Saturday, November 26

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Reminiscing over The Garden State among the kiwis

Almost morning. My eyes open, I refamiliarize myself with the world. Reality is in the grey color of predawn, the fuzzy undefinition of the not quite blind. This is normal.

Something, though, is awry. The ache between my shoulder blades rushes in to remind me: Ah, yes, this is the floor, and although it is a passable imitation, this is not my room. I get up. Armies wage wars in my stomach. I step on a George Michael CD (definitely not my room). In my head, noise. It is cold.


On this remote corner of the globe, the familiarity of such a scene is strangely comforting. College life is, to a certain extent at least, universal (note: kudos to self for resisting obvious pun. Demerits for pointing it out). Still need to find out whose place this is, though. Someone I know, presumably. Perhaps even a fellow Butler University student (for this is what I have become), a comrade of these last few weeks.

Living (or trying to) the anti-Princeton experience, I exist in an artificial community of fellow travellers, Yanks all, come to suckle kiwi fruit and (for some) escape a few demons. A network of pals, sure, but a constraining net as well: I am never really out of sight of an American. Never abandoned, but never totally free. Welcome to Study Abroad. (Why this name rather than, say, foreign study? The double entendre should've made me wary . . .)

Classes have only been in session for three weeks and already I've learned a lot about things academic, and (especially) things not. For one thing, I'm glad I go to Princeton. I was vaguely aware of this before but no jury would've convicted me of the crime. Reasonable doubt, you see. Now, though . . . every choice I have made here is consciously the one I wouldn't in New Jersey, and I'm having a kick-ass time. The size, the campus, the people of Princeton tug daily at my heartstrings, though. (Dillon ball wrenches like an absence in my soul.) Didn't think they could.

Leaving for another varsity (a kiwi term I embrace), especially a large one, is in a sense shedding a layer of skin, the loss of a springy integument, a shell whose colors and dimensions had become familiar. The new one is shiny and bright, confusing and difficult to bear, a cloak to get hopelessly lost in. End mixed metaphor.

There remains only a transcript, the SI spread of Chris Massey "getting raped" (as my roommate would have it), girls who've met Will K. and disapprove of his socks and exclamations ("You go to Princeton? But you're not smart" or "You seemed so normal." My boils are real but well concealed, dearie) to remind me of a past life in black and burnt orange.

If you follow my footsteps and come abroad (Come on abroad! Ha!), perhaps you will not find it as disconcerting as I have. There is, after all, a nice Butler-run orientation to get you started (you take photos of people you'll never see again. You might rappel or kayak).


The labyrinthine corridors of a large university, even if only metaphorical, befuddle me, however. Where is the space I call my own? From orientation to getting email (a month-long process) (knock on wood), Auckland University dysfunctions like a worker-less factory, scattered parts without an assembly line. Only the Queen shouting "off with their heads" is needed to complete the picture. A house of cards bureaucracy, constantly shuffling students in and out of official existence.

Once administrative details are worked out, if you're like me, you have classes, about half of which are as challenging as N.J.'s own. The result is the same, however, since a feeling of permanent vacation hovers sickly-sweet in the air and you feel compelled to travel (or at least go out) frenetically during any would-be study time. You're in trouble in at least one class. (You miss your family a lot more than you thought you would.)

You discover travel is expensive. Even staying in hostels and eating steamed rice or fries every meal can add up, as you discover on the streets of a strange city 300 miles from yours. Empty stomach, no place to stay, not a red New Zealand cent in your torn pockets, watching an old man warbling Nirvana numbers for spare change and seriously considering it. I mean, you can sing as well as this guy and look at least as haggard with your bare feet and face scruff and jeez, he doesn't even know the words. You recover and find an ATM machine. You're having the time of your life.

You feel disconnected from the world, even when you return to your dorm to be malnourished three times a day and are able to call home often. You forget about everything but your next trip. You plan it and eagerly await its fruition. The road calls.

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If you don't do all this, of course, you are in Princeton, N.J., taking good classes with good friends, often having a good time with bad beer and probably having a good semester. Good for you.

Meanwhile, my limbs are strangely uncooperative as I cottonmouth my way back to my room to write a little. I'm done now, and fall deliciously into my own bed. . .