Studying abroad is like that whooshing feeling of freedom you get when you start college: no one knows you peed your pants in seventh grade; no one cares that you were a nerd in high school; no one knows anything about your past. After five weeks in Russia’s capital city, Moscow, I’m basking in this anonymity. It’s nice to recreate myself again.
At Princeton, my “self” is pretty set: I’m a big nerd. I’m not “cool.” And I’m completely okay with it — it’s pretty accurate. I’ve spent the past almost three years helping friends with papers and being their source for irrelevant trivia. In Russia, I’m no less of a nerd than I was before — and, let’s face it: as a future scholar of Soviet history in Moscow, I’m probably acting like more of a nerd now than I ever have before.
But I decided that in Russia I was going to trade in “nerdy” for “artsy,” though I have routinely avoided visual arts and “artsy things” in America because of my minimal interest and less than stellar talents in the field. My “masterpieces,” throughout my short-lived but nonetheless memorable artistic career (elementary through high school, to be very honest), were routinely misconstrued to be something they were not — my mother once thought a clay bust of Shakespeare was Lucy from “Peanuts.” My friends know me as a poor artist and an art museum hater to boot. I don’t go to galleries of modern art in my spare time, and I’ve nearly sworn to never go to a lecture on the subject.
But no one on my study abroad program did.
So I spent my first few weeks dragging myself to art museums and galleries. I went to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibitions; I went to the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Whenever I passed the art supplies store on my way to class, I would peer in and make plans for my big artistic future.
But although I looked the part, visiting art museums and looking at color palettes, I couldn’t evade the simple fact that I still just don’t really like art. Maybe the image I’ve crafted for myself over the course of three years at Princeton really is me, and I don’t really need to change anything at all.
I’ve stopped trying to convince myself that I’m artsy, and I’m happier for it. I might have wanted that adjective to describe me so badly that I forgot that it didn’t and probably never would. I can’t be artsy if I just don’t really like art. I’ve never enjoyed going to art museums — unless it was to read the history blurbs next to the paintings — so why did I think that I was going to like doing it in Moscow?
Because the chance to change how people perceive you is seductive. It comes around so rarely that mere mortals can only dream of it. But while in some cases it can absolutely be beneficial to start afresh — read: peeing your pants in seventh grade — it can, in others, be best to let who you are alone. It’s one thing to develop new skills — you can learn a new language or dance at nearly any age — but it’s another to reinvent your personality. And if you already like it — and if it already fits you — maybe it’s worth keeping it the way it is.
Leora Eisenberg is a junior from Eagan, M.N. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.