What makes my journey different is that I'm not going to college. The confluence of my transition with back-to-school time is a coincidence. I'm going, instead, to live in a pretty interesting neighborhood of Boston, with a friend and her family. And though this living situation will bear little actual similarity to college life, I think it's an interesting comparison. Because even though I won't have the curriculum of a formal program of study, the city has its own curriculum for me.
I will be studying:
- Diversity, both ethnic (I will be staying with a Haitian family, in a neighborhood in which my friend says "you can walk down the street and hear five arguments in four different languages") and religious (Catholics and Muslims and Jews, oh my!)
- Politics. I'll be going from a very conservative town to a very liberal one, which raises questions: What are the dynamics which make a city that is 40% Catholic also be 80% liberal? How do politics color the culture of a city? It'll be interesting to observe this stuff, especially with a major election around the bend.
- History. Lots and lots and lots of history in Massachusetts. (Lots in Florida too, but the Massachusetts kind doesn't stir up so many icky feelings about my slaveholding ancestors, and is thus more enjoyable for me.)
- Architecture. Nearly 50% of houses in Boston were built prior to 1939. Cool!
- Weather. I've lived in Florida my whole life. 'Nuff said.
- City Life. I am but a humble country mouse. Public transportation, knowing how to navigate on foot, personal safety - this stuff is new to me. Plus, I'll be exposed to all kinds of cool cultural stuff that Jacksonville, being more "America's most bloated suburb" than an actual city, does not have.
- Diplomacy. I will be living in close quarters with a friend. That is always a learning experience in itself.
All of this is in addition to the things I will learn pursuing work and leisure, dealing with autism and chronic illness, and being a queer geek, just as I would anywhere else.
"Ah," say the naysayers, "but if you were going away to college in a new city, you'd learn all that plus a curriculum! So you're still missing out!" Oh, ye of little faith. First of all, I have lived on a college campus before, and I can say from experience that I am the sort of person who would simply cocoon myself up in campus life and never go exploring in the city. Second, anyone who knows me also knows that hellfire and dragons couldn't keep me from academic learning. I react to libraries the way Blanche Devereaux reacts to cheesecake. Third, if I were doing a formal full-time curriculum I would not have the time or inclination to sit and ponder about Catholicism and the Salem witch trials and the difference between sleet and freezing rain.
But most importantly, I will be learning about politics and history and diversity and architecture and the changing seasons because those are my interests. Those are the elements, in addition to friendship and good timing, that attracted me to a place like Boston in the first place. Were I not interested in those things, I probably wouldn't spend time thinking about them, and I may not have been excited to go to Boston in the first place. And none of those interests were sparked in me by any curriculum. Some of them were very nearly ruined by curricula, and even with the ones that weren't, I have never found a program of formal study that would satisfy my craving for them in just the right way. Going into a history program and studying whatever history they tell you to study, when your passion is for a specific aspect or period of history, is quite like going into a bakery and ordering a slice of lemon meringue pie when you were craving chocolate cake. You're in the right ballpark, but man, when you need chocolate cake, nothing else will do. You just can't enjoy that lemon pie like you would if you'd really been wanting it. Learning is very much the same.
So I'm gaining a lot of benefits I wouldn't necessarily have in college. As for what I'm missing? Let's see... there's the thousands of dollars worth of debt, the experience of living with a complete stranger who might steal your stuff or have sex on your bed, the pressure to join a sorority, the bad cafeteria food, the feeling of being babysat all the time despite being a legal adult... Oh yeah, and the Almighty Piece of Paper. Fine. If I decide I want one of those, I can get it. But for now, all the other benefits of college are coming to me, at far less cost, and in ways that are not artificially constructed by people who have never met me, yet claim to know what I need. Sounds like a good deal to me.