Written by Kesha Medina
Coming to Sterling from Philly was never in my plans, mostly because I had not considered anything past New York. I remember thinking to myself that I actually knew nothing about Vermont and questioned whether there were any Puerto Ricans there. I had never heard a single thing about Vermont and had never been up this far north. When I was applying in 2013/14, I definitely had created this illusion and idea of what it would be when I got there. Of course, upon my arrival, all of those ideas dispersed and I finally got to see what Vermont was made of.
The drive was long but beautiful and I was struck by how green it was up here. We passed rural farmland, forested stretches along mountains, and small towns that I would not consider a city even if that’s what they call them here. One of the first interactions I had driving into Vermont with my family was when we arrived at the B&B in Lowell a few days before its opening. As soon as we get out of the car and start to look around for the entrance, the owner comes out, walks over to my dad; they introduce themselves and he immediately asks, “are you Mexican?” as if it was the first thing he thought and couldn’t wait to ask. I looked at my dad to see his reaction, of which, my dad went on to say “yes,” though he isn’t Mexican, to see if it was a problem. The man went on to be pretty pleasant with us from then on. We were all, at the time, oblivious to the fact that Vermont is in the top 3 whitest states in the country.
Coming from Philly I had little contact with natural ecosystems and farms, though I had been exposed through urban farm tours, going camping and different programs in high school that got me into the wilderness (WINS, Summer Search, Outward Bound). I always enjoyed being involved in the natural sciences and loved food, so naturally was curious about how to grow it and what was the best food to eat for health.
My city of Philadelphia and the beautiful island of Puerto Rico are incredibly diverse places and so I was used to being around all kinds of people, so when I realized that I was one of very few people of color I understood what it meant to feel culture shock. It is an interesting feeling of understanding, confusion and worry that made it hard to settle for the first few weeks. I cannot say that now four years later I am used to the area but I do feel safer because I am aware of the implications associated with being in a white dominated space, especially as a brown woman in farming communities.
Overall, the Sterling community has been a huge help in coming to terms with these realities and the institution has made immense efforts to provide students of color with resources to have safe spaces that help this become home. Just recently Sterling hosted a dinner to benefit hurricane relief in Puerto Rico and fundraise for an organization based in Puerto Rico that focuses on sustainably rebuilding the island. I was a part of the cooking, so for the first time since I have been at Sterling, we had food and music from my culture. The entire experience was so humbling and comforting that I really was able to step back and see the leaps Sterling has taken to make the community a more welcoming space for students of color, and people in general.
Though still in culture shock, it is not so scary anymore and I am happy to have been a part of institutional changes here and in the larger community, something I do not think would have been possible if I had not been transplanted here in little, old Craftsbury Common.