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Freshmen 15: tales of transition to Berea - part 1

Fifteen first-year students share the tales of their transition to Berea College. In the first of the two-part series, we explore the stories of seven students.

Berea students share their stories.

The time has come again, when Berea’s dormitories are filled with fresh young faces, many of whom are leaving home for the first time. Dorm life, homework and midterm exams are many of the challenges students must encounter when arriving at a new school. For some, the transition has been easy. Many have found that making friends, managing time, and getting accustomed to the Appalachian region have been far better than they could have ever imagined. Many incoming students have already overcome serious challenges for the opportunity to come to Berea.

Berea College is very generous to students of promise who demonstrate financial need. For many, coming to Berea provides a way out of their bleak economic circumstances, enabling them to build better lives. But for some students, coming from the resource-deprived areas of Appalachia brings academic challenges as they try to adapt to a new environment and build study and social skills necessary for success in school.

1. James “Jimmy" Wilder
Oakridge, TN


Jimmy Wilder heard about Berea College from his creative writing teacher . When Jimmy turned 18, he had troubles at home that made it difficult for him to go to school. Even though he was still a minor, Jimmy was working to pay rent and struggling to find enough food.

Because of his schedule and financial circumstances, he found that he was having a hard time balancing both work and school. After his ex-girlfriend’s grandparents took him in, he still lived off his paycheck and ate only one meal a day. It was then that his creative writing teacher, learning about Jimmy’s economic situation and family problems, nominated him to come to Berea.

Jimmy shared that after he filled out his applications he had to do a lot of "fighting" to get to Berea. He had to submit a lot of documents to the federal government to verify his economic situation, establishing that he wouldn’t be able to use his parents’ income to pay for college.

Fortunately, Jimmy has remained optimistic as he shares his story. Because of his journey, Jimmy feels he is adjusting to Berea well. “Well, I have an official home now,” he shares, smiling. “Now I’m eating three meals a day, so I think I’m doing better just by that fact.”

He said that for the first time he is able to keep up well with his classes, something he was unable to do in high school.

As a reminder of his journey, Jimmy keeps a comic book in his pocket that he has had with him since he was about four. He used his old comics as an escape when he was having trouble at home. Now he’s just happy to read them during his down time, not because he needs to escape, but just for the pleasure of having the free time to occasionally do so. Jimmy is considering a double major in English and Psychology.

1. Stephanie Mullins
Clintwood, Virginia


Stephanie learned about Berea through the advice of her chemistry teacher, a graduate of Berea College, who encouraged her to apply. She has discovered that the people at Berea have been really nice and helpful. To the excitement of her friends, Stephanie brought her DVD collection to Berea to help her through the transition. But as of yet, she has not felt homesick.

Stephanie plans to pursue her degree in English.

2. Latierra Randle
Chicago, Illinois


Latierra heard about Berea from her doctor. Latierra’s doctor had a coworker whose daughter graduated from Berea. The doctor spoke of Berea to Latierra’s mother, who then passed the information along.

Latierra has found that her time at Berea has been going "extremely well." She’s found the students and faculty to be very helpful when she’s needed help. To help ease her way through her transition into college, Latierra brought pictures of her friends and family back in Chicago. She shares, “I just brought a lot of pictures so I can remember people when I miss them.”

Latierra wants to major in Child and Family Studies.

3. Sophia Riehemann
Bellview, KY


Sophia learned about Berea from her father, who worked at Berea several years ago. Sophia described her transition for the first couple of weeks. “So far it hasn’t really hit me. It’s still kind of like I’m at camp, as odd as that may sound. But I’m starting to get a little homesick, mostly for my cats."

But she's found other feline friends at Berea: "The Science Department cats are pretty nice, though, but the kittens are being taken away to a farm, apparently.”

To keep herself from getting homesick, Sophia also brought her teddy bear, also known as Greeny Bear. Greeny reminds her of the original Greeny Bear that a cousin gave her at a carnival when she was very young. Sophia admitted that the new Greeny Bear isn’t like the original -- which she keeps at home for safe keeping -- and that she has had the original Greeny Bear for as long as she can remember.

She jokes, “I apparently got it when I was two, but I’m just going to say I’ve had it forever.”

Sophia hopes to pursue a double major in both Asian Studies and Art.

4. Brent Mathis
Shelbyville, KY


Brent came to Berea unsure, like many freshmen, of what he wants to pursue. “I’m not really sure what I want to do. I don’t really feel like anything I want to do really requires a college degree. I just like to learn, and I like to be with people.”

Brent was drawn to Berea's free tuition and its diversity of programs that allows him to explore more career options.

Those who don’t have classes with Brent are likely to see him with a guitar in hand, sipping a cup of fair trade coffee, or simply sitting around taking in the best Appalachia has to offer. Brent, who brought his guitar from home, taught himself to play as he accompanied his dad on local gigs. He admits that he has never taken lessons and he has not yet learned how to read music.

Brent shows a talent for picking up by ear the tunes of songs, even those of recent artists like John Legend. Brent still plays guitar with his dad on occasion but noted, “In this economy, nobody wants to pay for music anymore, so we don’t play it a whole lot.”

Brent is considering a major in English or Creative Writing.

5. Sachi Yoshimura
Fukuoka City, Japan


Sachi Yoshimura learned about Berea from a school brochure at Kyushu University, Berea's partner institution for exchange programs. Sachi has found the people at Berea to be very generous. She discovered that she had difficulty in some of her classes and was a little homesick when she first arrived. But she has found that with help from other students, she now enjoys her classes much more.

“I love my classes. Whenever I am in trouble, everyone helps me. I thank them very much. Now I’m okay because everyone has been very friendly to me. Now I don’t feel so lonely.”

Sachi also spends many hours practicing her Koto, the Japanese harp that she brought from home. Sachi shared that her mother also played the koto for many years, which is how she became interested in it at an early age. She began taking lessons on the instrument at the age of nine. But at 16, Sachi's right hand was paralyzed in a traffic accident, so she had to stop playing. She began playing the koto again in college when her arm started to recover.

Sachi, who will be graduating soon, is majoring in English Literature and Linguistics at Kyushu University. She hopes to specialize in American Literature.

6. Tiffany Pope
Colorado Springs, Colorado


Tiffany learned about Berea from her brother, a 2007 Berea graduate. Tiffany noticed that because she no longer had her parents around to tell her what to eat or when to go to bed, she had been losing “a crazy amount of weight” and had not sleeping well. Tiffany also found that adjusting to the course load also proved to be an enormous challenge.

“Well, I never had to study in high school and, apparently, you have to study in college. So, learning how to study when you’ve never had to study before is the hardest thing.”

While she remains optimistic and has been working hard to learn how to make these changes, Tiffany has found that the teddy bear that she brought from home has brought her some. Tiffany received the teddy bear, Scout, from her boyfriend. It was originally a Valentine’s Day gift that she had given to her boyfriend. But when Tiffany came to college, he gave Scout back to her as a memento.

In addition to Scout, Tiffany also brought two other bears from home that she received earlier as a child. But she finds a special attachment to Scout because to her, Scout has a "heartbeat" that brings her calm.

Tiffany plans on pursuing her degree in Elementary Education.

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