To be completely honest, my time outside the Vassar bubble just seemed…well, easier than life in the HipsterDome, let alone life in the US. When I was living in London and people asked where I was from, all I had to say was “America” and they’d either smile and nod or mutter something about “Damn Yanks.” Either way, not much hassle. Now that I’m back, however, and I tell people that I live in Poughkeepsie, I first have to convince many of them that Poughkeepsie is in fact attached to the continental United States. If it’s a good day, I won’t have to pull out my smartphone and show them where it’s located on Google Maps.
After this is done and the conversation moves on to what I’m studying in this mysterious kingdom called “Poughkeepsie,” I must tirelessly defend my English major with whosoever might inquire about it. There was never any call to defend my curricular choices in London, and I think it’s because England has Shakespeare. Shakespeare was an English writer/poet/juggler? who we all know was considered to be, like, the best. I mean, The Lion King is based on Hamlet, so how bad can the guy be, right? But when I tell an American that I’m an English major, they tend to respond with, “What’s wrong with science, huh?” My reasoning here is that it’s because Albert Einstein, the best scientist who ever lived, eventually received US citizenship. If it had been Shakespeare who had American citizen (and invented science or whatever it is crazy-haired Germans did with math back in the 20s) my experience might be different. I may not be called a “dirty traitor” so often. Or at least not by my own family.
I found the benefits of living in a huge city like London to be surprisingly comforting after my time in the bubble. For the first time in two years I enjoyed being ambiguous. There was no one who called out to me ironically saying “Hey” when I grabbed my coffee in the morning, as I hopped on the tube for class, or while I self-consciously sat inside the communal toilet thankful to no longer read Vassar graffiti (Yes, you quoted “V for Vendetta” again, congratulations). For three straight months, I lived the life of an expatriate, traveling around like Hemingway in the Sun Also Rises, minus the gruesome bullfights and anti-semitism. I was simply another face in the crowd. I assure you that after two years at Vassar, there were benefits to this. For instance, one bright and sunny morning at Vassar I decided to get breakfast at the Deece (out of dining bucks). I was walking steadily with my eggs and toast to grab some OJ, when I suddenly dropped my plate while going in for the dispenser and everything shattered to pieces on the floor. The Deece immediately went quiet. It was like that moment in Silence of the Lambs before Buffalo kidnaps Catherine. Some students simply shook their heads at me; other clapped; some vomited; and one girl shouted “Good Job.” I believe this girl’s full name is Person-whose-face-is-on-my-dartboard Smith.
If this sort of thing were to happen to me in London, of course it would be embarrassing for a while, but I’d move on. At Vassar, on the other hand, it’s just not that simple (it also doesn’t help that I’m paranoid). Those same people who watched me drop my food to utter embarrassment are the same folks who were in my World Cinema class, my fellow group, the Sangha where I meditate, the endless post office line, the vacuous back corner of the Mug, and now my nightmares. I might as well walk around with a scarlet OJ on my chest signifying my disgrace. That being said, Vassar is a lovely place, but it’s also made me hate breakfast and the English language and at times Albert Einstein, and this was NOT the case in London. On the other hand, it’s nice that everything is suddenly not a million dollars anymore. Real nice.