despite my age.

Although I am not sure whether or not I will apply to Carleton, I feel that whatever decision I make will be well-informed and what I truly want. The only way I am able to have this confidence is because I saw the college for myself and not through the eyes of someone else.

So go ahead, travel a bit. Just don't forget those boots.

Nora Cassidy is a junior at Modesto High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom Journalism program.