I put in my best performance ever on the Greyhound Bus back from Boston. To discourage the oncoming passengers from sitting next to me, I spread out my papers, laptop and winter coat over the whole seat.
My previous attempts were to pretend to be asleep, but Greyhound riders have no qualms about waking up a peacefully slumbering girl, as I learned when a filthily drunk man reeking of malt liquor chose to collapse beside me. In the next hellishly long two hours, he talked to himself (and to me, even though I was still doing the fake sleep), hugged a man walking by in the aisle, and caressed him, calling out “Oh my Charity!”
What makes me endure the interminable bus rides? No, it’s not the opportunity to meet unique, aka sketchy, passengers but to visit my older brother, Chris, a second-year grad student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. After spending a lot of time, including the whole Thanksgiving break, with a bona fide grad student, I’ve learned to really value the dynamism and mere existence of undergraduate life.
Add the dull merrymaking of a graduate student to Harvard’s already lackluster social life and you get many lonely Saturday nights.
Two summers ago, we drove together cross-country to new beginnings: college for me, grad school for him. We both experienced the cultural shock of entering cutthroat East Coast life (Chris had been working in Seattle for two years) and the struggle of making new friends. Whereas I was thrown into a building of hundreds of anxious, excited, hormone-saturated freshmen, my brother moved into his spacious yet isolated student-housing apartment. Grad students don’t all live within a five-minute range of potential friends and hookups.
While I was adapting to the sardine can of my Vanderbilt suite, Chris was having nightly discussions with his All-American friends, J. Walker and J. Daniels. I had far less sophisticated gatherings with my diverse companions: Popov, Dubra and Busch.
As I meet random guys by the fratfuls, single grad school students are a little less abundant. Many are married, engaged or practically married. The ticking of the biological clock and the pressure to avoid being the third wheel can cause a lot of anxiety for unsuspecting grad students.
Because of the limited supply and intense pressure to consider marriage, meticulous and methodical dating is necessary. The dating timetable regresses to that of fifth grade, with a lot of meaningful conversation and playful teasing. In contrast, dating is nonexistent in undergraduate life, while the dating schedule is compressed between late night and sunrise.
Who wastes time with meaningful conversation when everything must transpire before the sun comes up and all you have is a painful headache, a walk of shame, and a vaguely recalled name to look up in the facebook?
Of course, both grad and college students play the 20-Question get-to-know-you game, but the questions change with age.
In grad school: “Where’d you go undergrad? What multibillion dollar corporation have you worked for since graduation? If we have conflicting religious and political ideals, how will we raise our child?”
In college: “What kind of music do you like? You’re not into that commitment thing, right? Sooo, dining hall food sucks, huh?”
Grad students, even at Harvard, do have parties, but they lack the black light, smoky haze, and blaring Bon Jovi of college parties (why would you want to have a party then anyway?) Granted I’ve only been to one grad school party, but it seems like you need to prepare an oral presentation about your career ambitions, future retirement plan and political views. Classical music at a low volume accompanies the concurrent networking and easily accessible business cards are a must! Nah, I don’t mean to cut down their parties, because I did enjoy the wine, cheese and unpronounceable foreign hors d’oeuvres more than the usual pretzels, Oreos and chips at a college party, when there’s food at all.
I’ve been lucky to have an older brother to show me what lies ahead. He’s the only other person who has endured 18 years of my parents and can empathize with some of my issues.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past two years, it’s that you should enjoy college now, even if you feel a little bummed, because the social life is all downhill from here. At grad school, you have to concentrate on one field of study and don’t have the luxury of aimlessly taking interesting but unrelated classes. And you have to worry about pursuing a career and making money, since you don’t have Mommy and Daddy to fall back on (I love that random cash).
So, as we head into final exams, let’s all remember to revel in our carefree, hedonistic, profligate days of financial dependence!
Nicole Lim is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Her columns regularly appear on alternate Fridays.