On a cold, fall night my freshman year, working with classmates on a problem set that we’d started too late, for a class we did not dedicate nearly enough time to, at a time when we did not acknowledge that our high school study habits needed to change, most of us agreed that the TA was to blame for not holding office hours the night before the due date. That was most of us.
One classmate, however, explained that our TA was an “actual adult” with other things to do. His example of one such “thing”? Mowing the lawn. It was the absurd yet insightful response I needed to hear. At that moment, for a reason I cannot explain, I reasoned that in just a few short years, when I, too, would move off campus, I’d become an “actual adult:” cooking my own food, paying my own rent and, of course, mowing the lawn. Fast forward two years, and this classmate and I now rent a house together off-campus. As a matter of fact, he’s a TA now, too. But we did not quite complete a full circle: we are yet to mow our lawn. If our TA then was anything like us now, then his single, morning office hours slot was probably to make room for more nightly Wii Tennis matches.
As an underclassmen, I envisioned adulthood at Cornell and off-campus life as one and the same. Well, now living in the heart of collegetown, I feel just as adult now as I did eating RPCC brunch freshman year. There comes a time in every off-campus student’s transition from on-campus living where we must ask ourselves: Am I an adult or do I just live off-campus?
Let’s break this down. Am I an adult because I started cooking for myself? This is far from the truth. What this really means is that instead of reasonably eating edible food at a dining hall, I choose to stir overcooked pasta with one hand while watching a youtube tutorial on a sauce I’m not capable of making with the other.
Am I an adult for paying with a card instead of Big Red Bucks? No, but I’m an idiot for missing out on a tax discount whenever I buy a sandwich at Mac’s because I am tired of eating overcooked pasta. Now, just a few weeks removed from University housing and a meal plan, I realize that choosing to opt-in or out of Cornell housing and dining has little to do with adulthood — or a lack thereof.
I’ve met students, both in and out of the dorms, who’ve been propelled to independence by forces completely independent of Cornell — whether it be the need to take care of their parents or help pay their family’s bills. In this sense, Cornell, as with many other colleges, does little to change the trajectory into adulthood one would otherwise take; The ways in which we perceive and approach adulthood within the American college landscape cannot be summarized by opting-out of a meal plan subscription.
I primarily noticed how gradual this shift into adulthood is when I visited family in Israel this past summer. There, all young adults serve in the military after high school for several years. Whereas 20-year-old me spends his day moving from class-to-class, essay-to-exam, my parents and their siblings spent their early 20s in intense boot camps, or on duty. For better or worse, young adults are immersed in a “real-world experience” immediately after high school, the absence of which we so often lament in the American college bubble.
However, it was just as much a culture shock for my family to hear that my friends at college weren’t locals from the area who I knew before arriving (which is more common in a small country like Israel), and that I don’t get to see my family every two weeks which is the norm there. The American idea of what a student’s ascent to adulthood looks like is vastly different. Whereas a college student’s independence here is often equated to the time spent living independent of family, in Israel I found there to be a much greater emphasis on the pursuit of authentic, real-world experiences.
Towards the end of my visit, I spoke to my uncle, who, following his military service, spontaneously bought a ticket to South America where he lived and travelled for a year, until he decided to return. I was inspired by his stories of authentic, non-touristy experiences that he sought out himself, something that a university simply cannot afford to its students. And although such trips are not feasible or appealing to everyone, the point stands that we cannot rely solely on Cornell to turn us into adults. We need to see the world outside of the Hill.
After all, adulthood at Cornell was never a function of meal plans or University housing. Nor is it a matter of distancing ourselves from family in an attempt to become independent. And no, it’s not about mowing the lawn. Equally important to sustaining ourselves on the Hill is seeking experiences that prepare us for when we leave it. Until I do so myself, to answer my earlier question, I think I just live off-campus for now.
Roei Dery is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Dery Bar runs every other Monday this semester.