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Is College Life Reality or Fantasy? Does it Matter?

The unique world of college. Is it a four year break from the real world or a preparation to join adult society? Does it matter? (Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Barbara - Jorbasa)
The unique world of college. Is it a four year break from the real world or a preparation to join adult society? Does it matter? (Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Barbara - Jorbasa)

“The situation in the Middle East is getting even more complicated. Hamas just doesn't want to sit down at the negotiation table. They are terrorists. They should stop killing Israeli civilians.”

“But you can’t blame one side for all the atrocities that are happening. The Israeli government also should stop bombing Gaza strip and killing all innocent children, women, and men. Besides, for many Palestinians Hamas is a freedom fighter.”

“Well, yeah, but what do you say when Hamas uses school children as shields. Obviously many children will be killed.”

“But don’t you think …”

And so goes a typical conversation with my friends at my university. Here we are, a group of college kids, analyzing the situation in the Middle East, appointing the next U.S. President, and discovering the best solutions for global issues with as much seriousness as if we were making the policies ourselves, and as much authority as if we were Ban Ki Moon himself – our knowledge drawn from that one political science or history class we took last semester.

And then, in the next breath, our conversations subconsciously move to classes, drugs or sex.

That’s the thing about our crazy college life. It’s supposed to be preparing us for our futures, for living in the real world, but so much of it approaches the surreal instead. Are we approaching our education correctly by allowing ourselves to fall down a metaphorical rabbit hole? When I try to think about the answer, my brain dissolves into a muddy mess filled with more questions than answers.

After all, what happens when you throw together 5,300 rowdy students, all of us roughly between 17 and 25 years of age and leaving our parents’ vexatious scrutiny for the first time? We are never bugged to go to bed before 11, to stay away from things like drugs or alcohol, or to use our language mindfully. No. After all, we are college kids now!

The unique life of a college kid...
The unique life of a college kid...

And what happens when you minimize our interaction with people of other ages to seeing professors in classrooms for less than 15 hours a week? Our ears are rarely irritated by shrills of children or by the advice of elders.

And where falls one of the most important of concerns of an adult life, money? Well, most of us either can afford our education or are getting financial assistance from the university. In either case, most of our financial burdens are shouldered by others.

We have the luxury of eating at least three proper meals a day, without ever having to worry about where it comes from. Most of us can afford to not worry about our electricity or phone bills. We can discuss which concerts to attend and what brands to wear, and list the countries we want to visit.

But, wait! Aren’t we forgetting the whole point of university life? Where’s the preparation for the real world in all of this?

Do I even remember that there are real people living outside my college bubble? People who have to shed sweat in order to make a living, people who sometimes do not have enough to eat? How deeply do I understand the misery of starving people when I have just had a plateful of food, dessert included? Do I even remember that in the town outside my university live many impoverished people?

My college occupies its own little world. I breathe, live, and study in a space of less than 150 acres, demarcated by an invisible wall. Inside this invisible wall I feel safe and comfortable, I feel at home.

The fairytale world of a college campus. This is Mount Holyoke College.
The fairytale world of a college campus. This is Mount Holyoke College.

The moment I step outside, I immediately sense the difference. The university buildings and semi-private streets are replaced by old residential buildings and busy roads, and instead of students’ carefree and jubilant expressions I see the faces of real people who hold arduous jobs.

Thus, to avoid seeing all this, I spend most of my time on campus. I even find myself making harsh remarks about the “townies” who are making the neighborhood unsafe. I and my fellow students deliberately cut ourselves off so the realities of life cannot penetrate our idyllic college existence.

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. After all, it is us, this generation of crazy university students, who throw parties and blabber about politics, who will become the next generation of world leaders. It is we who are going to shape the world with our political ideas, entrepreneurship ventures, economic policies, and literature in the years to come. Perhaps we’re already doing more than we think we are to learn about the world around us and take our place in it?

Or perhaps we’re not doing nearly enough, and in fact we’re abdicating our responsibility to use our college years to get involved with the world and its issues.

And then again, maybe it’s okay to spend a few years insulated against most real life issues, existing in this sweetened and embellished concoction of reality and fantasy?

I have to admit, I don’t know. My brain is muddled and disorderly, and too obstinate to be convinced one way or the other.

Luckily I still have three more years to figure it out! For now, what I do know is that I cannot deny how much I love this surreal bubble I live in. I love everything about this crazy college life – the classes, even the boring ones, hanging out, pulling all-nighters, and yes, even those heavily intense but woefully uninformed political discussions.

What do you think? Is college a four year escape from reality, and if so, is that okay? Should college kids be doing more to learn about the world, or are they already doing more than we're giving them credit for? Does your brain have the answers, or are you just as confused?