Reflections: Moving to Stanford from a small town


It is a Wednesday morning — I wake up to my alarm at 7:15 a.m., drag my sleep-deprived body out of bed and do some morning stretches. As of writing this, I have repeated this morning routine thirty-three times, but it seems that each time I wake up, I am still shocked by the simple fact that I am a Stanford student; it is almost as if I have to actively remind myself where I am and how blessed I am to be a part of such a unique academic and social community. This morning mood of estrangement is a surreal experience that I can narrow down to one major factor: being born and raised in a small town on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu called Aiea.

On a Wednesday morning in Aiea, I would not wake up to my alarm, but rather to the sound of my sister blow-drying her hair or my brother pillaging the kitchen food. Aiea contains fewer than ten thousand people, and the town’s hotspot is a tiny diner within a bowling alley that serves ono grindz (i.e., “delicious food”). Aiea is a slow town; elderly folks make up a large percentage of the demographic. Aiea is a place where teenagers meet up to shoot some hoops during weekdays at the local recreational center. Aiea is a place where parents go on dates at the nearby Pearlridge Mall. Aiea is a place where people don’t have to schedule lunches into a Google Calendar — socializing occurs organically and “on Hawaii time.”  

Perhaps you, too, hail from a small town. It may be a suburb in the midwestern United States, a village in Southeast Asia, or even a cabin in the Caribbean. If so, I hope that my reflections in this article make you realize that you are not alone. Perhaps you come from a large city — “the Big Apple,” London or Beijing. Regardless, my goal with this listicle is to give you a sense of what difficulties and opportunities people who come to Stanford from small communities may experience. My reflections:

Maintaining connections back home is difficult

Partly due to the fast pace of Stanford’s life, I often forget to stop, take a breather and remind myself that there is a world outside of Stanford — a world of friends and family away from “Stanford” friends and “Stanford” faculty. As harsh as it may sound, some relationships are like batteries: If you don’t make the effort to charge them, they may die out. Although I’m constantly found on the Stanford study grind and writing for the Stanford Grind, when I do find a sliver of free time to catch up with my Hawaii family and friends, I savor each moment like a scrumptious piece of haupia-Okinawan sweet potato pie. 

The pace of life at Stanford is incredibly fast

A large portion of students I’ve come to meet at Stanford hold Type A personalities. Perhaps this innate, ambitious mindset got them into Stanford in the first place, and it sure as hell keeps them here. Rushing students combined with week-three midterms, however, has left me both shocked and struggling to catch up with the rest of Stanford pack. 

Relationships are built, not stumbled upon

I’ve met multitudes of brilliant people here at Stanford who are simultaneously friendly and down-to-earth, something which never fails to amaze me. And although I am incredibly grateful and impressed by the feats and personal characteristics of my friends, I would be lying if I told you that I do not miss the tight-knit connections with friends back home — friends who are like sisters and brothers to me. It is through time and trials that relationships are forged; an active effort must be made. 

Three words: prioritize, prioritize and, oh, did I mention prioritize? 

Opportunities, both academically and socially, are endless here (think: speaker events with influential figures and late-night outings with friends). My best way to comprehend Stanford is understanding the institution as an endless ocean bigger than the Pacific — a vast plane. There is more to do than you can imagine. Most Stanford students hold a burning desire to make the most of their time here: They want to milk Stanford amenities (and funds). That said, I’ve come to accept the fact that I cannot do everything I’m interested in here at Stanford — there are too many opportunities to choose from. I am not a machine. I must prioritize my ideals and values and revise the activities I choose to engage in accordingly. 

College is my time — and your time, too!

Why am I here at Stanford? To be honest, it is for self-growth. For others, it may be to increase career prospects, make lasting connections, meet your soulmate. Although I hope to do all these things, my main focus in attending college is to improve myself. As self-focused as it may be, I am here at Stanford for my own growth, discovery and exploration. No one will do the heavy lifting for me. As much as I am used to a “bro, let’s just chill” mindset, now is the time to build my skills and improve myself from the ground up. Now is the time to work toward something simply because I’m interested in it. At Stanford, now is my time — and your time as well! 

Contact Matthew Mettias at mmettias ‘at’

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Matthew ("Matt") Mettias '23 writes for the Grind. He is from Aiea, Hawaii. His hobbies include taking care of his Chihuahua puppy; playing pickup basketball; and listening to Jawaiian, rap/hip-hop and 1960s music. Contact him at mmettias 'at'