I studied abroad in Paris fall quarter last year. I loved it so much, and despite what others may say, the city is magical and will lead you to question and fix self-acknowledged, problematic parts of your identity, until at least a few weeks after you return home. The only problem with studying abroad was what it did to my housing situation, which many others can sympathize with as a result of the housing office’s inability to do right by anyone coming back home. Most of the people that I wanted to live with had started to find living arrangements with each other by the end of fall quarter last year, while others’ plans for RA–hood and study abroad complicated things further.
So, it was at the end of winter quarter that I was faced with a decision for the coming year. I could stay in housing, where I would be forced to engage in small talk at the dining table on a regular basis. My own personal hell is to be forced into never-ending small talk while waiting at the Garfield bus stop—each part, the chatting and the waiting, has a similar innate ability to steal time away from you in peculiarly unsatisfying ways. Alternatively, I could adopt the vagabond lifestyle of a quarterly subletter. I picked the latter, which landed me on 55th and Dorchester for fall, and a location to be decided for spring and winter—please feel free to offer me accommodation via my Facebook (the name listed above is not a pseudonym) as I could not survive much longer than a night or two on the streets.
My first sublet was set up through my house with two people with whom I was more or less an acquaintance. I approached my first three weeks in this apartment with the “I’m-not-here-to-make-friends” mindset. Subsequently, one of my roommates nicknamed me Ghost Face, because of my propensity to be entirely absent from the apartment—in my room with the door shut napping, or just having affectionate “me-time,” which consists of me doing stupid things on the internet and laughing at the dumb thoughts I have. It was not as if I tried to avoid my sublet—far from it. I just have a fondness for the Regenstein; this usually leads to being wildly unproductive as a result of the succession of ten-minute, back-and-forth conversations with acquaintances about our shared need to stop conversing and do work.
My roommates barged into my room the other Saturday night, where I, Ghost Face himself, sat reading Freud. They told me that we were bonding and that I had no choice. They brought me into our living room, thrust a double shot of vodka at me, and we toasted our address. The night continued on in this fashion until we found ourselves tipsily discussing our living situation. We told each other what we disliked and liked about each other in shy but constructive ways; we spent the rest of the night simply talking and bonding. It was an experience that I rarely have at the U of C, and to be honest, it really made me appreciate my roommates. If they had not been so aggressive in forcing us all to spend time together, we wouldn’t have. I wonder how many more people I’ve missed out on since I’ve been here because I haven’t made time for experiencing and exploring relationships with other people outside of the Reg or RSOs.
Many of us complain about the social life here, but we do not take initiative in fixing it ourselves. So many of us, myself included, demarcate spaces in which we are to be social, study, and live, and, to give ourselves order, we try very hard to not have those distinctions bleed through. We try to play hard and work hard separately, usually never within the same hour, or even the same day. We frequently see people we have met, but we do not say hello, nor put in any effort in trying to get to know them. Even for people we know, we manage little more than saying hello when we see them in the Reg or on campus. We ask them a question, and then it is incumbent upon someone to jet off because of some “pressing time commitment.” In many ways, we erect barriers against people from ever reaching us by sticking to the routine of our lives. We don’t think of conversations as possibilities to strengthen friendship because we are more concerned with not deviating from our schedules.
I understand the stress of this school and the desire to do well—I think we all do—but it’s truly a shame that quite a few of us prevent ourselves from getting to know others just because we want to be successful. We should all push ourselves a little more to find the rewarding parts of other people, and to show our more charismatic qualities to others. I honestly don’t expect anything to change here, or for any of us to prioritize our ambition any less, but I hope that we can all just be more open to getting to know others, rather than shutting each other out to make way for our personal projects. With my nomadic stint this year, I hope to explore new spaces and redefine old ones. Maybe if we become less fixated on routinizing our lives, we may just find a certain relaxed fluidity, creating stronger bonds with those around us. And through this flexibility, I may just fix certain self-acknowledged, problematic parts of my identity.
Michael Reinhard is a third-year in the College majoring in English.