As much as I love the energy that is found in a college town, even more I love leaving it behind when I’m finished there.
Today was another day to run errands in Ames – home of Iowa State University. We can just call that poor planning on my part as thousands of freshman students and their families were in town to start their first semester of college.
On days like this, though, I love driving through campus town so I can observe the insanity of all that is going on. Kids walking along beside a parent, trying to look so nonchalant and confident, while the older family member actually is confident and nonchalant. They’ve been through this. They’ve been through much worse – this isn’t what will tip them over the edge. Not today.
The kids are wide-eyed and taking in every single sight in front of them, from the buildings they’re going to get to know intimately over the next four years to the coffee shops, pizza places, bookstores, and then the streets and sidewalks they will traverse every day. Everything is new. I saw groups of foreign students clustered at street corners, looking at their phones, pointing in one direction or another and talking to their friends.
Take a moment to imagine the courage of those kids. I remember the fear and excitement I had, knowing I was going to be meeting new people, learning about a new city, all while thrusting myself into new learning experiences. As I look back, I can’t believe I wasn’t more terrified. But then, top it off with learning about an entirely different culture. Think about their first time in an American fast food restaurant. We know all the rules about reading the menu before approaching the counter, or how to take your cup away and fill it with ice and then a choice of soda. Where do they keep the straws? What is a straw? And ketchup. We put it on potatoes. Doesn’t everyone? Consider shopping in a large department store. All of those choices that we have been exposed to for a lifetime … how many brands of toothpaste do we need?
Let’s say they speak English. The one thing I’ve had reinforced for me this week while watching the Olympics is how varied the English language truly is. What if you spoke British English (as many do throughout the world) and wanted something to erase your pencil marks. How embarrassed would you be after asking for a rubber and receiving a condom?
My college roommate still insists that a water fountain is something that I will find in a park, not a place where I can get a drink of water. That’s a bubbler, for pete’s sake. And she’s only from Wisconsin. That’s still in America, I’m pretty sure.
As I watched those kids, though, it hit me that this is the beginning of their lives away from the influence of their parents. For the next few years, they will make decisions and choices – still with some level of protection – but it’s all theirs. Some will have to pull themselves back from the brink of destruction after a semester or two of choosing parties over classwork, and others will discover that what they thought was their greatest passion has transformed into something quite different.
The excitement, tension, energy, and electricity that filled the air today is happening all over the country as young people continue their steps into adulthood. It’s such an exciting time and I’d hope that their peers, their professors, and their parents take as much joy in starting this journey with them as I saw on their faces today.
I will admit to feeling a little old, though. That was a lot of youth all in one place. But you know what? I’m good with that. I like being this age. It’s a lot less stressful. I’m having more fun now than ever before!