“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, I told him, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”
― Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
I never considered that I may be absolutely terrible at packing until this summer. In high school I would show up for travel with only a backpack I’d had since fifth grade, and I used to pride myself on having the least amount of luggage of anyone on my teams. When I started traveling cross-country to college this all changed. I couldn’t just sling a backpack with a few changes of clothes, my case binder, and my laptop onto my back; now I had to survive away from home for months. There’s not a backpack big enough for that. I tried to keep some of my habits from high school and take only the bare minimum, but as time went on at Hopkins I found that things just would not fit in my bags anymore. Coming back home for winter break I had difficulty trying to take the important things back to Vegas with me, and coming back to Hopkins after spring break I was finally faced with the possibility that I’d accumulated an awful lot of things since moving in nine months previously. After finishing my final paper, I looked around my room and realized I couldn’t take it all with me. Fast-forward two months, and I was sitting in my hotel room in Oman with my roommate looking at a pile of toiletries candy, and clothing that was not making it back to the States with us. Both times there was a mad rush to pack, saying goodbyes, and something inevitably got left behind. The Muscat International Airport is now one five-pound Arabic dictionary richer due to my overweight luggage, and somewhere in Baltimore my giant stuffed triceratops has found another home.
Since graduating high school, I feel as though I have been constantly leaving places, taking things with me, and inevitably leaving things behind. It’s been an incredible blessing and a curse. Less than a century ago the odds were good that both myself and everyone reading this blog would have stayed within fifty miles of where they were born. Less than twenty years ago the odds were good that both myself and everyone reading this blog wouldn’t have the ability to email people from around the world. Less than a year ago the odds were good that I would have called you crazy if you told me that I was going to fly for twenty-five hours over the course of three days to get home from Oman. I live in probably the most mobile and global period in history and I feel as though moving around is a fact of life I have to face sooner or later, especially in my given field of study. I’m lucky to have been given the choice to leave, given how many people around the world lack the opportunities I have been presented and do not have a choice in the matter when they leave their homes, but it’s never easy. Like my 15 year old self packing for a 45-minute flight to northern Nevada, I try to cram everything in my backpack so I can take it with me, but I always end up having to leave something behind and hope that I can get by without it and pick up something better in my next destination. My Hopkins debate and mock trial teams replaced the ones I’d had in high school. I replaced a book I’d brought with me to Oman for an Arabic version of A Tale of Two Cities. I’ll switch out the greenery of the Hopkins campus with the urban campus of Columbia.
As everyone knows, though, there are certain things that are irreplaceable. Certain things will never leave your backpack when you travel: the good luck charm, the Spring Fair picture where all your friends look sunburnt and full on fried food, the memory of that one time you sang Bohemian Rhapsody to a group of confused Omanis (immediately put this on your bucket list.) In a Frank Sinatra song that I, of course, have never been made to listen to by the Italian New Yorker side of my family during Yankee games, there’s a line about the narrator making a “brand new start of it” in New York. I don’t think this is a good idea. You can’t wipe your past or erase your memories, Jim Carrey movies notwithstanding, and furthermore why would you want to do that? Good, bad, or ugly, my past got me into Hopkins, to Oman, and now to Columbia. Those reading the blog as admitted students can sit back this summer and know that what they did got them into one of the best universities in the world, and current students know it too. Perhaps my history-loving side shows too much, or my nostalgia, but there are things that are too important to ever leave behind, mostly my friends and family, but also my experiences. People, especially prefrosh, often talk about wanting a “clean state” before leaving for college, and I was always really unsure what that meant. Is a “clean slate” simply not focusing too much on the kid you were before, in high school, or is it throwing what you did away in exchange for adopting some new cool “college kid” persona? One is not focusing and the other is completely forgetting, and I know which route I would pick, I did pick, and I will pick.
The people I met at Hopkins are definitely part of the irreplaceable part of my backpack. Certainly, Hopkins is an excellent school with excellent faculty and excellent classes, but the things that stick with me the most about my year here are things that happened outside of class. It’s the people, and not the subject matter, that makes learning so interesting, and I think this applies inside and outside the classroom. Staying up all night patrolling the hallways of a hotel isn’t a fun subject, but couple it with the people in Model UN and it becomes a night to remember. Debating welfare reform is dull, but when that debate happens after a night spent driving in circles around New Jersey, missing your exit five times, and replacing a flat tire you’ll be sure to laugh whenever you think of it. Coming back home, exhausted, after a mock trial tournament is nothing to write home about, unless you open your room to find two of your closest friends sitting on your floor having a Netflix marathon. Group meetings can be dull, unless your group is SAAB and there are copious amounts of camaraderie and free Chipotle.
I could talk about the opportunities given to me at Hopkins, and there were so many of them, but I think if you’re reading this blog you know about the opportunities available to Hopkins students. I think sometimes schools focus so much on all the incredible opportunities available to their students, like study abroad, internships, and research, that they sort of cover up the fact that the glue that holds a campus together and makes that school what it is isn’t the programs; it’s the people. For those going off to college in the fall, you will probably be told that you can pick two out of the following three: sleep, grades, and social life. Anyone who knows me or who read this blog can probably guess which two I picked, but when you’ve got a paper due tomorrow and you need to talk to someone, is your REM cycle going to answer back? When you move to a new city, are you going to call up that B you got in orgo and ask it if it wants to grab Thai food? When you’ve got limited space in your backpack, your friends and family are worth their weight in gold. You can Facebook chat with your friend across the world while Skyping your brother across the country and texting your old roommate about her winter break plans. Why waste that?
As I close this year of blogging and throw it into my overburdened backpack that I will be lugging to Broadway and 113th Street next year, I want to express how happy I was to have this opportunity to blog, interact with prospective students, and reflect on my freshman year. The concept of the self-made man is one I’ve never subscribed to, as I know that I would be nowhere without numerous people believing in me, helping me, and supporting me the past few years. I’d like to thank those people spread out around the world from the bottom of my heart, and know that whatever I type in this last paragraph cannot even begin to express my gratitude. As I leave, I really don’t think there is a way to describe the feeling without using the cliche “a mixed bag of emotions.” I’m happy, and just a tiny bit sad, but I am undoubtably very lucky to have had something at Hopkins that makes saying goodbye so hard.
When my group left Oman, one of my professors told us that they knew when we arrived that they would be saying goodbye to us in just a few short months. “But,” he said, as we all crowded around the hall of our hotel that had served as a combination lounge/film studio/library/dinning hall/soccer field for two months, “we will not say goodbye. It is too hard. Instead, we will say, ‘See you soon.””
See you soon, everyone.