I’ve lived in Cambridge for almost an entire year, and in about one week, I board a plane to return to the States.
I’m not generally one for sentimentality. I think it’s overused, which robs it of any power. But every so often, my life comes to head with an End, and my heart presses against my chest and I would sell my soul to escape my own thoughts, if only for a moment.
If I were to divide place into binaries, it would go something like this:
Missouri. A place of anxiety & pressure, growing up too quickly, defining myself as the majority’s opposite, not fitting in, closed-mindedness, being boxed in by giant cars and giant houses— unoriginal, utterly stagnant, unhappy Jesusland.
Cambridge, England. A place of growth, self-discovery, self-confidence, friends! (friends with whom I can identify, no less!), non-judgmental environment, walking and cycling everywhere, hard cider, pints & pubs, nightclubs who know their students (i.e. get ready fo’ some Outkast circa 2003), fun!, dynamic students driven by curiosity; one of the only places where I’ve felt belonging. The city where I learned how to enjoy myself.
And let’s not forget the weather: I’ve completely adjusted to the English mindset. The past few weeks have been consistent in their high of low-to mid-60s in Fahrenheit. In spite of the occasional rain, it’s been comfortable. Three weeks ago, when the weather hit a high of 79, I was literally suffocating. How am I supposed to return to the burning heat (& humidity) of southern Missouri, where it rarely drops below 85 on a summer’s day? What a fitting metaphor. Just swallow me up into the fiery hellish temperatures of the Midwest.
Of course, adhering to strict binaries is harmful, and I know that. There are certainly parts about Missouri that I miss. I miss those dear to me, obviously: my friends and my family. I miss spending the summer nights outside, possibly playing a game of soccer in the backyard, possibly staring at the stars and listening to the cicadas chirp their familiar rhythm. I miss the hikes in the Ozarks hills, float trips down rivers, and walks around the several acres surrounding my best friend Sarah’s home. And in general, I miss that wistful American thought that at any moment, you could just stand up, grab your keys, and just drive for days, passing through wide open spaces of desert and mountain, forest and plains. In England, you drive anywhere two hours and you’ve already crossed half the country.
And simultaneously, I struggle with the paradox of change. One reason I have trouble coming to terms with moving back to Missouri is, despite my nostalgic memories as described above, I’ve learned how to move on. Returning seems like taking a step backward; I want to trek on with my life and jump into new adventures. But I still have one year before I graduate, and unless I drop out (which would be extremely unfair to my parents), I have no other choice but to put up with it. After all, one year isn’t painfully long… but then what? If I’m so happy to accept change, shouldn’t I resign my desire to return to Cambridge? Perhaps this time as an undergrad student is limited, and I should give that a fair understanding before moving on. Perhaps I’ll apply to Cambridge for an M.Phil. Who knows? Maybe I’ll try accept my time in Cambridge for what it was and aim for London (my favorite city in the entire world) instead. Maybe I’ll try my hand at writing movie scripts in L.A. I think the only path that would lead to unhappiness is taking advantage of that basement in my parents’ house of Springfield, Mo. It might be strange, but I like the idea of my life being constantly in flux, moving from one city to another, one country to the next. Perhaps one day I’ll have a desire for stability or roots, but I doubt that will be any time soon. The problem, of course, with the wayfaring life is constantly being forced to say goodbye.
So here’s to the future, and the past. Memories and the occasional bit of sentimentality. And most importantly, here’s to Ends… and the Change which follows.
Ever since the legitimate journalist Samantha Brick published her not at all deluded article “‘There are downsides to looking this pretty’: Why women hate me for being beautiful” with the Daily Mail last month, I’ve been addicted to reading similarly terrible stories about an edible version of Princess Beatrice’s vagina-hat and Harry Styles parking his car.
I know, it’s horrifying.
Some people are obsessed with watching Jersey Shore just so they can hate on fist-pumping oompa-loompas, and my recent time-wasting activity of choice is no different. I enjoy reading the articles not only because I love to loathe the ridiculous hijinks of the rich and famous, but because the articles are so badly written.
Fast forward to this morning. I woke up, my eyeliner still on my face (though a bit more smudged than the night before), and two ibuprofen tablets set next to a water bottle on my bedside stand. Yeah, I can totally anticipate a hangover. I’m an adult; I know how to take care of myself. The reason I allowed myself to have a bit of fun yesterday also happened to be well-documented in a judgmental-yet-hilariously-titled story in the Daily Mail called “Passing out, peeling off and drinking port out of condoms: Shame of 2,000 drunken Cambridge students’ riotous party in park.” Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen. That’s my university.
