The First Impressions of First-Year GustiesHow new students find their footing after arriving on the Hill.
Posted on November 10th, 2023 by

Once Move-In Day ends, first-year Gusties dive into a whole new world.

After waving a final tearful goodbye to their parents after move-in, many first-years are left with the frightening yet exhilarating year ahead. From changing dynamics with parents to learning how to share a 11’x15’ room with a stranger, the beginning of college is a time of big changes and heady adjustments. 

To track how the fresh perspective of first-year students shifts as the year goes on, I spoke to some first-year Gusties about their college experience thus far. I’ll  follow up with all of them in the spring to reflect on how their experiences and learnings have evolved. 

Kendall Wiggins ’27  

Growing up as a “military brat,” Wiggins lived in 13 states prior to Minnesota and is no stranger to acclimating to new environments. Originally from South Georgia, she came to Gustavus with the idea that during every student’s first year of college, “there’s a honeymoon phase during the first week when everything is great, followed by a reality check where everything comes crashing down.” Fortunately, although Wiggins is still “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she has found that her first-year experience has been full of “amazing professors and enjoyable campus activities.”

She praised the first-year Orientation Week, emphasizing how well constructed the activities were. “It was very fast and busy, but it kept [me] from stressing out about upcoming classes and life away from home,” she said. 

Living in a dorm has facilitated new connections as well. Besides commiserating over the occasional fire alarm blaring or the lack of AC during the steamy first week of school, Wiggins expressed how enjoyable it is to live in a community—i.e., the residence hall—where you get to know your neighbors. Wiggins said she is making new friends differently than she thought she would, while doing everyday activities as opposed to in classes. “You meet people going to get laundry or down in the lounge,” she said “We are all like siblings.” Wiggins also expressed gratitude for her roommate and stressed how important it is to be comfortable with that person. “Friendships come with time, so the [new roommate] connection can feel superficial initially,” she said, but living with someone in a small space helps you get to truly know someone quickly.

Wiggins was nervous at first that there wouldn’t be much to do outside of class but soon realized that “there’s multiple things to do every day, which is both awesome and overwhelming. I’ve definitely learned time management and prioritization of what’s most important to me.” Already a member of Swing Club, Model UN, Botanical Society, and Women’s Action Coalition, Wiggins has gotten heavily involved on campus and takes full advantage of the many activities Gustavus has to offer. Looking at the year ahead, she wants to explore her student employment opportunities for next year, particularly at the Campus Activities Board. She’s also considering whether to join one of Gustavus’ four sororities in the spring.

Simon Woods ‘27

As a member of the men’s soccer team, Woods’  transition into Gustavus was “pretty seamless with the built-in friends” that come with joining a close-knit team. Originally from Sioux Falls, SD, Woods said the soccer program and his older brother had a big influence on his decision to attend Gustavus. “I liked the school, it has a great soccer program, and my brother, who had two close buddies who went here, told me he regretted not going here,” he said.

The youngest of four boys, Woods watched his brothers attend different schools and had a pretty accurate expectation of what college life would look like. Even so, nothing can prepare anyone for the erratic weather shifts and strong winds that blow across the Hill, with Woods stating that the range of weather, from blazing hot one day to blisteringly cold the next, came as a shock, even for a South Dakotan. “AC in the dorms would’ve been nice,” he joked.

He has been pleasantly surprised by the abundance of resources available to every Gustie. “Although you may get bounced around a little from department to department, there is always someone that can answer any question you have,” he said. From academic matters to recreational rental equipment, the Gustavus “Guide to Services and Resources” page is a go-to for the entire campus.

With the men’s soccer team advancing to the NCAA sectional final last year, Woods hopes to continue “succeeding with [his] team and winning games” throughout the remaining 2023 season. Off the field, he aims to “get good grades” and try intramural sports such as volleyball and basketball. Like many first-year students, he hasn’t locked down a specific major yet but expressed interest in pursuing a career in dentistry. 

Jade Anstine ‘27

Another Gustie from Sioux Falls, SD, Anstine was surprised how much independence our students have from day one. “You’re no longer under someone’s control and the freedom is nice, but it also requires you to set expectations for yourself and stay on top of your work,” he said. He’s found that  homework at Gustavus has been manageable, if differently structured than in high school. “The quantity of homework isn’t less, but it’s more spread out, so if you manage your time well, it’s definitely doable,” he said. 

