Op-ed: Making a home at GW as a transfer student

Kamau Louis is a junior majoring in international affairs with a concentration in security policy.

A realization hit me in the summer of 2019: I don’t want to go back to Florida A&M in Tallahassee. I was in D.C. at the time, participating in a summer internship based at GW. I was living the D.C. dream – working steps away from the White House and taking a leadership class taught by a former member of Congress. This is the life I had always imagined for myself. I had already tried to go to college in D.C. twice, getting rejected from Howard University when I was a high school senior and again after my freshman year for not taking the correct math course. When I returned to college at Florida A&M University, I put in all my energy into making sure I got into a college in the District.

I applied to five colleges: Georgetown, George Washington, American, Howard and Johns Hopkins universities because I thought “Why not.” But I knew GW was the place for me because I loved the location, I felt at home when I visited the Elliott School of International Affairs and I just wanted to live in a big city like D.C. I’ve loved D.C. ever since I attended Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, when I was 8 years old. D.C. is such a historic city with soul.

The decision to transfer from FAMU was not easy. I was leaving my father’s alma mater, all the friends I made over the past year, the excellent reputation I had built up with my peers and my professors. The prospect of transferring to a school that was only 8 percent Black was unnerving. FAMU is a historically Black college. It is a college brimming with Black excellence. Attending FAMU made me feel comfortable in an academic environment as a person of color. My discomfort stemmed from the fact I spent a large part of middle and high school being bullied for my race. I was called slurs, laughed at and made to feel ashamed that I was Black. The prospect of going back to that environment scared me, but I knew GW was the place for me. I just loved how the campus was in the center of everything and the academics of the Elliott School of International Affairs.

In the months after I applied I had second thoughts. If I were to transfer there was a chance that the feeling of not belonging could return. That scared me. The idea of leaving everything familiar and going to a foreign place was scary, but I knew D.C. is where I was truly going to grow as a person.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. My dreams of being in D.C. and living the GW college life that I had been waiting for were thrown into disarray. I got my acceptance decisions in early June. I was rejected from Hopkins and Georgetown universities, and accepted to Howard and American universities but with barely any aid. GW was the only school to accept me and give me a good financial aid package.

I knew it would not be a regular academic year when GW canceled fall housing for most of its students. It was hard making friends over Zoom, but I realized from messaging people in my class and asking them for coffee was the best way to make friends. Nonetheless, I experienced many lonely nights, and I felt disconnected from the university I worked so hard to transfer to. When I moved on campus in the spring, I started making TikToks from my account @realkamau about GW and going to school in D.C. and became an extremely minor GW TikTok celebrity. This helped me meet people and eventually meet my amazing girlfriend. I joined the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. Joining TKE made me feel like I had a home here at GW. My fraternity brothers reminded me of the summer of 2019 where I was surrounded by a group of incredible, bright and ambitious young men. Overall, I am now your typical GW student now: I’m an International Affairs major with a political internship and an Instagram filled with pictures of the national mall. As a cherry on top, I also landed a good internship and did pretty well academically. Then it hit me again. I made it through a pandemic, transferring colleges and moving cities. I have found a community here at GW, and all my fears I had – like not fitting in and missing home – did not come true. I’m happy here and ready to make my mark at GW.

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