Washington, D.C.: Oct. 17, 2019.
We were ensconced on the smooth white steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The night felt surreal. Excitement buzzed around me, due to the cold or the sleep deprivation. A chilly breeze danced through the purplish-pink sky as we simply gazed off at the lean silhouette of the Washington Monument against the backdrop of a retiring sun. Legs sore but hearts content, we let our eyes roam, soaking in the marble statue, the intense pillars and the cohorts of individuals pointing, commenting and snapping pictures at Lincoln’s feet.
After the sun finally retreated, we took a stroll along the Vietnam Veteran Memorial. There was an unspoken somberness amongst the inscriptions. Although directly unconnected to the war, I felt a sort of kinship. I worked in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, this summer, and heard painful war stories from the close friends I met at work, saw gut-wrenching historical museums and the lingering effects of Agent Orange. Moreover, architectural design is a topic special to me because I entered campus as an architecture major. I quickly changed my major, but the adolescent shadow of me who admired Maya Lin remained.
The next evening, after touring the John F. Kennedy Center, we decided to head to an Indian restaurant. It had been four years since I had tried Indian food at a close friend’s birthday party. One of the girls whose family is from South Asia and was familiar with the dishes ordered family style for our group. We were a party of seven that night; most of us had been strangers 36 hours ago. But at that dinner, we talked about everything from philosophical debates on whether “everything happens for a reason” to giving random hot takes on food and music. Meanwhile, we passed around the chicken masala, lamb curry and toasty garlic naan. In those moments, I was content, dipping my naan in sauces I had never known.
What I just described was my trip to Washington, D.C. over fall break. Although it lasted less than four days, I could talk about the people I encountered, the stories I heard and the spaces I entered endlessly. The moments I’ve described were the ones particularly memorable for me. However, the majority of the time we spent was actually meeting think tank directors, chatting with regional experts on South Asia and Iranian sanctions and listening to policy initiatives at conferences. I found myself on this all-expense-covered trip to D.C. through a Yale club. As a sophomore, I’ve now realized that Yale has a ton of resources, financial and otherwise, that will take you everywhere short of the moon. Try to find and utilize these perks! It’s not every day we get to watch the sunset at Lincoln Memorial and munch on lamb curry.
But even more than making use of Yale’s opportunities, the mere fact of getting off of campus is a shift in landscape that we need more often than we’d expect. This semester, I’ve acutely felt the phenomenon known as the “Yale bubble.” On campus, we immerse ourselves in a fast-paced, Google-calendar regimented lifestyle — running from sections to club meetings to meals. We overcommit and under-rest out of a fear of missing out. We deem our five credits, seven clubs, six meetings per day schedule as “the norm:” our method of making the most of our time here. However, we lose the larger perspective if we fall into the hectic rhythm of campus. And that’s why I advocate for us to step away from campus from time to time.
This can take various forms. Some use Yale’s resources to attend class excursions to New York City or club trips to Washington, D.C. Others study abroad, or simply make plans with friends to explore neighboring Connecticut towns. Whether it’s a quick run to Savers (a thrifting staple) to destress and cop some gems, or making an impromptu trip to the beach and feasting on raspberries, chips and hummus, don’t confine yourself to the two-mile radius sandwiched between Science Hill and Old Campus.
By no means is this suggestion meant to be an escape from our problems on campus. The word “escape” casts Yale as a prison-like space when it isn’t supposed to be. Yale is an institution with a high barrier to entry but a fluid structure within. Brief exits help us grow and reset, each in our own way. We might see how we take our activities and interactions at Yale a bit too seriously. We might be reenergized through the few breaths we take in a more normally paced life. We might get that fresh sense of awe when seeing beautiful buildings other than the Sterling and Beinecke libraries.
We’ve worked hard to get here, but does that mean we shouldn’t step away for a bit every now and then?
Michelle Fang is a sophomore in Davenport College. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .