Most American universities have a “bubble” quality about them — it’s easy to occupy oneself completely and exclusively with the goings-on within the school, and to ignore the outside world. While I don’t think I was quite so sequestered during my freshman year at Tufts, I did notice a few interesting things while living in the “real world” this summer.
First, I’ve never seen so many pregnant people in my life. Perhaps Buenos Aires has an especially high fertility rate, or perhaps I am just especially attuned to noticing things that I’m not used to. Needless to say, I can’t remember seeing a single pregnant student at Tufts, though I did have one pregnant professor last semester.
Second, it also seems like there are an awful lot of people with crutches, casts, or bandages on some part of their face or body. Again, I’m assuming it’s just that I don’t normally come across these things.
Finally, I’ve seen many mentally and physically disabled and handicapped people — way more than I ever remember seeing in Albany, not to mention at Tufts. I guess that’s one of the downsides of attending a private liberal arts college in New England — you’re not exposed to the realities of life.
Along the same lines of seeing and meetings folks from a wide range of life circumstances and backgrounds, I have met people here from many different countries all over the world: Japan, Brazil, England, Spain, France, Jamaica, Italy, Kenya, Holland, Germany, and probably several more that I’m forgetting.
But location is not the disparity that has been most striking to me. My life so far has taken a very traditional and regimented track: I started pre-school when I was about four, and stayed at the same institution through my senior year of high school, at which point I applied to, and am now attending, a university at which I expect to spend four years. The vast, vast majority of people I met in the U.S. followed more or less this same track — it was the standard, the usual thing to do.
In Buenos Aires, however, my schooling experience is not the norm but rather the exception. A lot of the people I’ve met here — and, I’ve come to realize, most of the people in the world — haven’t followed the educational path I have. They went to high school abroad; they took a year or more off before starting college; they deferred from college; they began college then quit and are here while they figure things out; they’re in school part-time and doing something else on the side; they’ve finished college and have an advanced degree and are travelling before jumping back into the working world; they are none of the above.
Do I wish my life so far had taken one of these other tracks? No. I’m the kind of person who wants, and is fortunate enough to be able to have, such a structured education. Do I wish I was exposed to people with such diverse life experiences on a more regular basis? Yes. I think everyone in America — especially college students — needs to be more aware and accepting of the different routes available to young people. Understanding why and how others find their way in the world would open up more possibilities for ourselves.