When I joined Trinity College many years ago, I was a naive culture-shocked teenager. Unlike my international friends from bigger cities and unlike most international students these days, my exposure to western/American culture was negligible. So I have many amusing stories – like not knowing what a bagel was, for instance – but I digress.
Academically and at my part-time job at the library, I fit very well and I did ok in most social circumstances too. However, I found it extremely hard to mingle into the ‘party scene’. And Trinity’s party scene was le-gend-ary.
In the very first week of school, I recall that there was a ‘foam’ party. I was shocked to see frolicking first year students enter a gigantic tub of foam and dance away uninhibitedly. As I stood awkwardly in a corner of the room, far from the tub and the lights, an extremely friendly American girl asked me whether I’d like to enter the foam with her. Instead of seizing the opportunity, I politely declined (still in a state of shock) and to my surprise she chose not to enter the foam either. I told her to ‘never mind me and please go ahead into the foam’ but she smiled, turned around, and left the party. I found her ability to leave the party liberating (for I was standing transfixed) and a few moments later, I left the party as well. (On a tangential note, I believe she transferred out of Trinity the next year to study at another liberal arts college closer to her boyfriend in California.)
Being unable to fit in with a prominent part of Trinity’s social life was very disheartening. I was always quite the socializer in my high school and my few months of college in India and so being a misfit at Trinity felt very strange. Another international friend in a somewhat similar situation made this astute observation: ‘Sab theater hai yaar!’ I could instantly relate to his statement: it was as though we found ourselves in the middle of a live play: all the people around us were actors who knew exactly how the play went and completely embodied their respective roles while we ‘miscasts’ had to somehow engage in some kind of confused improv just to fit in with the spirit of the play. Culture shock was a surreal experience.
So, rather than get involved in the party scene and face the challenges of learning the part of my character, I withdrew from the party-scene entirely. Instead, I start hanging out with the arty/intellectual crowd who disdained the wild debauchery of those parties and with other international students who either disliked or found it difficult to blend into the party atmosphere.
Consequently, the quality of my social life soared. I loved the company of my new friends – we had great intellectual and philosophical conversations late into the night, we watched numerous independent/international movies and documentaries, we explored the city of Hartford, we attended musicals, plays, cutural events, etc. In addition, I was also a part of a ‘desi’ (South Asian) group and we had tons of fun watching Hindi movies, eating Indian food, playing cricket/squash, etc. It also helped that I forged great relationships through academics, work (at the library), and general day-to-day life. Over the years, I was able to build close friendships with my professors, peers, colleagues at the library, the kitchen and janitorial staff, etc.
However, deep inside, a part of me still wished to party like most Trin-Triners even though I found my own ongoing life to be deeply satisfying and enriching. I remained envious of those of my friends who were able to seamlessly participate in the arty scene and the party scene.
A few years and many incidents later, I reached the end of my senior year. It was now time to decide whether to participate in Senior Week – a set of parties organized by the college for seniors during the period between finals and graduation day. I decided to go for it! Senior Week was truly awesome. I was able to shake off my inhibitions and get on the dance floor (all right, I was dragged by my friends). On one occasion a friend who I knew very well mostly from our many shared classes even decided to grind with me while dancing to a popular hip-hop song. This was so much fun!!! It was exhilarating to be uninhibited and just have a mindless wild time.
But after that brief week it all crashed to an end. I graduated from Trinity and enrolled in graduate school. Suddenly I was too old to party with the wild young students at UT Austin. By the time I was done with my Ph.D., I had become even older. Most of my friends (even the party types) had settled into stable family lives. The 4 year window of opportunity for the wild ride that Trinity life potentially offered had closed for good.
One day, a few months after finishing with grad school, I found myself walking on the campus of Boston University with an old friend from Trinity. He was among those who had done a relatively better job than I had of combining the arty scene, the desi scene, and the party scene. There was a wild party going on in BU and we walked past the revelers in silence.
My friend remarked, “I miss college life.” “Me too yaar,” I replied with a combination of regret and nostalgia. “I miss the college life I never had…”
P.S. I sometimes wonder if I am currently missing out on some aspects of a fun-filled social life due to my personality or lack of awareness. Please feel free to share your thoughts or relate your own college experiences in your comments.