What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do - especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.
–William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways
I am continually surprised by how much I enjoy my trips away from Harvard. Every time I return, my immediate instinct is to not unpack so I can embark on another adventure on a moment’s notice. My favorite new activity has been plotting my little escapes. A weekend in New York here, a jaunt to the Cape there. With enough determination and income, I could leave campus twice a month.
Besides, distance makes the heart grow fonder, and I feel most loved when missed. On campus, eating a meal alone is disappointing. Being canceled on for dinners and coffee dates frustrates me to no end. Even my instant messages go unreturned when midterms rear their ugly head. I hesitate to call my friends “fair-weather” but our interaction is dictated by the exam schedule.
But away from Harvard, I stop being the one who makes effort. My friends at school are interested in who I’m seeing, where I’m going, and when I return. They call to ask about my trip and I am the one who does not return their instant messages. As an out-of-town visitor, I rarely get canceled on because people want to see me while I’m actually around. But most importantly, it doesn’t matter if I don’t have someone to hang out with. Sometimes I take my meals alone and have a perfectly enjoyable time. I have no expectations for constant company. And without classes or roommates, I wake when I like and retire when I like (often, early). I dictate my day.
Solitude is what I most appreciate. Four-hour busrides (five on a bad day) to New York are not too long when shared with a laptop and a book. I jot notes about writing projects and organize my to-do lists while riding the subway. I am more observant walking Philadelphia and Manhattan streets alone than I ever am in Cambridge. For some reason, life moves much more slowly when I’m away, like I’ve put Harvard on time-freeze as I’ve left to enjoy another place. It is as if this school puts my already quick-paced life on fast-forward and I have to break out of the frame in order to regain some sanity.
Maybe what I like best about leaving is that a new environment with new people offers a clarity impossible to attain when close to the familiar. I feel like the truest form of myself when removed from my friends, family, and the academic institution that has hijacked my identity and dreams. I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life when I’m on campus. For the past six months, most of the goals I’ve made have been formulated hundreds of miles from Cambridge. Here, I can only think of banking and consulting and grades and GPAs. Harvard kids function under so many expectations that their neuroses could constitute a new chapter in the DSM-IV.
Leaving is dreaming of what life without Harvard could be like: impulsive, unconventional, different. Returning is a reminder of what I’m giving up on the road less taken: a cubicle gig, a cushy salary, and guaranteed success. All you have to do is follow the plan.
It’s a scary trade-off. Who wants to give up a sure thing?
I didn’t want to back in autumn. And I still wouldn’t if I stayed put at Harvard and never ventured beyond our Ivy gates. If it weren’t for my leaving so many times this winter, becoming friends with people who have taken risks, meeting others who couldn’t fathom choosing corporate over creative, then I don’t think I’d be writing this blog anymore. There has been hours and hours of travel, who knows how much in airfare and bus tickets, and all the stress that comes with planning a trip. Worth it? Just as much as four years and tuition.