A Sociology and Environmental Analysis major from Hong Kong, Natasha Cheng ’16 is a member of the Asian Pacific American Coalition and a tour guide in the Admission Office. In a candid interview, Natasha discusses her transition to Pitzer, and how she’s given back to the Pitzer community.
Tell me about your high school experience.
I attended the Proctor Academy in New Hampshire, which was very rural. There were lots of hiking trails in the nearby mountains, and on Fridays we had Polar Swims – we would jump into the icy winter water, and then get doughnuts afterwards. That was so much fun! During my senior year, I got to do a Semester at Sea, and then I did a road trip from Ontario, CA back to New Hampshire for graduation, which was super-cool!
What convinced you to attend Pitzer?
Well, singer Matt Nathanson (a Proctor alumnus) went to Pitzer, so I guess I’m following in his footsteps! Matt came back to Proctor as our commencement speaker, and when I read his biography, I discovered Pitzer. I wanted to be closer to home (I’m from Hong Kong), and I wanted to be on the West Coast, especially since I’d been on the East Coast for four years. I visited a lot of schools, but when I visited Pitzer for the second time, I was really drawn to the campus. My mom loved the school, too!
What was it about that second visit that was so helpful?
The campus vibe! I remember that it was a very nice day outside, so my mom and I walked around Claremont. We went to The Village for lunch, and then walked by Honnold-Mudd Library and the music building at Scripps. I thought, ‘Wow, Claremont is really cool!’ Initially I was very indecisive about what I wanted. I was looking for a small school with big resources, so I liked how the Claremont University Consortium worked. It gives you a good balance – the smaller Pitzer community plus the larger Claremont community.
How was your initial transition to Pitzer?
It was challenging, especially since I’m an English-language learner. I wasn’t a part of the International Scholars Program, but my English wasn’t strong enough for the College in general. I struggled a little at first, but I got lots of help from my first-year seminar professor, who was really nice! She recommended that I take a second writing course, and the Pitzer Writing Center helped a lot, too. I definitely took advantage of all the resources I could! The Asian Pacific American Coalition (APAC) was a big part of my life, too. I went on a weekend retreat through APAC and met lots of new friends. That trip helped me to break out of my shell.
Can you describe your experiences with the Pitzer Writing Center?
The Writing Center was helpful. I was scared to go there at first, but my first-year seminar professor required us to visit the Center to get help. At first I was afraid to show them my writing, especially since the peer writing mentors are you fellow students, but they were very helpful and respectful of my work. I kept going back for help. The candy they have helped too!
How would you rate your Pitzer experience overall?
I’ve loved it so far! There have been struggles, but everyone struggles in college. I keep myself very busy and involved with the College. APAC has been the biggest part of my college life at Pitzer. I live with a few of the sponsors, and we always hang out together! I never found a community like APAC in high school, because my school was predominantly white. As an international student coming from Asia, I experience culture shock to the max! Knowing that people are here for me and that they face the same struggles definitely helped me adjust to Pitzer.
What are some of the activities you’ve done outside of class?
I’ve served on the Pitzer Activities (PAct) board for 1 ½ years (I was the treasurer last year). We organize a bunch of activities, including cosmic bowling, and a spring carnival that had Sumo suit wrestling, a bouncy house, henna tattoos, face painting and a photo booth! We also sponsor Snacky Snack on Tuesday nights.
What is Snacky Snack?
Snacky Snack is a fun community-building event! Every Tuesday night at 10, Pitzer students can get free food at our Demonstration Kitchen. PAct members vote on the theme for each week’s snack. Last year we also brought in speakers and played music for everyone. We also had dance and a capella groups come and perform. It’s a nice study break on a Tuesday night. You can put sugar in your body and get ready for more studying!
Are there other activities in which you’ve been involved?
I was an International Student Mentor last year…it was great getting to know the rest of the international students at Pitzer! I also participated in New International Student Orientation at International Place. I got to meet international students from all seven Claremont Colleges, and that was cool, too!
What are some memorable courses that you’ve taken at Pitzer?
There were two courses that helped me decide to major in Sociology and Environmental Analysis. One was Urban Ecology, taught by Dr. Susan Phillips, the coolest professor in the world! She specializes in Los Angeles gangs. Urban Ecology focused on material that I could relate to, and issues that I was passionate about. Last semester, I took Race and Ethnic Relations with Dr. Anthony Francoso. I decided to major in sociology because of that course. He made everyone in the class feel comfortable about sharing our ideas…his class was a very, very safe place. I spoke up a lot in that class, which isn’t like me! I was never afraid to speak up, and that too helped me come out of my shell.
What advice would you give to prospective students about Pitzer?
You have to visit Pitzer! Pitzer is a unique place, and you have to feel the vibe in order to understand our community. Everyone is nice and welcoming, and you can definitely find a group of friends. You might feel overwhelmed during your first few weeks because there are so many resources, but Pitzer is a very supportive community. It’s not hard to fit in.
How can students have a successful first year at Pitzer?
Take advantage of all of our resources. Meet with as many students as possible! You can get the faculty perspective from our professors, but talking to students will help you get different perspectives on classes and resources. That will help you figure out what you want to do at Pitzer.
What is your favorite Pitzer memory thus far?
There are so many! The APAC retreat last year was a lot of fun! We went hiking, cooked together and made s’mores. We hung out and got to know each other better…it was fun and educational at the same time, because we talked about a lot of Asian American issues. Even though I don’t identify as American, there are still a lot of issues that Asians face in America. Knowing that I am a role model and that I have role models to look up to…having that whole support system in one place is very satisfying.
What are you hoping to accomplish these next two years? What are your plans after graduation?
I’m VERY excited about studying abroad in Nepal next spring! It will be my first time staying somewhere other than Hong Kong or the United States, in a place I’m not familiar with. I don’t know what to expect, but that’s what excites me about the experience. It’ll be my first time living with a host family, too. Getting to know the culture is going to be cool! After I graduate, I want to go to graduate school to pursue a business degree. That experience will be helpful no matter what I decide to do.
Click here for more information about international students at Pitzer!