Freshly landed in Boston, I was sitting in an Uber heading for Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus on move-in day in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic was seemingly finally starting to recede after more than a year of being mostly stuck at home, and there I was halfway across the world on the cusp of starting my college education in the United States. Tufts had not been part of my initial shortlist, but I kept hearing increasingly good things about it. I felt it was starting to gain name recognition at my school and in my home country of Lebanon.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to a ban on non-essential travel into America: It prevented me from visiting campus before committing to Tufts, and my parents could not help me move in to soften the blow. I was undoubtedly slightly apprehensive. Moving from Beirut, a city in a tiny Middle-Eastern country, to Boston is no easy transition.
The view from outside the cab did little to calm my apprehensions. I remember knowing from the first second that something was wrong. Instead of the Boston views and proximity promised in the admission leaflets, the unsightly wooden houses of Medford and Somerville came into view as I made my way up College Avenue. The campus was a vast construction site, as the Green Line Extension and the Joyce Cummings Center were still under construction. While the Science and Engineering Complex somewhat relieved my urbanist tendencies, I found myself in a small suburban town that, to an international student, felt all too distant from Boston’s fabric. I told myself I could get used to the setting, but then other aspects of life at Tufts dawned on me.
First of all, I could not adapt to the dining hall schedule. On weekdays, campus life shuts off at 8 p.m. Meals themselves became a chore rather than a restful moment of my day, a feeling compounded by the limited food options and the absence of any viable options around campus (Davis Square is too far from freshman housing to be considered a valid alternative). I was trying to modulate my schedule and adapt, but I could not. The lack of company was painful. I was used to big table settings and long meals, but Tufts Dining compelled me to grab whatever I found and eat alone because of what was now considered my ‘quirky’ eating schedule — influenced by the Lebanese tendency to eat later than Americans do.
In short, the international student population in Medford is small and not diverse enough. There aren’t enough international recruits to create a sustainable community. Tufts pushes for internationals to adapt and mingle with local students; however, international students need people they can relate to: They need some of their own as a safety cushion to fall back on when they need to talk. I felt unable to vent to people around me; they were not as homesick as I was, and our cultures were so different that I was unsure if I could communicate my situation.
I say all this because my academic experience at Tufts was exceptional, making my concerns all the more frustrating. Indeed, classes I took in subjects as varied as physics and French literature were some of the best I’ve ever taken in college. Tufts’ emphasis on practical teaching through group projects, activities and study cases based on real-life events and applications makes its engineering curriculum remarkably engaging and fun. The Intro to Engineering class and its varied selection of course topics were a true highlight of my degree path and I am amazed at how many coding languages and electrical circuit concepts I acquired strictly from that one semester-long introductory class. Justifying an academic need for my transfer request was the most challenging part of my transfer application. But I faced a legitimate problem: the sharp cleavage between the School of Engineering and the School of Arts and Sciences.
I met many passionate fellow engineers at Tufts, but our shared interests faded outside of class. While they went on to join the Society of Physics Students, I preferred writing articles for the Daily. I tried seeking the company of humanities students, but our radically different schedules and a general climate of physical and educational separation between engineering and liberal arts students complicated my efforts. I often missed out on the smaller classes and more engaging lecturers that Tufts prides itself on. Tufts’ faculty is remarkable, making students feel like they are in a captivating and academically engaging environment, but the school misses the mark on the transparency of its marketing, especially towards international students. The university should set its academic might in an equally engaging environment by investing in its surroundings. Attracting more food and beverage options to the immediate surroundings of campus would also be a boon for the Tufts experience. Tufts should seriously rethink its recruiting pitch to better manage students’ admittedly high expectations, especially for the sake of the many international students who can’t visit Medford before committing. It should also encourage campus diversity by attracting a more comprehensive foreign student population; an increased presence of international students creates a breadth of opinions shared in class, on campus and in daily dorm conversations and it is the most enriching part of my current college experience.
I ended my transfer essay with this sentence: “Tufts is a great school, but it is simply not for me.” I am not alone in raising those issues, as I have met half a dozen other Tufts transfers around Columbia, all wearing their Jumbo merch, and they all shared my concerns. Leaving Medford was one of those singular, bittersweet moments of my life. I left behind friends I loved: Some have visited me back home on the other side of the world, others have unfortunately also been unable to adapt and dropped out. I do want to thank friends and professors for the impact they left. I wrote this Op-ed to make clear the reasons that pushed me out despite the good times and enthralling conversations we shared. Pax et Lux.