Feature image from nshame.com
I tend to be the type of person to want what I don’t have, whether it’s silly things like stealing food off my friends’ plates at a restaurant or more important things like wishing I had taken AP Chemistry instead of AP Physics. I often feel I make the best choice available to me in any given situation, but when I witness others’ decisions, I can’t help wondering if I chose wrongly.
I thought I was growing out of this unfortunate tendency until I visited some of my best friends at their respective colleges over my spring and fall breaks. I couldn’t help but compare all the aspects I liked about their schools to all the things I disliked about mine, and wishing I went to one of their schools instead.
WANTING WHAT COULD’VE BEEN
For example, one of my best friends goes to Rice University, a school I knew next to nothing about until she decided to attend. I finally got to pay her a visit during my spring break this past April, and after visiting the campus, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I loved about Rice, from the architecture to the dorms to a million other small things.
The list seemed to never end: I envied their free bus passes and free access to gyms and laundry facilities, all of which I had to pay for at my school. I wanted the same sense of close-knit communities afforded by the residential college system. I wished my dining halls and meal plans were more like those at Rice, incorporating three meals into each day so that I could eat a full breakfast regularly, a luxury I’ve unfortunately rarely had the chance to indulge in during my time in college.
And the sunshine! Going from rainy and mid-50’s weather in upstate New York one day to clear skies and high 70’s in Houston the next day in was the best pick-me-up I could have asked for, especially when it was already mid-April and seemed like spring was in full swing everywhere (except where I was). To me, when the weather is nice, everything seems right with the world.
In short, I never wanted to leave. I found myself wondering several times throughout my visit how I was stupid enough to miss this gem of a school during applications season in senior year of high school, and how different my life might have been had I known. I didn’t want to admit it, but part of me thought that my college experience would have been better had I been able to go to Rice instead of where I go now.
STEPPING OUT OF THE BUBBLE
Once my visit ended and I found myself back on my own campus, I realized that my visit to Rice was in a bubble of sorts, and as a result many of the opinions I had formed were pretty biased. I could explore the campus to my heart’s content without having to worry about schoolwork, visit all the nearby museums and parks, and generally spend my time however I wanted with no stress or worries (for the time-being, anyway). My perspective of life at Rice was skewed, because I got to experience the school under the best possible circumstances, but they also happened to be completely unrealistic.
Just like prospective students going on a campus tour who are shown the highlight reel of the school in question, I experienced Rice as a visitor and not a student fully integrated into the everyday life. I didn’t experience the stress that my best friend was surely under as she worked to finish two midterm papers while studying for another midterm exam, and I won’t experience the suffocating heat that would soon hit Texas once summer was in full swing.
I realized that I couldn’t let myself be lured into thinking about alternate realities when I couldn’t possibly fully comprehend what those alternate realities would hold. And what I also realized, upon returning to my own campus, was that it felt like I never left, because my school had become a home to me.
I couldn’t imagine going to school anywhere else, not because I always thought Cornell would be the best school for me or the only place for me to reach my full potential, but because it’s where I ultimately ended up. Through all the wonderful (and oftentimes awful) experiences, I’ve learned countless lessons, strengthened my resolve and persistence, and grown as both a student and friend. Although I like to play the game of “What If” (so much so that I get too caught up in it sometimes), nothing in my imagination can compare to the very real set of defining experiences that my school has given me and as a result, shaped me into the person that I am today.
LEARNING TO APPRECIATE WHAT I HAVE
Soon upon my return from Rice, I eased back into my life at Cornell and came to see that I shouldn’t be dwelling on all the wistful thoughts running through my head too long. Not only would I never realistically switch schools, I also realized I had grown so accustomed to my own school that I no longer saw all the good things about it, instead only noticing the bad. I had come to take all the positive attributes of my school for granted, instead only noticing when something negative bothered me.
I didn’t want to spend my last year wishing I went to another university. Instead, I decided what I really needed was to reevaluate my perspective and try to overcome some of the negative biases I had formed about my own school after being beaten down by countless prelims (that’s what our school calls midterms, because we like to think we’re special but really are just a bit pretentious) and finals.
I made myself go through the exercise of naming something I liked about my school for every single thing I liked about Rice. For example, although Ithaca may have abysmal weather for the better part of the year, that just makes summer and sunshine all the more appreciated by the entire student body. Not to mention, there are 14,000 other like-minded peers that you can commiserate with when it’s time to trek through the blizzard to the library during finals week.
As for a sense of community, although my freshmen dorms weren’t as well precisely structured to offer a general sense of family bonding as residential colleges, I was able to find it elsewhere, namely through clubs. The friendships I’ve forged and the groups I’ve become a part of give me the same sense of family that residential colleges provide, with the added bonus that in my case, I was the one who actively sought out these people, which make them extra special to me.
As for having to pay for a number of services, I improvise. I can kill two birds with one stone by walking everywhere (and believe me, the slopes at Cornell give you a good workout), thus eliminating the need for both a bus pass and a gym pass. Less dining hall meals means learning to cook for myself and being more efficient in preparing food.
All in all, this exercise was a needed reminder that I am lucky to be where I am. What my school lacked, it made up for in other areas. My dissatisfaction with Cornell was of my own making, and it took a visit and living a week at another college for me to remind myself that there is so much I’ve ended up taking for granted and forgotten to be thankful for. There’s always something going for us, regardless of where we go to school; we just have to remind ourselves to be aware of it and not dwell on the shortcomings as much.
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