Saturday, August 14, 2010

(Not) Back to College

In less than a week, I will join thousands of other young adults in a traditional American ritual. I will cram my car full of as much crap as it will possibly hold, drive clear across the country to a place I have visited only once before, and move into a tiny room with another young adult. Sounds pretty familiar, right?

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.

8 comments:

Michael said...

Yay, you're coming to Boston!!

Also? This post is awesome.

Also also, FYI: sleet is slightly wetter and sloppier. Freezing rain is slightly icier and sharper and more likely to not only land on you and be frozen on your skin and therefore hurt, but stab you with its icy sharpness when it lands on you. Freezing rain, once on the ground, turns into water or ice. Sleet may turn into water, ice, or that lovely commodity we always have such a surplus of in winter: slush. Melting snow also turns to slush, especially when a lot of cars drive over or near it. Imagine walking through half-melted Sno Cone everywhere you go. Invest in a good pair of boots.

And remember that as this is not Florida, unless there is a bare minimum of a foot of snow on the ground, no one will be holed up at home afraid to go anywhere. ;) We are a hardy people. If three feet of snow fall in the middle of the night, schools will be closed for perhaps two days (shops and banks and everything else will be open as usual), people will grumble as they dig out over the course of an afternoon, and life will quickly resume as normal. (Schools close for snow only when the road conditions are such that the buses can't get through, which never lasts very long because we are very good at digging out.)

Also, if you are here in the winter, you will bear witness to the joys of Boston residents trying to acquire and keep 'their' parking spot when there is snow. If you are not among those fighting for a place to put your car, this can be very, very funny. :)

Idzie said...

Sounds like a good deal to me, too! Love this post. And it's so cool you're moving to Boston for a while! :D That does sound like a seriously cool neighborhood.

Also, I lolled at Michael's description of Winter. Sounds pretty accurate to me!

Oh, and @Bonnie and Michael: I'm sooo looking forward to seeing you guys at NEUC!! :-D

靜蔡蔡蔡蔡怡 said...

困難的不在於新概念,而在於逃避舊有的概念。......................................................................

佳張張張張燕張張張張張 said...

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翊翊翊翊張瑜翊翊翊 said...

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張王雅竹欣虹 said...

累死了…來去看看文章轉換心情~......................................... ........................

偉DimpleHolloway043昀 said...

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George said...

Thanks for this post. As the father of a 3 year old choosing unschooling, I have often thought "what about college?" Your point of view solidifies my thought that one does not need college to explore the world, learn to cope with life on your own (outside the parents' home), and be VERY articulate about it all. Enjoy Boston and your journey!