What were you like in college? Usually high school gets all the attention, but what about those years when you were out of the house and “out on your own”? When all you really had to worry about was beer and noodle money?
College was my modern rite of passage. I’m not sure how it is for other folks, if it was just an extension of high school, but for me, it was life-changing. Part of the reason was I had to learn a new culture. I was born and raised in Hawaii, and Hawaii’s culture is not the same as Mainland culture (the Continental US). Now, I realize that each state is unique, but Hawaii is decidedly different than Colorado.
I fell in love with Colorado when I was about 13 years old. My family was living in California at the time, and we were taking a road trip to Iowa. When we drove through the mountains of Colorado, I remember looking at my surroundings in wonder and thinking, “I want to return here.” So, when it came to choosing a college, I knew where I wanted to go.
Because this was before the widespread use of the Internet, I used a very basic and archaic program to generate a list of colleges and universities that fit my choices. For example, I wanted a small town and a good Anthropology program. It was exciting to look through the color brochures I received in the mail. College was something I looked forward to because high school seemed like a waste of time. Ultimately, I chose Fort Lewis College in Durango. It was a no-name school and probably still is.
This isn’t to say that Fort Lewis, or as it was sometimes called Fort Leisure and Fort Loser, was not a smashing school. It was. The town was tiny, but packed with outdoor activities like hiking, hunting, skiing, water rafting, and rock climbing. All of which, I’m proud to say, I did. (Well, I got my hunting license, but didn’t kill anything, let alone hit the paper target.) For a high school graduate who had never stepped foot in Durango, I chose well. It was one of the best leap-before-you-look decisions I ever made.
And since Durango was such a coveted place to live, it attracted quality professors. Looking back, I’m grateful I went to school out-of-state, even though it hurt the pocketbook, because the experiences of being out of my element were life-altering and turned my senses on to a sub-culture I had no idea existed. It was a complete immersion experience. I couldn’t even afford to go home, so I didn’t return to Hawaii for a visit for another 5 years.
(To get to Colorado in the first place, I went to community college for a year while I worked at Little Caesars Pizza to save money for the airfare.)
So, I was wet-behind-the-ears, green as could be, when I arrived on campus. There were Native Americans around for the first time in my young life. A university in Japan had a sister school exchange thingy with FLC so there were a few of them running around, but not enough to make me feel like I was at home, and I certainly wasn’t one of them.
During the application process, I had to fill out this lifestyle survey so that the college could supposedly find me a compatible roommate. When I arrived, I was puffing at high altitude towing my heavy oversized suitcase and leaving one behind somewhere on campus so I could find my dorm room without collapsing first. My new roommate, Nadya, was lying on the bed. One of the first things she said to me was, “Do you like to party?”
We didn’t hit it off, but we tried – and it was through the trying that we eventually became lifelong friends. This was one of those situations where because we were thrown together, we learned how surface differences didn’t run deep. She was a first generation American, like me. Her parents emigrated from Italy. Nadya, too, had a brother and we both came from working class families. Oh, and we bonded over rock music.
She was more rock and roll though. I was a nerd compared to her, but without the smart and brainy qualities. Oh, never mind, that doesn’t really make me a nerd, but more like a dork. Yeah, I was a dork. And when I was first trying to make friends on campus, I somehow ended up in the nerd/dork crowd, but I knew I didn’t belong with them.
I’m not sure for how long this lasted, maybe a trimester, before I found my peeps, but I no longer found an easy companionship with the theatre crowd like I did in high school. Socially, I was lost, but I was not lonely. I think because everything was new and different, I was too much immersed in the adventure to feel anything, but openness towards my college experience. And I have Nadya to thank for so much…a solid friendship is not to be forgotten.
It was probably beneficial for me to “find my way” though. And since I didn’t know any better, it seemed natural. I marvel at the woman who didn’t force herself to be unhappy or settle somewhere she didn’t belong, but to keep on moving. I wasn’t so insecure that I needed to belong to a group. That quality has only strengthened as I’ve gotten older. (Now, romantic relationships? Well, that’s another story all together!)
Unlike the jocks that failed and left our dormitory half empty, I loved academia life. There were so many fascinating courses to take and my education was a liberal one. For the first time in my schooling, I didn’t fall asleep, act naughty, or mentally check out. I eagerly took Astronomy, Ballroom Dancing, African history, Geology, Philosophy of Death and Dying, Art History, Sociology, Shakespeare, and Playwriting. I also didn’t have the problem that other students faced – I loved my major, Anthropology and Archaeology.
College was the time when I got myself spiritually sorted out, if that makes any sense. I eventually made friends who came from similar backgrounds that helped me feel connected to a larger whole. I learned that whatever predetermined past I managed to survive was accepted and allowed to breathe among friends who cared and loved me.
If high school was about theatre and drama, college was about nourishment and growing beyond my self. College was the stepping stone, the bridge that opened up to the greater world and the path that ultimately led me to a deeper understanding of myself and what I needed.
What was your college experience? Was it your modern rite of passage? What were you like back then, and have you changed?