Anstine is on a Nursing/Pre-med track and has utilized Gustavus’ many academic resources. He praised the Career Development Center for smoothly helping him get started. He’s already been accepted into a J-term program where he will shadow doctors and capstone clinics in Alaska for the entire month of January 2024.

Outside the classroom, Anstine is a member of the men’s track & field team and chose Gustavus due to the College’s balance of academics and athletics. “If I went to a school too focused on athletics, it would feel like they own me, so I chose Gustavus because you can be reasonably involved in sports [along with] the excellent science program,” he said. One minor complaint Anstine had was the initially “confusing” athletic training room, whose sign-in procedures, rehab services, and basic rules are unfamiliar to first-time athletes.

He also named Orientation Week as an early highlight where “[he] met a good group of friends” and participated in a multitude of fun events. Like many other Gusties would agree, the close-knit community of Gustavus makes the campus a uniquely special place. “Walking around campus, it already feels like you know everyone. Going to the Caf from my dorm, I’ll likely see at least one friendly face,” he said. In the year ahead, Anstine hopes to “keep [his] GPA up, especially with the tendency for it to dip in the first year.” As a member of the Pre-Health Club, American Cancer Society, and Pediatric Club, he looks forward to getting involved on campus and finding what other activities or clubs he’ll enjoy. 

Anika Smuts ’27

Although she grew up in California, Smuts got a primer on the Minnesota weather from her dad, a pastor whose first church was in Alexandria before the family moved west. “Lots of my family went to Cal Lutheran, but I was looking for something else, something new and different,” Smuts said. “After my first visit to Gustavus, I was pretty set.”

What attracted her to the Minnesota River Valley? “I could see myself here. The people I met with made a big difference,” she said, referring to her Admitted Student Day experience of attending a class and getting to know some members of the campus community. (No big surprise: The Gusties she’s met have lived up to the “Minnesota nice” rep.) “People go out of their way to say hi and ask how you are,” Smuts said. “We talk about our weekend before class starts. That didn’t happen [in high school].” She also has enjoyed how the professors create an environment that encourages students to participate in class discussions more than she did before.  

Smuts is taking Music Theory and Keyboard Skills, Comparative Politics, and Nordic Theatre Travels, and playing trumpet in the Gustavus Wind Orchestra and the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra. After an early adjustment period that featured a blitz of Orientation activities and meeting new people—and experiencing the rather un-Californian late-summer humidity—Smuts is feeling more at home every day. “The [GWO and GSO] trumpets  hang out together, and I have a band mentor,” she said. In addition to her assigned Gustie Greeter and new friends from her FTS (First-Term Seminar) and her residence hall, it’s only the beginning for this West Coast transplant.


Chavy Ngov ‘27

A first-generation college student from Shakopee, MN, Ngov 27’ was shocked by how different college is from high school. Aside from the obviously harder curriculum, the increase in independent work and fast-paced classes take some getting used to, and he stressed the importance of getting into the habit of attending professors’ office hours. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions or get tutoring,” he said. “You have to take the initiative because professors will not come check on you.” 

Ngov also said he didn’t realize that the seat you pick during the first week of a class often ends up being your permanent seat for the rest of the semester. “I wish we would regularly rearrange seats throughout the semester because I don’t like the seat I’m currently in and didn’t know it would be my seat forever,” he said. Such seating rotations could offer more opportunities to interact and connect with new classmates.

About friendship, Ngov said he didn’t make many friends during first-year Orientation and started to wonder if “[he] would be lonely for the rest of the year.” But by taking advantage of activities and getting involved in various programs, Ngov reassured first-year students that they will be able to meet new people and make friends beyond Orientation Week. “Give it time,” he said.

And since the 2022 Lund Center expansion, many students, faculty, and staff have utilized the deluxe new spaces for cardio, weight training, and exercise classes. When asked about his favorite parts of Gustavus thus far, Ngov said, “Lund is really nice, and the Caf has pretty good food, too.” 

Additionally, Ngov has taken advantage of the multitude of resources available at Gustavus. He expressed particular appreciation for the Writing Center, which offers Gusties assistance with their writing through written feedback and in-person and online sessions. He also highlights a hidden benefit of taking advantage of the various events put on by student organizations: “I’d encourage people to go to events and get free food because you’re already paying for it,” he said.

Looking ahead, Ngov said he’d like to be involved in more clubs, including Tennis Club, Hmong American Cultural Outreach, and the Asian Student Union. As a busy Nursing major, Ngov said he hasn’t found the time to dive into the clubs too much thus far, but he hopes that will change as the year progresses and he finds his time-management groove.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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