A Grateful Guest

In this guest blog post, Kirk shares his own experience as a transfer student from a unique perspective—having seen his twin go off to college, and as an older student. 

When I first came to State College, Pennsylvania, I was not there as a prospective student, but a supporting brother; my twin, Luke, was attending a summer orientation session full of mysterious acronyms and peppy undergrads, and I was merely a bystander. As a person who had enjoyed a quiet childhood in a small town that had been my home since birth, Penn State’s sprawling and regal campus felt alien and intimidating. However, even whilst being shuttled from place to place, losing my sense of direction with every change of location, the experience was warming and ultimately fueled my desire to visit my brother multiple times a year and eventually transfer there as a junior myself.

Much of the orientation I saw, and from what Luke told me, was aimed at both preparing students for life away from home, and at bringing them into the fold of the loyal Penn State student body. As far as I can tell, it worked very well—Luke even started to refer to himself as a “Penn Stater” instead of his usual “Bryn Athynite” in conversation and online. This wasn’t a bad change necessarily, but simply a byproduct of freshmen orientation, something I wouldn’t experience as strongly in my own.

After two years at Bryn Athyn College, I decided it was time for a change of pace, the reasons for which I won’t bore you with here. As when I applied to Bryn Athyn College, I only applied to the school I wanted, and was lucky enough to be accepted by Penn State.

Starting in January of 2014, I began the transfer student journey that lasted well into my junior year at Penn State. Beyond new forms that had to be filed and loans to be applied for, I also had to sign up for classes from a list I had never looked at before, using a list of terms and acronyms that were not used in my previous collegiate experience. The experience was daunting, to say the least, and I did not receive much help from Penn State as I had seen my brother receive two years earlier.

This is not to complain – the experience was a good life lesson in self-efficacy and handling new situations without other’s help – but with the backdrop of Luke’s freshmen orientation behind the reality of my own, lesser version, I couldn’t help but feel a bit abandoned by the admissions department at Penn State. Again, I seek no pity, but these were simply the frustrations I faced at that time.

Kirk and some of his family with the Nittany Lion, Penn State’s mascot.

Because of the lackluster and challenging transfer to Penn State, I did not begin my tenure there as a “Penn Stater,” both in my mind and the minds of others. I introduced myself as “Kirk, the history-major transfer student” to be honest and avoid needless conversations about history classes that I had not taken. It wasn’t difficult to make friends despite this separation, but there were a series of other, more subtle issues that spawned in my two years at Penn State that I can now see in hindsight.

The first issue presented itself most blatantly in my gen-eds and language courses: I was the old guy in the room. Students usually take their gen-eds in their first and second years, but transfers usually have a few to catch up on that don’t overlap from college to college. Furthermore, I was required to take a language for my major, and I was placed in with the freshmen just beginning their language classes.

The second issue centered around my resume building process. When I began to consider what internships and official positions I’d like to apply for to make my resume more robust, I found it difficult to run for offices in clubs I had only been a member in for a few months. Lastly, where other students had gone through a few preparation job fairs, and had more time to scout out their options, my first career fair was still during my entry period where I hardly even knew how to work the homework portal system, let alone navigate the job fair system.

While there are other things that I could continue to discuss, I will conclude by summarizing the point I’m trying to make. In my experience at Penn State as a transfer student, you come in feeling like a guest, and leave in the same manner. I’m incredibly grateful for my experiences and friends garnered at Penn State, but I never felt the intense patriotic pain that others felt while watching Hackenburg get sacked behind the line of scrimmage, or took to the streets to riot and protest the NCAA for penalties levied against Penn State.

Regardless, I think upon my years at Penn State happily from behind my desk in Japan, not with anger, and there’s nothing more I’d like to do than grab a coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts on the corner of Frazier and Beaver and watch the fall leaves blow along in the wind.

– Kirk Dean Synnestvedt

kirk-bioI grew up in a small town called Bryn Athyn, PA and attended the school system there until the end of my sophomore year of college. After that I transferred to the Pennsylvania State University where I majored in History with minors in Japanese Language and Asian Studies.

I got married a month after graduation, and promptly moved to Japan to work as an assistant language teacher in the Japanese school system through the JET Program. I am currently living in Beppu city, Oita Prefecture in southern Japan, and enjoying every minute and challenge of it.