I’m getting too old for small talk. Introductions, “where are you froms” and “what are you studyings” seem to blur together quicker than an AEM major can shift a conversation to the recent fluctuation of their Netflix stock. After a lot of elbow grease and a little luck, you establish your college friends at Cornell to the point where you forget what your days were like before you met them. Yet, right when they become such an inherent luxury in your life, you decide to leave them. You feel as though cultural assimilation and self-growth are great alternatives to comfortable friendships and shooting the shit over a pitcher of CTB sangria.
Just as many other Cornellians do, I decided to spend my second semester Junior year abroad. It wasn’t until my first orientation meeting at Trinity College in Dublin where I thought, “man, this feels awfully familiar.” And that gut reaction wasn’t wrong.
Spending your first couple weeks abroad is scarily similar to entering your freshman year of college. I came to Dublin not knowing anyone, and like a Californian at Cornell, I was immediately at a disadvantage. When I was a freshman, I assumed no one knew anyone else. That was before I learned about Westchester. Going abroad is like reverting back to freshman year and trying to make friends through painful small talk. And you never miss your friends more than the moment when you hear “I came abroad to discover something about myself,” for the twentieth time in a fortnight.
The common battle of comfort around old friends versus the awkwardness around new ones can all be boiled down to silence. When you’re with someone you don’t know very well and a bout of silence begins, you start to sweat and think they’re judging you for being terrible at basic conversation. When you’re with your friends, some of the greatest bonding happens in those moments of silence.
Just like East coasters coming from rival highschools to Cornell, a large chunk of my program comes from Brown University. When they arrived, they were particularly let down by Trinity College’s strict class enrollment system. They were so used to the freedom to study how flowers grow … as they all do.
Although approaching new people is more terrifying than jumping out of a plane, eventually, putting yourself into tough situations pays off. It allows you to grow and make friends with new people from new places, even Brown. I now have a friend at Grinnell College, so I always have someone to take me out for the countless times I’m sure I’ll find myself visiting rural Iowa. Friendships don’t happen overnight, but we tend to forget that every time we place ourselves in a situation with nothing but new faces.
Freshman year we spend school nights facetiming friends from home, reminiscing about high school parties and sneaking out of our parents’ houses (not me, I wasn’t cool enough to go against my parents’ wishes). But before we know it, freshman year is over and we’ve got a brand new cohort to stay in touch with. It’s strange now having two separate populations to keep in contact with. I’m usually either with my college friends while texting my home friends or vice versa. So Harris, I’m sorry I haven’t found the time to call yet. Just know that you’re still important to me and that no one can replace you.
You always keep a tight hold of your closest friends, but sometimes the ones on the outskirts of your inner circle fade away, and the Harrises are replaced with Avery from rural Iowa because … he’s like totally cool.
Small talk and awkward silences aren’t the only overlaps between going abroad and first entering college. When you move into your dorm, one of the most immediate differences is the sheer, raw, uncut, unfiltered, over-the-top independence you get from moving out of mom and dad’s. No more curfews, or limits on how many beers you’re allowed or how many friends are too many to sleep over. In going abroad, too, there’s a big jump in independence. No more curfews, or limits on how many beers you’re allowed or how many friends you can hangout with before registering it as an event with administration. But hey, what can you do? When you live under mom and dad’s roof, what they say goes. Living abroad means I am no longer submitted to the administration’s restrictions on nights out. With the legal drinking age being eighteen in almost every other country, singing traditional Irish music with kids younger than me and old men missing some teeth is a typical Friday evening.
When you’re abroad you go out more often than you’d like because you’re more afraid of missing out on opportunities to make friends than you are of being hungover in class. You compromise on where to go even when you know the pub Jimmy wants is overpriced and more of a tourist trap than Disneyland. It’s the same kind of sacrifices you make when you first get to Cornell. Another Fishbowl Wednesday? … I’d love to go!
AJ Stella is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stellin’ It Like It Is runs every other Friday this semester.