(This essay first appeared in the September 21st, 2006 edition of the West Bloomfield Eccentric)
“I only need three things from life: A tasty breeze, a gnarly Hobie 16, and a sweet sunset to sail off into.”
These are not my words, and I remain jealous of anyone able to so simply state what they want from life. College supposedly will lead me to discover my own succinct statement of purpose. College is reputed to be an epic personal journey, the beginning of adulthood, and the best four years of your life. So I approached college with a mix of apprehension, excitement, and anxious anticipation. Now that I have arrived, some of my fears are assuaged, but others linger and grow. Some of my anticipation has been realized, but new excitements constantly emerge.
Each month in this column I hope to illuminate for you some issue, either personal or newsworthy in as entertaining and thought provoking manner as I can.
I am an alumnus of Andover High School, and now a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. I share an eighth floor apartment style room in Harnwell College House with three amiable roommates. We have a great view, a kitchen, a living room, and a bathroom; luxurious living by dorm room standards, but still not the same as living at home.
At home I live with my two parents, younger brother, and grandmother. My brother and I fought; siblings do that. Now that we are separated, though, I find myself thinking of him more often, and I find myself beginning to scoff at only children. Living with roommates is markedly different from living with family. They are first off, profoundly less forgiving of my foibles and odd habits. They also do not wash my dishes, do my laundry, or nag me about homework.
My parents were immigrants from China who came to the United States for graduate school. They know well the value of education and I was raised in such a way. I grew up at the intersection of Chinese and American cultures. Through middle school I was too cool, too busy fitting in to embrace my Chinese-ness. But eventually I did, and looking back I see that both cultures, along with a uniquely Asian American culture, are part of who I am, how I became who I am, and how I eventually became a student at Penn.
During the summer, as I prepared to talk to my academic advisor for the first time, I wrote out for myself a few goals and thoughts I had on college. I wanted to gain a “well-rounded education leaving me well versed in many subjects.” I also wanted to, “find one or two extracurriculars to devote myself to.” But I also expected for, “college to require much more personal responsibility than high school,” and I knew, “that play time is over and college will be challenging.” And, of course, “have fun.”
Now that I have moved in to my dorm and am officially a college student I have picked a range of interesting classes, signed up for extracurricular activities, and am balancing work and play. My classes range from Introduction to Experimental Psychology in a giant lecture hall with a teacher who tells jokes and then explains why they are funny, to Religious Studies Writing Seminar in a cozy little classroom with a teacher who rambles on about pagan sects and mother nature religions whose adherents eat the placenta or drink menstrual blood, and Emergence of Modern Science where we built telescopes out of cardboard to make astronomical observations. I joined the sailing team and a mentorship program among other activities. I have even found hours to flop down on the plush lounge furniture with a group of friends and do nothing in particular.
But I still do not feel as if any true journey has begun. Perhaps I am expecting two much from two weeks, even two weeks as busy and novel as they have been.
New Student Orientation was crazy. From placement tests, to an evening at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a Toga Party, events flew by in a blur of shaking hands and trading names. We freshmen, awed by our newfound independence and by the exhilaration of starting college, clumped together into great herds, and roamed around campus from destination to destination. And late at night we retire to someone’s room, all squeezed in and sprawled on whatever surface is available to laugh and unwind and trade stories.
College is looking up. There may yet be some great transformative journey or perhaps there will not be. I have few answers yet. Indeed, I have more questions than ever, only some of them assigned by my professors.
For the time being though, I know what I need: good food, good friends, and an extra three or so hours a day, because twenty four just is not enough to do everything I want to. And finally in case any of you are wondering, the quote is from the camp counselor who taught me how to sail, Jerome Rand.