The premise is simple: Caesarean Sunday is held at the beginning of exam term, when students blow off steam before dedicating their life to a studying and a revision schedule. Drinking societies have their initiation, and then rival societies participate in an annual fight (which is essentially a group of posh boys in blazers engaged in a cat fight). Students at Cambridge work hard and play hard, and I certainly had fun. Granted, I know my alcohol limit, particularly when I have class the next day, and I didn’t participate in some of the more creative drinking techniques (I refer you to the article for details).
What upset me was the moral high horse that the Mail decided to take—young people make mistakes, and maybe they’ll learn from these irresponsible decisions. Even having fun includes its trial and error. I didn’t learn to be a responsible drinker without a few mishaps of my own! Some of the comments that followed were equally aggravating. “And to think, these “fools” could be leading this country soon. It’s bad enough with the idiotts we already have!!!…” You’re totally right, anon. Too bad we’re stuck with “idiotts” and don’t have smart people like you to be tomorrow’s leaders! I prefer the following comment: “Students get drunk. I heard bears defecate in woods, want to run a story on that too? I bet it’ll be super insightful.”
I mean, my main issue with the article is that they didn’t include anything about the fact that yesterday was the one day of the year that my hair actually cooperated with my curling iron! They didn’t even include a photo. Bastards. I’ll give you this instead, from later that night in a taxi cab to the city centre before queuing for half an hour outside of the clubs. (…one of the three photos we took last night.)
Anyway, if you have ever wondered what life for a Cambridge student is like, it’s kind of like this. Intense studying of literature, Middle English, rhetoric, clause structure, and logic (well, for me), and then even more intense parties to forget the stress. Lots of hugging and tequila shots. Tons of “I love yous” and “You’re staying in England permanently after you graduate, right?”
Oh, I hope so. Maybe I can get a job at the Daily Mail.
Nothing really reminds me of how poor I am like seeing everyone on Facebook posting “Paris for the weekend! ;) XD :) “
Oh Bailey, I adore you, but sometimes the people who go to Paris over the weekend have been saving up for it by working minimum-wage jobs since they were fifteen, and then they couldn’t even afford a hostel with a working shower. My parents helped me a little bit too, but to be fair, it was a birfday gift.
But I did meet some Stanford students who were studying in Paris and just hopping over to cities like Amsterdam & Barcelona for the weekend as if it’s nothing. Like for them, studying abroad is an obligatory trip that they can check off a list and later lament about it like it was some life-changing event, when they’ve written it off as a “little adventure” (exact quote).
I dunno. It’s so disappointing, in a way, to see people study abroad or travel who expect it, you know? They have that privilege, whilst I’m always conscious of the sacrifices that my family had to make to support my living in the UK (in that I devoured that savings account that I’ve been building up for the past six years within two months. On, like, food. And a phone bill. And a winter coat.) Yet living abroad, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. And I am utterly dreading the day when I have to go back to the States, but I can’t just up and transfer to an English uni, because that would completely break my family financially.
I really wish people like you would have more opportunities to explore the world; you know, people who are actually curious and legitimately deserve it (and would be grateful for it).
This was supposed to be a two-sentenced reply, and it turned into this bit of rambling mess. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I appreciate that weekend trip to Paris, even if I couldn’t shower, ended up ill, and didn’t have time to visit the grave of Oscar Wilde (…I have priorities).
The good thing about going back to the States, though: I get to see my old friends’ dumb faces. Including yours, butthead.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
No, I’m not… I’m not being facetious, I swear. Just because I don’t have a beau with whom to celebrate means that I have to lounge in my pajamas while testing out my Domino’s-Ben-and-Jerry’s combo recipe and watching JennaMarbles bitch about cinnamon on YouTube? No way, man. Replace viral videos with terrible chick flicks starring beautiful people, and I tried that already when I was 18 years old. But a lot has changed since then. JennaMarbles hadn’t been invented. I couldn’t yet buy wine for myself. And I was still living in the Midwest.
Now, I live in Cambridge, a place where all the expectations of growing up in Missouri are reversed. My peers don’t have significant others, and it certainly doesn’t bother them. They are too busy with perfecting the balance of hard work and enjoying their youth. Suddenly, I’m an a place where my perspective on life isn’t just recognized— it’s the norm! Good God, pinch me.
You see, growing in the rural Midwest, people were always suspicious non-obsession with boys. Why is finding Prince Charming not your priority, Kasia? Why are you so focused on school and books and writing? In short, what is wrong with you? Even my sister, who is still in high school, recently informed me in a Skype session that she had found the man for me to “marry.” When, in an irritated mood, I retorted in defense and asked her to stop with this unsolicited advice, she responded, “Well obviously you’re being defensive, so there is some truth to you being lonely.”
