TWIP: Recollections from a Twenty-two-year-old Art History Student (or, My Love Affair with College)
(TWIP: This Week In Progress)
When I was eighteen, a visiting college rep laughed in my face when I said I wanted to study Art History. She did the whole shebang--quirked one eyebrow, the air catching in her throat before she tossed her head back and blasted out a guffaw. This was not what eighteen-year-old me wanted to hear, and after brushing off the shock that an adult would treat my interests with such contempt, I promptly broke down crying in the dead middle of the senior hallway.
It's 3:25 in the afternoon four years later, and I can look back on that memory and laugh. Or, at least offer up a half-smile.
Eighteen--when the American school system expects you to decide what you're going to do for the rest of your life while also not preparing you for it at all--seems like such a young age now. I was a child! Eighteen! I didn't have any friends who weren't white and at least pretending to be religious; I'd never questioned my sexuality and I didn't even own a car. My world was a small space and I was determined to bust out. I was also incredibly arrogant about my 'worldliness' compared to my peers. I was "fluent" (by small-town standards) in two languages, daydreamed about far-off places, loved Shakespeare, knew the history of the Taj Mahal, and read National Geographic.
Fast forward to August when I cut my hair and stepped foot on a college campus, majoring in Art History and French in hopes I would have a third language under my belt by the time I was a senior (so old! Twenty-two was ancient! A true adult!). I was thrown flat on my face with the exhilarating yet frustrating realization that I was "small town worldly" and, here at college, nearly everyone was as smart as I was or far, far smarter. My hair grew shorter, I got that car, I dated, I drank, I traveled. For the girl who grew anxious driving fast on the highway and stoutly declared she'd never drink much because alcohol "tasted gross", I wonder if my high-school self would properly recognize me. I suffered what I came to realize were anxiety attacks. I worked my butt off and got into two research assistant-ships. I published two books and contracted five more; I got accepted to two grad schools and fell in love with theater again. (The summer I was fifteen, I looked into going to Juilliard for Acting. My parents kindly told me to please add a back-up major to this. I still love theater and would love to be in a play someday, but writing pretty much filled that gap.)
College, I write with oozing sentimentality, has been the best four years of my life, and I mean it wholeheartedly. Yeah, parts of it suck--crippling bouts of loneliness where I'd cry in the shower, apartments with no heat, and stress where you'd want to clamber to the roof of the campus library and curse the heavens--but so much has matured me. Friends whom I'd never have met in my hometown have helped me grow and laugh and love. I've been sadder than I'd thought possible, but I've also felt happier than ever before. I feel more positive about my body than I've ever been, and my interests, because at college lots of people accept diversity and you don't have to simply go with the flow. The world is bigger than I ever dreamed it could be. I've been to New York City, Peru, England, Ireland, Scotland, and France. I've wandered the ruins of priories in the icy rain and stuffed my face with macarons after climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower. I've watched Ghibli movies in a Queens apartment with one of my best friends, staying up late after seeing Aladdin on Broadway.
I am not the person I was before I left for college. I'm not even sure I'm the person I was a year ago. I'm stronger, more ambitious, more open-minded. I'm more content. I never got that French major, but I can mumble in French, Italian, and know the Greek pronunciation of Cyrene (which is very applauded by scholars, believe you me).
After college ends and I have to cry my way home, I'll spend the summer working at a bookstore and then be hopping a plane to London for UCL's Masters program in Museum Studies, a program my professor urged me to not bet on and not get my hopes up for. It's for a whole entire year, and I know I'll become the biggest patriot I know and miss home terribly, but it's an incredible opportunity and I'll be living in the clouds as well. Getting the acceptance email was pretty much like getting kissed on the mouth and sucker-punched in the stomach simultaneously. Living abroad is something I'd dreamed of all my life; actually achieving it was a bit of a shock.
I mean, my sister and I used to spin my dad's old college globe and stab a finger down to figure out where we'd travel in the future. For a girl who wanted to be Indiana Jones when she grew up, calling UCL's Department of Archaeology my soon-to-be home is something worth cheering about. But for now, I'll stay sitting in my college apartment, oversized hoodie from study abroad keeping me warm, listening to the crack of pool balls wafting in from the bar next door, and enjoy this whole senior thing while it lasts.