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Chasing a cliché

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NOVEMBER 01, 2018

To all the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, blissfully ignorant, incoming freshmen,

Only halfway through my first semester at Berkeley, during which I have never once stopped flailing along, inelegantly trying to get my shit sorted out, I really don’t think that I’m qualified enough to address you all. Now, if you wanted to know how to switch your default emotion to
“stress,” drown yourself in caffeine to distract from the reality of things or complain about never getting enough sleep while voluntarily watching “Grey’s Anatomy” at 3 a.m., I’m your girl. Although I might not be the best person to explain what college is going to be like, I may be able to help you rethink the expectations that you arrive with.

Growing up in the vibrant suburbs of Mumbai, college abroad was nothing but a detached fantasy — a chapter that always seemed to linger on the horizon but never drew any closer. Maybe, on some level, I never wanted it to, either. As someone who is extraordinarily resistant to change, going off to college marked the very edge of my comfort zone. I was terrified and refused to think about leaving home until applications were staring me right in the face. Ultimately, I found myself clicking “submit” as an emotional mess, emanating bittersweet anticipation.

As a raging control freak (*cough* sorry, I meant “perfectionist”), there were too many unknowns in this equation! I had no idea where I’d finally end up, where my friends would end up, or how well we would stay in touch. And people back home weren’t making things any easier. Every conversation contained some version of “Oh, you aren’t here for long anyway,” or “Oh, this is one of the last times you’ll be doing this.” Basically, no one ever let me forget that I was going to go away to an unknown place where I’d either find the will to blossom gloriously or shrivel up and just die.

Pessimistic, I know.

But the same control-freakiness that was stressing me out was also the thing that was giving me the most joy. The prospect of living life on my terms, without the external influence of parents or relatives or people who shouldn’t even have an opinion but do, excited me immensely. That, and the idea of immersing myself in a curriculum that explored subjects and concepts that I was 100 percent interested in. And as college started getting closer, I gradually began to grow more enthusiastic. By the time move-in day rolled up, I was primed and ready to indulge in the typical four-year episode of debauchery also known as college.

Essentially, I traveled halfway across the globe, armed with suitcases full of college tropes, and there was never a single doubt in my mind that they would all be true. Back home, every time I had a curfew imposed on me, I’d tell myself that college was only a few weeks away. Every time I heard wild stories, I’d promise myself that my time was coming.

I thought college was going to be wild. I thought it was going to be intense in a “grind at your work all week and grind up on others all weekend” kind of way. I thought I was going to have every possible experience, experiment in more places than just the labs, periodically hook up, indulge in fairy-tale romances, collect a diverse circle of friends, save lives, make a difference, cure cancer — everything was possible under my umbrella trope of “making memories.”

Oh, and get a 4.0 GPA, of course. In hindsight, that was probably my wildest fantasy.

Just a few short months ago, I was right there in your shoes. Like you, I’d seen the 50 million coming-of-age movies and heard the songs that talked about college as though it was a rite of passage. Like you, I believed wholeheartedly in all of these unrealistic expectations, trying to wish them into reality. And although some of these tropes have lived up to their hype, college has also been about so much more. With our changing ideologies and ways of life, we are also constantly creating new expectations and readjusting old ones. The nights I’ve stayed in with friends and the mornings that I’ve slept in have been just as crucial as the nights and days that blurred into one because we partied. The friends I’ve made when I’m not looking for token diversity are now family. The fear of missing out is a real bitch, but you’ll slowly realize that there will always be more — more parties, more internships, more ways to make up your grade.

So when you go to college, expect nothing. Accept that you actually have no idea what college is going to be like, and that is 100 percent OK. The most reassuring thing for me has been the realization that there is no “wrong” or “right” way to do college.

“The college experience” is exactly what you define it to be. Because at some point, I realize that at the end of the day, we spend way too much time chasing a cliché.

Anusha Subramanian writes the Thursday blog on being an international student. Contact her at [email protected] .

NOVEMBER 01, 2018