Charlie “Brown”ing: Existential concerns upon returning from abroad

charlie brown

Ok, so you were abroad last semester, and you’re a little confused. It’s not that you weren’t excited to come back — in fact, you couldn’t wait to eat your first spicy with in over half a year and hug it out with friends who understand lingo like “You do you” and “OMAC.” It’s just that things seem different. When you had your first “spicy with” of the semester, your stomach was NOT happy afterwards — devastatingly, you’d lost your immunity to Jo’s food. Worse, you feel disconnected from some of your friends, and hardly anyone says “You do you” anymore.  You can’t help but feel like Charlie Brown moping around and asking questions about everything that feels different, weird, and new.

But the worst thing of all, the biggest challenge you’ve faced, came at you when you braved the deep dark depths of the Ratty. You were at a little joint called the Ivy Room for a late-night smoothie, and what happened when you went to put the straw in the cup? It bounced right back at you. The caps don’t have holes. What kind of sick person planned that?

Wait a minute. This Ivy Room debacle has nothing to do with your time abroad. Your friend is also horrified by it, and she was here last semester. Maybe you’re not so alone after all. Let’s face it: this concern with belonging to a community is pretty much universal, and it’s something you’ve been dealing with since middle school, when Lucinda wouldn’t let you sit at her lunch table. It’s something pretty much all of us have dealt with at some point. And a big part of belonging, of the Brown identity, seems to be related to contentedness in being here. If you’re at Brown but you don’t feel as content as everyone else in being at Brown, you might feel alienated. Then you get to those questions bigger than “Why don’t the caps have holes?” You ask, “Why isn’t everything fitting just right? Why don’t I fit just right? Why can’t I achieve the ultimate mellow of those people playing Frisbee on the quad?”

Those Frisbee players, along with all the others chilling out on the Main Green (even if that season is ending), look like they’ve been seamlessly pulled from a college brochure. To see if they felt as picture-perfect as they looked, I went to the Green and asked some questions. Because I didn’t want to lead any witnesses, I didn’t ask directly about belonging. Instead, I asked more generally about challenges and stressors students have faced.

The “friend” question came up several times, and not only in relation to freshman year. Miranda Norlin ’17, one of those elusive Frisbee players, said that “human beings” can be a challenge. And no, she’s not anti-person. In fact, people challenge her because she cares about them. “Relationships come and go, and not just romantic [ones].”Nischal Acharya ’17 gave a second perspective on this problem. He said that two of his best friends are abroad: “Redefining myself in terms of my friends is an aspect I haven’t had to deal with since freshman year.”

Aside from friendships, Brown’s high-achieving atmosphere is also something others might appear to groove with absurdly easily, which makes you ask, “Wow! Everyone here is super amazing and brilliant and talented… what about little old me?”

Yes, there are lots of incredible people at this school. But if you feel like you’re not one of them, there’s nothing wrong with you. Nischal also talked about how stressful it can be to see other students going around being awesome, how it can feel like you’re not cutting it. Peter Dutton ’16 also talked about how comparing yourself to other people here can be stressful.

And then there’s the students who seem to have 50-year-plans along with a stellar preparedness for the real-world, whatever that means. But that most certainly does not apply to the entire student body. Claudia Silva ’16 told me she has a lot of interests and sometimes wishes she could have a “set mind.” So if you can barely decide what to eat for lunch every day or whether to go out Friday night, don’t worry: indecision is still a reality for plenty of us.

Upon my return from abroad, I’ve found myself fretting about subjects like the ones my interviewees discussed way more than I have in the past. Maybe it’s because Brown is such a specific community, and it can be hard to get back into its quirky groove. Maybe it’s because I had a lengthy break from thinking about all those little things like hmmm, I don’t know, THE FUTURE, and now the whole these-four-years-are-not-only-supposed-to-be-awesome-they’re-also-important-and-supposed-to-prepare-you-for-the-rest-of-your-life spiel is hitting me in the face, hard.

How to deal with that? I talked to one of my friends and she was in the same boat. Yeah, she agreed, coming back from abroad is pretty weird. “Weird” does seem the best way to put it, and weird doesn’t fit onto those college brochures. But here’s the thing: talking to my friend about the weirdness made it feel, well, less weird. So did talking to my interviewees.  Not only are there people who are also finding difficulty in returning to Brown, there are students who never left that acknowledge similar concerns. Contentedness isn’t a given part of the Brunonian identity, and Charlie Browning is a perfectly normal thing to do. From minor freak outs to full-on existential crises, dealing with challenges and having doubts doesn’t mean you don’t fit in here. In fact, it’s probably a pretty good sign that you’re just like anyone else.


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