The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

First-years reflect on first-semester surprises as they transition to Music City

Four first-year students compare and contrast their early impressions of Vanderbilt’s campus and the greater city of Nashville to their hometowns.
Abby Hoelscher
Students eat lunch at the Commons Dining Center, as photographed on Sept. 7, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Abby Hoelscher)

All of a sudden, it’s already a month into my first year at Vanderbilt. Coming to college, I was very eager to meet people from all different backgrounds. I grew up in a very liberal county tucked inside of a greater metropolitan city all within the lines of a fairly conservative state, but when I don’t have time for that speech, I just say I’m from St. Louis. I expected that Nashville would be similar, so there is not a lot that I found surprising about the city itself.

That being said, coming to college and Vanderbilt especially has felt like moving to a whole separate galaxy from the world in which I grew up. I’ve always been aware that the point of higher education is to acquire knowledge, but I didn’t expect to truly feel like I learn something new every day. Not only have I been taught the infamous choreography from the “Cups” song from “Pitch Perfect” and how to do a cartwheel, but I’ve had the opportunity to speak with individuals and absorb perspectives I had never even imagined. There have been a few pills that have been hard to swallow, too, including the acceptance of imposter syndrome on such a reputable campus and the fact that the 3:1 squirrel-to-student ratio may actually be an understatement.

I was curious to talk with other first-year students from around the world about what aspects of Vanderbilt surprised them. Lively, walkable, accepting, homey and friendly are a slew of words used to describe early impressions.

Drew Nelles is a first-year student from San Diego. He is currently studying biology in the College of Arts and Science and described Vanderbilt as “welcoming.” Nelles is also now a staffer-in-training at The Hustler. As someone who didn’t grow up in the American South, he shared his shock at the overall warm-hearted environment.

“People are more welcoming, in my observation, just a little bit more loving of each other,” Nelles said. “The Southern hospitality is a defining feature.”

Beyond Southern charm, students were surprised by other characteristics of the South. Sam Brabeck is a first-year student from Reading, Massachusetts. She is currently studying medicine, health and society and human and organizational development in the College of Arts and Science and Peabody College, respectively.

“The weather has definitely been an adjustment, but I’m still confused by it,” Brabeck said. “The humidity was very intense the first couple days.”

More broadly, first-year Nick Luo expressed similar confusion while adjusting to American culture. Luo is a first-year student from Toronto, Canada, currently studying economics and human and organizational development in the College of Arts and Science and Peabody College, respectively. He is also now a staffer-in-training at The Hustler. 

“The change from the metric system to the imperial system is kind of annoying,” Luo said. “ I don’t understand Fahrenheit.”

Zooming in on Nashville, students discussed aspects of the city that surprised them, including its liberalism.

“More people are very open and welcoming about different viewpoints from all sorts of perspectives,” Nelles said. “I think that speaks a lot to the culture, they’re not so stuck on one way or another, which I have to say is greatly valued.”

Brabeck agreed with Nelles and further commented on the walkability of neighborhoods in Nashville.

“It’s really nice that it’s not only a walking campus, but it’s really a walking city too, and there are so many options and things to explore within a walking distance [from Vanderbilt],” Brabeck said.

Luo expressed excitement about living in Music City, noting that it is as lively and thrilling as they had hoped. 

“I love music in general and coming to Nashville, seeing Broadway and just walking and experiencing the live music warmed my heart,” Luo said.

Brodie Labott is a first-year student from Nolensville, Tenn., currently studying economics and political science in the College of Arts and Science. He also resonated with this excitement, especially in comparison to his rural hometown. 

“In Nashville, there’s a lot more choices that you can put yourself in, places that you can put yourself in,” Labott said. “Whereas, in Nolensville, there weren’t really too many options. You could find things to do but it wasn’t as easy of access.”

Amid the constant activity in greater Nashville, Nelles said he was pleasantly surprised by the tranquil, small-town feel on campus.

“I think Vanderbilt does an excellent job isolating students [so] that they can really get immersed in the experience,” Nelles said. “But they don’t isolate the students so much that it’s restricting them from exploring.”

Brabeck found Vanderbilt’s diversity to be one of the biggest surprises she encountered when arriving on campus. Labott similarly described Vanderbilt in one word as “diverse.”

“There is diversity not only in race but also in thought, in idea, in religion,” Brabeck said. “That was one of the things that I was looking for when I applied to schools: a university that would not only understand but also embrace and celebrate diversity [as well as] challeng[ing] my thinking and the world that [I’d] known.”

For Luo, one of the most interesting aspects of Vanderbilt’s campus was similarly tied to the wide range of diverse and skilled individuals on campus. He described Vanderbilt in one word as “prestigious;” Brabeck likewise referred to Vanderbilt students as “brilliant.”

“Coming to such a big school like Vanderbilt, I’ve met a lot of driven and really talented people,” Luo said. “I think everyone is really unique in their own way and that’s just what I sought back when I was applying.”

Despite students having vastly different backgrounds, I have been able to find a home here at Vanderbilt. I cannot believe that the Class of 2027 is already a full month and then some into the semester and can only wonder how fast the next four years will go.

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About the Contributor
Abby Hoelscher
Abby Hoelscher, Photography Editor
Abby Hoelscher (‘27) is from St. Louis and is an aspiring elementary teacher currently studying in Peabody College. She previously served as Deputy Photography Director. Outside of writing, she enjoys performing, learning Taylor Swift songs in American Sign Language and trying the seasonal lattes from the campus coffee shops. She can be reached at [email protected].
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Shannon Curtis Hoelscher
9 months ago

Awesome, Abs! Your words are powerful…

9 months ago

Great piece, Abby!!