Everything no one told you about going to college
By Hannah Strom-Martin
The lines are long. The food is vile. Your family has just spent $30,000 in order for a washed-up intellectual to tell you, "Gee, I don't think we have room for you in the Social Construction of Silence." Are you dreaming? Is it possible you were on crack for the last four years and just didn't know it? Surprise! You're in college now, baby, and all bets are off.
To quote that old proverb from South Park, everyone knows that "there's a time and a place for everything, and it's called college." Truer words were never spoken. You see a lot in college: clothes made of electrical tape; porn used as wallpaper; a picture of a J.Lo jumpsuit that the self-described "gay as a goose" cultural arts teacher has taped to his office door with the words "I must have it!" written underneath. (Well, actually, the J.Lo thing is probably something you get more of in a liberal arts college, but still, it's wacky out there.)
In between the thousands of dollars, the all-night study sessions and the constant drinking, you somehow have to come to grips with who you are and what you want to be before they kick you out of the best four-year co-ed camp you've ever known with a diploma and a "See you later!" What they don't tell you is that your highly anticipated self-revelation may never happen. If the rate at which my roommate changed majors isn't proof enough, let me say it once, loud and clear: college is not a destination; it's a journey. Here are some lovingly remembered road signs.
Intellectuals Are Intensely Stupid
Good on ya! You've survived high school. Now you're free to go to that magical realm they've been beating you over the head with for the last four years, that place where you'll finally be accepted for who you are and be allowed to get on with your higher calling.
This is almost true. But first you have to deal with a set of policies and attitudes more worthy of a dyslexic five-year-old than a group of credentialed adults.
When I graduated from college, the English department heads were still trying to figure out how to get rid of the creative writing program--despite the fact that their slick promotional brochures bragged a blue streak about all the famous authors who had come out of the school. Sometime during my stay, the health department began charging $25 per tablet if some poor sniffling kid wanted a dose of vitamin C.
My academic adviser forbade me to take a beginning acting class on the grounds that, as a freshman, I was just beginning. The yearly sign-up for classes--in which all the students and teachers converged in one hall to haggle over who was going to get what class--looked more like a barn dance than registration.
The college president once asked me for directions to one of the student residences on her own campus.
The college proudly declares itself a "liberal arts institution" yet offers no art history classes, liberal or otherwise. In contrast, the totalitarian approach used by the British university system seemed a paragon of sanity during my junior year abroad. But know this: every college has its quirks.
The bad news is that most of the urban legends they tell you about college are true. There is such a thing as the Freshman 15 (or even the Freshman 30, if you don't consciously up your steamed-kale intake). Your crazy roommate will probably lock you out of your room at one point, and most of the new friends you met in freshman orientation either bail out or join the smokers two weeks into it. But for all that, college is the one place I know where a bona fide high school loser can blossom into a full-on sex bomb.
No one at your fancy university knows that milk cartons were commonly thrown at you as you ran frantically across the quad to get to high school drama class. Hell, owning costumes and knowing every scrap of dialogue from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is suddenly an asset! Chances are no one will blink if you dress like Shakira. And if all those male heads turning to follow your progress through the dining hall are lusting less for you than your leather skirt or longing to use your boa at the next Fetish Night, remember that it's the unheard-of recognition that counts. Which brings me to point number three.
You Might Not Get Laid
Come to think of it, this actually should have been point number one. The single most important advice any would-be student with a libido needs to know is this: always, always--no matter what your orientation--check the boy-to-girl ratio of your prospective university. In fact, go out and buy one of those slick-talking, ultracool guides to college right now and find out what you're in for.
Every single sexual orientation, lifestyle and fetish you can think of is exhibited at college, including the ever-so-interesting asexual persuasion usually honored by Dungeons and Dragons-addicted women with names like Autumn and Cherry. Even being lucky enough to go to a university where the sex pool is huge does not guarantee you'll be getting any.
I was recently shocked to learn that a completely all-American guy friend of mine who attended a completely all-American kegger of a school had graduated luckless. If it can happen to him, by God, no one is safe! Know, memorize and map the path to the nearest boys' school if you're going to Brown, the nearest girls' school if you're going to MIT, and by any means possible, go to Bennington if you find yourself to be more "alternative."
Every Day Is Thanksgiving
Ah, food. Such a joyous aspect of life--in the right hands. I happened to go to a college that boasted having the third best university food in the nation, a striking claim considering that the overriding philosophy behind all food preparation there seemed to be boil the bastard. The cooks tried, bless their hearts, to liven things up. There were "theme nights" all the time. Mexican night. Albanian night. Happy Carnival Fun night. Mostly, there was Thanksgiving.
I think the kids who went to my college have eaten more Thanksgiving feasts than the original pilgrims--all of it lovingly made from the cheapest products my parents' $30,000 a year could buy. Somewhere along the way, the fake mashed potatoes gave out and were replaced by small red potatoes whose skins--while real--inevitably wound up in the mash and then between your teeth.
When they mowed the grass, we got spinach. When the cooks got really inventive, we were actually served tofu-banana curry. And as to the spaghetti and meatballs . . . some things are better left as vague as the meat product used to make them.
I know it might be hard to pony up more dough for college, but keeping an emergency restaurant fund is never a bad idea.
College Is Great
Despite its foibles, the old adage holds true: college might well be the best four to seven years of your life. Where else are you going to have serious discussions about the latest anime, learn dirty French for credit or make up haikus about the enchilada bake you were foolish enough to try before a date? From your first jaded androgynous ska-punk crush to your favorite professor's flagrant public drinking habit, college is one long strange trip--but navigating the curves is half the fun.
Hannah Strom-Martin is a 2003 graduate of Bennington College in Vermont, where she studied literature and voice, and ate out often. Stay tuned for more from Hannah when she eventually pens the epic tome 'My Family Spent $30,000 and All I Got Was This Crummy Job.' She currently freelances and works at Macy's.
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From the September 1-7, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.