Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Students Should Keep First-Day Optimism

The new student optimism at Georgetown during the first weeks of school is infectious – everywhere you go people are smiling at one another, striking up random conversations and introducing themselves. That excitement is characteristic of the first weeks back on campus. Another tradition, a tradition that not many people talk about, is that optimism ends.

The possibilities of chance interactions last until about the last week in September. I wish I could explain the settling in that takes place. The best example I can give of this is from my freshman year, around this time. Several of my friends and I were eating dinner in New South when a guy that none of us knew sat down, introduced himself, and asked if he could eat with us. This sort of thing would not have been out of place within the first two or three weeks of school, but now – well, I remember we made appropriate small talk but all felt kind of uncomfortable about his friendly gesture, too eager, too presumptuous. Thinking back to that evening I see it as the beginning of a sad trend. How many opportunities have we missed?

Why do we become so insular? Do we get lazy or tired, bogged down by the hefty reading assignments of overzealous professors, trapped in our own little worlds of “to do” lists and commitments? What changes? I do not think that those first weeks are an act. Moments I’ve had outside of Georgetown lead me to believe it is not the case . . .

My living situation in Seattle this summer, four male roommates in a house that always smelled a little like cooked meat and offered plenty of opportunities to abuse my body and improve my pool game, yet somewhere in the middle of July, I felt the stirs of restlessness. Wanderlust maybe, brought on by all the stories of my friends making their way back home from being abroad. (Plus, it was around mid-July that my roommate decided that brushing up on his skateboarding would help him sharpen that hardened masculine edge women long for and started using the decaying halfpipe in the backyard that happened to be directly under my window. Click click click bam, click click click bam, sliiiiiiide, click click click, hey, Hope, am I making you hot? How bout now? How bout . It was cute for about eight minutes.)

So I take my other roommate’s bike (he doesn’t know; he is in the Tri-City area watching speed boat races and sporting a “If you can read this, you’re not drunk enough” T-shirt) and I bike to the ferry, which skims an hour over blue-green water and leaves me at the edge of an island in the middle of the Sound. I bike inward from the dock a ways to a hostel. I check in for a single night.

It was my first American hostel. I do not know what I was expecting, what I was looking for exactly. I traveled alone in Europe for several months when I was 18 and returned to the States longing for the backpacking subculture that I had experienced abroad. Hostels are repositories of information and experiences. Interactions have immediate consequences; conversations you strike up over breakfast literally change your direction. One minute you’re in the Swiss alps eating a dry croissant and writing a self-congratulatory postcard and the next you’re on your way to the south of Spain with a couple of guys named Drew and Bob who love Italian coffee and just got done doing a drug study with a hospital in London where they ate aspirin by the handful and got strapped to EKG monitors. Maybe I learned nothing from Drew and Bob-o except that there is a beautiful beach town in Valencia and to stay away from over-the-counter pain medication in large doses. What’s important is the fluidity of those interactions.

What do people hosteling in Europe have in common? These brief experiences are grounded in the fact that everyone is lugging their life across the continent on their backs, that everyone is wandering, picking up as much or as little of one another’s life stories as can be compressed on the train ride between Prague and Vienna. I loved the feeling of being connected, having an experiential affinity with everyone I met.

I was wondering if this sort of a community existed in the United States – I think that was what drew me to the hostel on the island this summer. I wanted to know that people were drifting through the States, tripping over each other swapping information and stories. I guess I wanted to experience a little of that again, pass myself off as a fellow wanderer for a night and see if they would let me in. And? They were there, just as I’d hoped them to be: two women from England, an old couple from Germany, an aspiring writer from New York, a computer analyst on vacation and a woman in her 70s driving the west coast alone. I spent that night as a pseudo-traveler, listening to their stories.

Admittedly a little different from the freshman guy who swaggers toward me in the New South salad bar line, spills some brightly colored sports drink on my toes and apologizes by making stimulating small talk about the palette of salad dressings available before getting around to the meaty questions like which dorm I live in. Um, I don’t actually live in a dorm, I’m a senior. I say it laughing, honestly happy that for a moment my reverie of important nutritional decisions (ooh, broccoli or tomatoes, or both?) has been disrupted. The poor guy is falling all over himself, apologizing. And I want to tell him to stop, that I am glad that he woke me up, but he’s backpedaling so hard that I can barely get a word in edgewise.

But Christ, at least it’s something; at least it’s a beginning, however bizarre, of reaching out. We construct these inauthentic bubbles to live inside, neglecting to see that we share something at least as powerful as carrying our lives around on our backs and hopping cheap trains – we have chosen to be here; we have all chosen education and education at Georgetown. I tend to think of the self as more open, that the mind is at its best when it is crashing into other minds and ideas. Otherwise, we’re all just playing it safe.

Ramble On appears every other Friday in The Hoya.

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