Finding One’s Place as an MK in College
By Courtney Rockness
Sophomore. English Writing major. Collegiate swimmer. Friend. Classmate. If you’re a Wheaton College student, you may know Gloria Coleman by one or a few of these trademark labels.
How would her closest friends describe her? “Hilarious”, “Super supportive” and “Hardworking”. They say she is “dedicated to doing good work in the things that she’s passionate about”. She is confident in who she is and where she wants to go. Gloria has clearly made an impact on others and found her place at Wheaton.
Yet it wasn’t always that way.
Though you may not be able to tell from appearances, one outstanding trait makes Gloria unique from her college peers. Unlike many of them, she did not actually grow up in the United States. Her family actually lives in Greece, where her parents are missionaries and where she spent the majority of her life.
Therefore, going off to school for Gloria meant many vast transitions, more so than your typical college student. College involved moving overseas and being further away from family and friends than ever before. It meant shifting from homeschooling to a school with nearly 2,000 students. And with it came with it the cultural shock of living in a foreign place.
It was, needless to say, not the smoothest transition one could have.
Life Back Home
Now a great distance from her home, Gloria recalls the fond memories that she had there.
She lived on the island of Crete with her parents and two younger brothers. Though not super close with her extended family due to living overseas, it is the relationships with her immediate family and friends that defined her childhood years.
Many of her interests and passions stem from shared experiences with her family. For example, Gloria loves sports, particularly motorcycle racing, hockey and competitive swimming. Growing up, watching motorcycle racing was a tradition for Gloria and her dad. Every other Sunday during the summer, they would sit down together and watch races. Gloria has even gotten to ride some of the motorcycles her dad owned.
Additionally, her love for hockey stems from her parents’ ties to the United States. Gloria’s dad is from Philadelphia, and her mom from Michigan, so hockey is naturally a sport the Coleman family enjoys. As a family they cheer for the Detroit Redwings.
Lastly, Gloria loves to swim and always has. She joined her first swim team at age 12 or 13, and loved it from the very beginning. She was homeschooled, so participating in her swim team was an experience that enabled her to make close friends. Some of her favorite high school memories are from her swim team experience.
Swimming is also a shared experience she has with her two younger brothers. They both competed on swim teams as well. The older one, now 17, is more academic and doesn’t swim anymore, but the younger one, 14, still enjoys it.
Transitioning to the U.S.
Gloria arrived in the United States four days before orientation her freshman year. Immediately the transition was a shock. The first month or so of school she describes as an extremely rough transition, in both expected and unexpected ways.
As expected, it was hard being away from family. Though she regularly called them to catch up, it was quite different from being with them in person.
Gloria also revealed her struggle with having extended family in the States whom she barely knows. It was them, not her family in Crete, whom she returned to for Christmas break and during the coronavirus pandemic.
Challenges have also involved cultural differences, some more unexpected than others. The food is different, Gloria notes, which is something she knew would be an adjustment. Yet other things, such as not knowing where to go to buy a pair of shoes, caught her off guard.
Another difference she mentioned was how people in the United States seem to drop by each other’s houses unannounced. In Greece, Gloria explains, you don’t see these dynamics at all. You never go to anyone’s house uninvited, and you typically arrange a visit to someone way in advance. Things like this still throw her off, and she always has to text people in advance when she comes over.
Though it is often still difficult, the longer Gloria has been in the United States, the more she has adjusted to changes and found her place.
Finding Her Place in College
Despite missing her parents and brothers, staying with her extended family isn’t all bad, Gloria explains. This summer she got really close to her younger cousins and it was like having sisters, which she’s never had.
Gloria has also loved being at Wheaton so far.
As she applied to schools, Gloria’s parents suggested going to a Christian college and swimming for at least a year. And so she did, choosing Wheaton and joining its varsity swim team.
So far, the Wheaton swim team has been a major part of Gloria’s college experience. She has loved being part of it for its tight-knit community, which to her feels like family. The team is small, with only about 40 members both girls and guys. Because of this, they are able to grow very close to one another.
Despite being an introvert, one of Gloria’s favorite things to do is hang out with people. The swim team is a great outlet for that. This year, especially with the COVID restrictions on campus, this has meant many outside activities. She loves doing anything outside, like frisbee, Spikeball, volleyball, etc, no matter how good she is at it.
Gloria has also enjoyed classes and thinks her professors are awesome. She’s on track to graduate with an English Writing major and a Journalism certificate. Her dream job would be to become a sports reporter.
Major transitions such as the one Gloria went through when coming to college are always hard. Yet despite being at a school far away from her home in both physical location and familiarity, Gloria has truly overcome challenges and been able to find her niche at Wheaton College.