On the subject of transitions, nothing seems more relevant to my life at the moment than the transition to a semester abroad and back. I spent this past spring on a non-Colgate program in Rome, and it was easily the best experience of my life. I was exposed to a different language, culture, worldview – all those good things you find in an Off-Campus Study brochure – but none of those things rocked me quite like I expected. I picked up Italian easily, learned my way around quickly and acclimated to Roman social norms without issue. My life was like one of those movie reel sequences where the heroine frolics through gorgeous scenery, carefree with a cannoli in each hand. To put it simply, I was ready for Rome, and my time in the Eternal City felt surprisingly natural. What really took me by surprise, however, was what happened inside my American bubble.
I was lucky enough to find my friends in Rome quickly, and we were very much on the same page about how to use our free time. This meant that if weekends weren’t spent travelling, then evenings were largely comprised of wine and movies (and tiramisu). The really strange thing about it, though, was that no one else cared. There was no Sunday brunch discussion revolving around what bars everyone had gone to, how drunk everyone had gotten and what trysts resulted from said intoxication. There was no pressure to have been at the right party, or hanging out with the right people. Everyone did their own thing, and whatever that thing was, it was just fine by everyone else.
And so the largest culture shock I’ve experienced by far has been my return to Colgate, where the priorities seem to be a little different. And I just don’t understand – why?
Maybe by junior year everyone is a little more mature and a little less insecure, and so the people on these programs just care less overall about what those around them are doing. Maybe it’s the transitory nature of the program – it’s hard to build formidable social structures when a group assembles for such a short period of time. Maybe it’s a function of environment, and when there are more exciting things to do over the weekend than socialize in the right places, the entire system of social hierarchy falls apart.
I’m not trying to condemn the social scene at Colgate – it can be really fun, and I’ve definitely enjoyed partaking in it. I just don’t understand the hierarchical aspect of it. Is partying objectively cooler than staying home? Has it always been this way? Does it always have to be this way?
It seems to me that Colgate’s reaction to our recent campus tragedy has raised a lot of possibilities about the nature of our community. The consensus seems to be that in the face of catastrophe we reached an unprecedented level of unity, acceptance and love. So now the question remains – is that something we can hold on to?
I’m not suggesting a radical overhaul of our identity as a campus (although that might not be a bad thing), I just think that as a community we could stand to rethink the way we view each other’s lifestyles. Let’s try to involve a little more compassion and a little less judgment. Let’s do better.