I’ve been getting a fair share of critical comments and emails for appearing overprivileged and “jet-setting” all over Europe, which would actually not bother me so much if it weren’t for the fact that neither is true. Contrary to claims made by commenters on my blog, I don’t come from a wealthy family (which is why I qualify for HFAI) so Harvard is pretty much my only claim to privilege. As far as claims go, I have to admit that I’ve got it pretty good, but simply going to an Ivy League school doesn’t make the rest of your life. It’s not like I showed up to Harvard and suddenly, I was given the trust fund I’d always wanted. Before this year, I worked during every summer since age 15 and during every academic term since college began. But after my last job ended in December, I vowed to concentrate more on my writing, so I decided to ditch paid-by-the-hour internships in favor of freelance work and personal projects. I completed my most recent assignment a week and a half ago, in the days between my London and Spain trips. Sure, I’m awfully lucky that I get to run around Europe, but writing remains a huge component of my life and I’m pretty much always working on columns or my manuscript here.
And though this is beside the point, I think I’ve made it fairly obvious that the majority of my time here thus far has been spent in an un-air-conditioned dorm room with my sometimes-suicidal best friend. Her roommates are probably wondering when the hell I’m going to leave. It’s not like I’m rocking out in lavish hotels. I’m essentially a squatter in student housing, not the Marie Antoinette these online snarks are looking to stone. I mean, when I was hungry today, I had to go into the kitchen to steal someone else’s cake and eat it. Seriously.
Anyway, I’m writing this somewhat defensive entry because I find it irritating that there’s a stereotype of Harvard kids as being spoiled brats who have had everything handed to them in life. Certainly, this holds true for a portion of the population, but on the whole, the students here are probably some of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen, and there are plenty of them who aren’t working for money but rather for causes and beliefs that don’t even benefit them. Occasional pretension aside, my peers deserve a lot of credit for that. Of course, plenty of us — even someone like me whose annual family income qualified her for free school lunches back in the day — have had inherent advantages, be they particularly supportive parents or the necessary college prep classes. Still, those advantages shouldn’t discredit the many things we have earned for ourselves. In my case, I think this summer of travel has been well-earned, given the fact that it’s the first leisurely summer I’ve had since … just about ever.
Unlike comments about my sexual history, I take criticism about perceived privilege and exorbitant spending (of other people’s money) very personally. I consider “brat” far more insulting than “slut”, because though I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with sexual appetite, I do think that ignorant wastefulness and entitlement are major character flaws. Besides, the truth is that I do feel bad about not working this summer. I put myself through enough guilt without needing commenters to remind me about it. And this guilt is definitely an irrational manifestation of the capitalistic, work-a-holic system in which I grew up. Why do Americans feel so bad about taking a vacation!
This autumn, it’ll be back to work for me … and it’ll be much more work than usual too. I’m taking the year off from Harvard, and I’ll be the Boston area, close to friends and lover (note: that was singular, not plural). I’m looking for a part-time gig to balance out my freelancing. Having my own hours as a writer is fantastic but at my age, at least, it’s no way to pay the bills on the regular. So ideally, I’d like to be working at a non-profit that deals with women’s issues, LGBT advocacy, or disadvantaged youth. Come September, I’ll be more than ready for real life and the comfort of work. I wouldn’t trade this summer for anything, but I wouldn’t extend it either. Besides, when traveling becomes a full-time occupation, it ceases to be a vacation.