"Do you live here? I haven't seen you around recently."
"Yes! I attend college in the States, but I've lived here for fifteen years and I'm back for the summer."
"Oh! Which college?"
"Colgate University, in New York."
If I had to draw up a pie chart showing how common certain responses to my answer are, it would look something like this: a huge part of the pie would be "What's that?" or "I've never heard of it" or simply "Oh" and an awkward pause.
This is an uncomfortable exchange I've had quite a number of times in the past year in Hong Kong. It's uncomfortable because I feel like there is the assumption that if one has not heard of a school, it probably isn't very good. This assumption (or an assumption of an assumption?) is an issue to me because I love my college and think very highly of it. It's a top liberal arts college with great classes and has been compared to lower-ranked Ivies. It bothers me when people don't recognise this and it makes me feel like its excellence, my effort and my intelligence are disregarded when people correlate its relative unpopularity to its strength. Growing up, the adjective people gave me the most was "smart" - not "pretty", and not "funny" - so to tell these people where I go to school and see them change the way they look at me because of this hurts. I wish I could completely not care about how other people back home think in this case, but I can't because...just because. Logically, I understand that liberal arts colleges tend to be less well-known out of the country because they are small, meaning that so are their alumni networks and the chances that one knows a graduate of the school is lower than say, a graduate of a larger college. I am sure that there are other international students attending great, small colleges who face the same issue back home.
How can this issue be resolved? I don't know, I wish I did and that would make this post a lot better. At the moment, I'm just writing about an issue without a proposal or a call to action. It's difficult to change assumptions or the way people think (with their thought process of "haven't heard of school = school is probably not very good"). I've tried to explain why it's a great school several times but it hasn't been very successful so far; from people's reactions, I get the impression that they think I'm just overcompensating for my college's perceived shortcomings or trying to make myself look better. The latter is probably true to a certain extent; I do want to look better in other people's eyes if I think the way they look at me is unjustified. The way I see it, there are only two "solutions" for now; learn to care about what other people think less, or work on continuing to be whatever I am and hope that in time, people can see the virtuous impact my college has had on me in the way I behave and speak. These aren't really proper solutions that can alter the reality of most people and their mindsets, but they are all I can think of for now.
In the meantime, you now know how to have a great first-time interaction with me; just show that you know something about Colgate when the question of which colleges we attend comes up. I will love you five-ever for that.