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Photograph by Kaamil Jones


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Four College Freshmen Photograph Their First Semester

We asked some incoming students to capture what it meant to be the new kids at school.

This story appears in VICE Magazine's Power and Privilege Issue. Click HERE to subscribe.

College is, if nothing else, a period of transition. If you’re like a lot of people, you’re away from home for the first time—sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles from where you grew up—and you’re adjusting to living in a dorm room with a person you’ve never met before. You have no friends yet, and the prospect of meeting new people can be, well, a daunting one. Though the future can seem uncertain and intimidating, with it comes opportunity: to explore who you are, to challenge your expectations, to study subjects—whether they be political, cultural, or philosophical—that you haven’t studied before.


It’s one of the most formative experiences a young person can have, and we decided to see how, exactly, some students were adjusting to their newfound freedom. This summer, we reached out to some nonprofits and schools—in Mexico and the United States—and found four students on the cusp of this evolution: a communications major near Mexico City who’s hoping to combine her interests in the arts with her passion for social causes; a young man coming from a project-based high school that didn’t administer any tests; a 26-year-old woman, formerly a foster child, who’s returning to university; and a queer Chinese American who is grappling with her identity and worried about falling victim to the potential stress and anxiety of studying at Columbia University.

What they captured at the start of this fall are their attempts at representing this fleeting moment. —VICE STAFF


Paola Celeste Alanís Ricárdez
Age: 17
School: Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education
Major: Communication

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a former teen adviser of the Girl Up Campaign. I live in a city called Toluca, near Mexico City, and I am just starting college in my town. I love all kinds of art, especially films, dance, painting, books, and music. I am studying communications because I want to introduce social causes to the media and other forms of expression, such as journalism, filmmaking, and artworks, among many others.


What concerns you about entering college this fall?
Making new friends, getting good grades, liking my classes, getting lost on campus—even whether I have chosen the right school.


Tell us about the photos you took.
I am a communications student at the Tecnológico de Monterrey [Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education] campus in Toluca, in Mexico. I am just starting college, and throughout my first experiences in school, I’ve been able to relate to other students about our fears and expectations of starting this new stage of our lives. My purpose with these photos is to show the process of adaptation that we all go through—about how, now, we’re worried about the choices we’re making. Nevertheless, with fears come expectations, and these may be really positive, like the excitement of meeting new people with the same interests, building new memories, and involving ourselves in university events.



Name: Kaamil Jones
Age: 18
School: Penn State Abington
Major: Broadcast Journalism

Tell us a bit about yourself.
Growing up, I’ve always known what I wanted to do, but my mind has always been open to new things! Throughout high school, I was on a Students Run Philly Style team, and I ran two full marathons, a half marathon, and four ten-milers! I never saw myself as athletic, but this taught me I could do anything I wanted to do. I’m the first in my family to go to college—my parents had me in high school—and when I was six months old, my father was shot and paralyzed, so I was a case that didn’t look too good to have a good future. My original plan was to attend a university in New York City, but due to financial reasons, that had to change, which I’m actually much happier about. I’m very passionate about politics but specifically how equity and equality plays a part. I love my friends. We all come from very different backgrounds, racially, financially, politically, etc., but we have built a very kind and fun friendship so that we can learn from one another and our experiences as we grow older.


What concerns you about entering college this fall?
I’m concerned if I’ll be able to adjust to a school where there are lots of tests. I come from a project-based school that teaches you how to critically think and actually do things; they don’t teach for the test. I definitely think I’ll be able to succeed, but that’s my one academic concern. A social concern I have is if I’ll be able to make friends. This semester I’ll be a commuter, and so far the people I’ve met are staying on campus. The school is considered a commuter school, so I’ll see how everything works out!


Tell us about the photos you took.
Photographing Penn State Abington was an adventure. For my piece, I decided to photograph the nature that surrounds the campus while also giving a sneak peek into my daily commute. The campus is full of greenery, so I was sure to find little pops of color. I have a four-hour gap in between classes, but I don’t bother going back home. I explore the campus, go to the gym, do homework, and hang with friends—so I wanted to make sure I captured that in these images.



Name: Angela Wei Jiang
Age: 17
School: Columbia University
Major: Human Rights and Economics

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a queer Chinese American who has a passion for using my perspective and privilege to improve the lives of others. I enjoy writing, reading, podcasts, and engaging in local politics. I hope to work in government and humanitarian aid in the future, but until then learn as much as I can.


What concerns you about entering college this fall?
I’m concerned about making deep friendships like the onesI had in high school. The whole whirlwind of the next step in our lives is conducive to people grasping for convenient friends and becoming different people for the sake of avoiding loneliness. I hope that I have the strength to preserve my identity and find a cohort of individual people who appreciate that.


Tell us about the photos you took.
These pictures are of one of my traditional Chinese nightgowns from back home in the wind on the “college walk” of Columbia University. It represents how at the whim of my surroundings my identity is and how vulnerable that makes me feel. I resonate strongly with my Chinese heritage, and I don’t want to lose that while I’m here. Simultaneously, I know, like the gown, I bend and mold to my surroundings and can get caught up in what’s going on around me.

I also wanted to show stress culture, because the university I am attending was ridden with it, which led to some student deaths, and the university is doing its best to destroy that culture of comparison and competition. I’m terrified that I’ll get caught up in my studies and be the type of person to entrench ideals of workaholism or stress culture when, in reality, no one wants to sleep less than five hours. Balance and independence are things I have to learn extremely quickly, and I’m just not sure if I’m ready for that yet.




Name: Jackson Flowers
Age: 26
School: Texas Tech University
Major: Human Sciences

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a singer. I’m married to a cool redheaded model named Gunnar. I have two big dogs. I lived in Australia for a year. I am a karaoke jockey every Saturday. I play the violin. I grew up in a trap house and then at 13 was put into foster care. I’ve never done drugs. I love social media. I really want to pursue a career in music and singing. I recently moved to LA, where I have lived previously. I’ve been to 22 countries (all paid for by myself). My husband’s family doesn’t like me because I have tattoos (haha). I feel like college isn’t for me, but I really don’t want to let other foster kids down. I’ve spoken at little foster care events, and they always seem so excited and proud. I just want to be happy.

What concerns you about entering college this fall?
This is not my first time in college, but it is my first time back in a while. I aged out of foster care and then traveled the world for a few years. Now I’m back, and I feel old. I feel like my time has passed. But I get free tuition, so I feel like I have to go. Other foster kids look up to me. I have depression and anxiety. And I just want to get good grades.


Tell us about the photos you took.
When looking at my life and how hectic things have always been, I have found a sort of peace in constant change and transition. I wanted to show the basics behind change and how the smallest things can be the biggest factors when someone is becoming something else. Pain, sadness, stillness, happiness, experience. Every photo I took is expressing a different moment in time, right after a feeling enlightened me to remember that I am changing, to remember that I am trying to better myself by moving forward with school, my music, my mental health, and everything in between.

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