Becoming East-Coast

Elizabeth Stein

Less than two weeks before break I decided I was going to go home, which might not really seem abnormal, given that practically the whole campus leaves for break. But when my parents, 817 miles away, found out I expected them to come get me, I think they were a bit unprepared. Nonetheless, I made it home by way of a gracious friend.

After a 15-hour drive and three hours of sleep, I headed to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to stay with two of my best friends from high school.

While there, though, a few things hit me by surprise, quite literally in fact. The door, for example, slammed in my face when the person directly in front of me didn’t hold it open (this happened with every door encounter). With every person to whom I was introduced, I held out my hand and said some variation of the phrase “pleased to meet you.” Often caught unaware, the people I met had to juggle what they held when they realized I expected to shake their hand. Most unexpected, however, was the one boy in the elevator who just stared at my outreach and I was left to draw my hand back after a moment in a most awkward, highly embarrassed way.

Then I remembered something one of my best friends said before I left for college, something along the lines of “you better not go all East-Coast on us,” which, in itself, is rather a funny thing to say, but perhaps showed some sort of reservations toward my leaving the state. At first I was unsure why relations seemed a bit strained when I reunited with the two girls I was the closest to two months ago. I mean, we had a lot of fun and it was great to see them again, but I felt like things had changed.

I was constantly comparing, unknowingly initially. When they asked me to describe Colgate, I found myself mentioning things like Convocation, where all the girls wore dresses or skirts, the guys blazers and ties. At their disbelief, I further continued to explain the high level of decorum even for classes, when their familiarity with the typical college dress is sweats.

I already have more new contacts in my cell than the number I had of kids from my high school. At Madison, of 40,000 undergrad, we knew no one, except the few kids on my friends’ floor.

I’ve had upperclassmen here ask me if I’m sick of Frank yet, but after having other cafeteria food I feel lucky. At lunch this weekend, I was charged for each item I wanted, including the extra carrots and cucumbers I added to my salad (which was priced by weight). We ate dinner at a pizzeria which advertised “pizza by the slice” and all I could think of was “Slices come plain only.”

I saw a plethora of signs around the city reminding students to always lock their doors and informing them about the buddy service you can call to walk you back to your dorm from the library if you feel unsafe. (I tried picturing calling Campo to walk me back from the library, but somehow that seems ridiculous.) I was awakened throughout the night by sirens and trucks and city noise, things previously I had been able to tune out, but after Colgate seem grating and unnatural. While a month ago I spent a weekend in the wilderness, this weekend was just as eye-opening in the most opposite way.

Colgate, though in its own world, is cultured. I talk much more about politics, ethics and societal concerns. It is full of idealistic, hard-working thinkers who know how to have a good time all the same. We have the best of everything: both the social and the academic intensity that many schools can’t combine as we do.

When my friends complained about having to study until almost midnight (when their library closes), I thought of the number of students still in our library at two. When they were trying to find a party for the weekend, I thought of the one day here (the Sunday before midterms) you couldn’t find somewhere to go.

So even as my excitement had been climbing to return home, I found that the more I was away from Colgate the more I wanted to be back. But at the same time, I felt like I had to check my “love” for Colgate every time I was asked if I liked it, at risk of sounding like the obsessive I guess I am after all.

But that’s when I realized I had changed, that Colgate had changed me (in a short two months). Perhaps I’ve lost a bit of who I was, but I think I’ve already grown to have new habits (like the automatic handshake and the expectation that the door will be held out of courtesy) and new ways of thinking about the world. Maybe that’s just going to college.

But I think there is actually something different here. And I know I’m not alone by the number of “can’t wait to be back too” replies I received when I broadcasted by test my boredom and Colgate homesickness. So while the resounding phrase last Friday was “so excited to go home,” it was the same phrase on Tuesday as well, just in a different way.