On the contrary, little sister. In my entire life, I’ve never been happier. My favorite activities are reading books on my own and dancing with friends, and I’ve done plenty of both this year. For the first time, too, my impulse to not give a rat’s ass about a boyfriend has been received as perfectly normal. Before, I felt lonely for two reasons. First, I was met with that ubiquitous response, “there must be something wrong with her.” Secondly, any “romantic” experience I’ve had so far—whether it be dating or hooking up with a guy in a club—has left me with that disgusting sinking feeling in my stomach…just pure, elemental self-loathing. If countless hours of pouring over poetry and novels (gross, English major) have taught me anything, a guy worth having should make you feel good about yourself.
But the fact is, I can finally accept myself as an independent young woman. I now understand that I was never solely lonely (I’ve got the most wonderful friends in the entire world). Instead, I was upset that I was unable to conform to expectations. Now, I know better; finally, finally, I’m becoming comfortable in my own skin. I’m happy for those who are in relationships (perhaps the most telling change of all), which is why I honestly do hope that you have a lovely Valentine’s Day. But if you’re single, this message is for you: don’t despair. If romance isn’t your priority, there’s nothing wrong with you. It only means that you’re driven in some other way, whether it be for your career, religion, family, or whatever else… and that’s just fine.
I will certainly be celebrating Valentine’s Day; I’m about to shower before cocktails and dancing with my friends. And since I’m on Tumblr, I might as well say it: my ship is Kasia x Self-Respect.
“Just got paid, Friday night
Party hoppin’, feelin right
Booties shakin’, all around
Pump that jam, while I’m gettin’ down”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the poetic chorus to “Just Got Paid” by the immortal boy band *NYSNC. What words of wisdom. How else would we know how to spend all of our hard-earned salary in the matter of hours? And on Friday night, too— way to keep the weekend sacred, boys. Particularly after a week of hard work and heavy thinking, Fridays and Saturdays are the perfect time for workers and students alike to blow off some steam and get rowdy, right?
Actually, Cambridge disagrees. As you’ll soon learn, Cambridge always has to be different, and nights out are no exception.
Before you assume that this is because Cambridge students are so studious that they never see beyond library walls, I will say this: Cambridge does know how to have fun. To a scary degree. Drinking could easily be a major here, along with dancing at clubs. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s actually quite impressive.
But, apparently Fridays and Saturdays are too mainstream for Cambridge. After all, several programs have labs or lectures on Saturdays, so it’s not as if a romp ‘round the town at 4:00 a.m. is the wisest life choice. Instead, everyone goes out on Sundays. And Tuesdays. And Wednesdays. And Thursdays. (And, hey- on occasion, Mondays.) Not only that, but certain days are reserved for certain clubs: Wednesdays are spent at Cindy’s, and Thursdays at Life.
For instance, last Sunday, I put on some lipstick and danced for a little while at a cocktail bar to celebrate my friend Liz’s birthday. And then I went back to my room to finish up my essay on Arthurian legend. (Don’t worry, Mama and Daddy. My supervisor praised the paper. I CAN do it all!)
Me, Sunday night. After a fair bit of dancing and before an even fair-er bit of writing.
“This warrants a tweet,” I thought. (Just kidding. I never think in terms of exciting words such as “warrant.”) So: “Cambridge is all about ‘work hard, play hard.’ Not necessarily in that order. And sometimes within the same night. Lesson learned.”
Lesson learned, indeed. I’m working on my essay tonight and tomorrow (yeah, Friday and Saturday) to avoid a self-inflicted curfew when we go out again on Sunday.
Nice try, *NSYNC. At least you got it right with “Pop”!
“Sick and tired of hearing
All these people talk about,
What’s the deal with this pop life
And when is gonna fade out?
The thing you got to realize
What we doing is not a trend
We got the gift of melody
We gonna bring it till the end!”
Edit, 7:12 pm: I literally just heard outside my door: “You’re going out tonight? On a Friday night? …Why? Where?” Point proven.
Sometimes I write like that, especially on my study abroad blog (can I interest you in a follow?). Colloquial, with plenty of y’alls and I’mmas to spare.
And other times I write like this:
In this essay, I will engage in conversation with other critics, ultimately challenging them with my argument that Gawain’s character is neither inconsistent nor a trope for the Round Table itself, but instead is only human and thus powerless to uphold the ideals of Arthur’s chivalric code. Thus, honor and duty are rendered transcendent of human capability, even for the knights of the Round Table…
But it’s been much too long since I’ve written in AP style. Going to begin writing for a newspaper here, I think. It’s called The Cambridge Student. Who knows? Next month, I might shoot for a novel. A story about airports, Facebook profiles, and curbside prophets. A travelogue, and a history. A tale in which place becomes character. Not a philosophical statement- just a bit of vagabond fun.
I’m not good yet, but I’ve enough love of words, words, words to spend hours reserved for sleep with pen and paper in hand.