Of all the world languages, English has the greatest number of borrowed words—words that are not original to English, such as the Spanish-originated enchilada and guitar, or the commonly-used French words ballet, faux pas and quiche. The many languages English has come in contact with over the centuries have donated whole and unchanged vocabulary to the mental lexicon and everyday use of English-speakers.

I think this process of integrating words says a lot about college life.

At college, we learn from our friends’ mistakes; we copy their style of dress (for girls this means borrowing clothes), manner of talking and method of getting work done (procrastination!). Most of all, however, we learn how to communicate with our new friends; we start using their words and their references and begin to think more like those around us. The problem is that we do not realize our own assimilation until after it has become an irrevocable part of us.

Because of this, college students are more accepting of new ideas and new people. However, the effects of borrowing are not always positive. Sometimes I find it hard to distinguish the individual that I am from the influences and habits I have taken on.

Do I really like the pokey stix from Gumby’s or am I just conditioned to like them? Do I really enjoy listening to the Pit Preacher or am I just joining a crowd who thinks they enjoy it? Would I really love watching Carolina basketball if I were not at Chapel Hill?

Some of these things we assimilate to simply to fit in better and to better communicate—which is great. But are we still able to maintain the person that we were before?

It is hard to believe that our English word sugar comes from an Arabic word, ‘sukkar,’ originally meaning ‘grit or gravel.’ Americans have put a positive spin on this word, transforming it into something optimistic and useful on a day-to-day basis.

We have a use for the word ‘sugar’—it cannot be replaced by ‘candy’ or ‘glucose.’ And so, in this sense, our borrowing of the word sugar has a purpose. We are not assimilating because it’s the easy thing to do, but rather because it’s the best—and only—way to describe the sweet, white substance we put on our Cheerio’s.

Just as the definition of ‘sugar’ has changed, I’m trying to become more aware of the changes I’m encountering in college—as hard as they are to see at times. I’m making sure there’s a reason behind each of change because they will impact the individual I want to become. I would hate to see us all assimilate to things we don’t really believe in or need.

And so here’s to a sweet and sugary rest of our lives.

By Shannon Spain