I’ve found myself completely and totally blindsided by the difficulty of attending Induction & Institute on the same campus where I graduated from college.
Graduation was pretty tough for me. I was completely and totally in love with my college experience, and it took time for me to be able to part gracefully with a a community I’d come to love so dearly. so I tried to make a clean break. I said heartfelt & tearful goodbyes, in person and in writing. I accepted the fact that life as I knew it was moving on, that it was now time to start a new chapter somewhere else. I went on memory strolls with my friends around campus, I self-reflected, I did all the things you’re supposed to do to prepare yourself for a big change.
But now I’m back, and things feel awful. I suppose it’s kind of like a breakup. With time and distance you think you’re okay, but then you see your ex walking around, or you find yourself in a chance interaction, and the memories come rushing back.
I was completely blown away by how strong my Rice memories still are, prompted by the places that were so formative for me over the past four years. It’s like my brain is on overdrive and I can’t stop it. Sewall Hall, where I spent so many hours in sociology classes and meeting my thesis advisor. The path leading away from the Rec Center. Long workouts on winter afternoons. Keck Hall. General Chemistry (hell). West Lot. Where I got my one and only Rice speeding ticket for going 32 in a 25 zone. Anderson Hall. Where I said goodbye to a close friend as we both walked back from the same area, and he headed to his architecture studio. Shepherd Hall. graduation fireworks. Founder’s Court. Bagpipers and the O-Week closing ceremony.
It’s like my brain is on overdrive and I can’t stop it. The worst part, though, is that I’m living in the same dorm where I experienced three year’s worth of O-Weeks, which are Rice’s Orientation Weeks. I was an O-Week advisor at a residential college that was not my own (we’ll call it Building X) and here I am, living in Building X. There are two other buildings the TFA Houston corps members are living in and I deeply wish I was in one of the other ones. Every single corner of this building holds memories for me. Baking cookies in the study lounges. Afternoons lying in the sun in the quad. So, so many O-Week lunches in the Commons. That time the patio was built. My O-Week goodbye party on the fifth floor. Running across the sundeck filming an O-Week video one year. Tailgates in the covered patio area. O-Week games under the archways. What’s even weirder is that every year, I’m moving into the building (and experiencing O-Week) amidst the thick humidity of a Houston summer. As in, exactly how it feels right now.
The weirdest part by far is that according to my schedule, Induction will be very similar to O-Week itself. Community engagement activities, dinners off-campus with alumni and current students/parents, diversity sessions, lots of reflection and processing sections with my Induction group, fun social activities at night, lots of presentations during the day.
The incredible similarities – the physical ones, plus the activity-based ones – make it extraordinarily difficult for me not to compare the two experiences in my mind. And that sort of comparison is just not fair. I’m comparing the end result of my four years at Rice – deep friendships, a strong sense of attachment to nearly everyone in the building, lots of carefree days, a very distinct academic & social culture – to the end result of less than 24 hours here – where I feel kind of disoriented, confused, overwhelmed, and lonely. I know it’s normal to feel that way after being in such a new environment. But I tear up anytime I remember something that happened in this very building over the past three years, because it feels like lightyears away from where I am now, and I worry I will never again feel that same sense of happiness and true belonging.
It’s like the lines between my Rice and TFA experiences have blurred and bled into each other, each contaminating the other. I don’t want my time at Rice to color my time here with TFA. I need to stop constantly comparing the two experiences, being sad that my Rice one is over, wondering why my time here doesn’t feel as good yet, all of that. But – and I know this sounds awful, but it’s how I feel – I also don’t want my TFA memories here to replace my Rice ones. I know Institute will be incredibly difficult. And Induction already feels hard, just in the sense of being in a new environment and making all new friends and being around so many people I don’t know. And I don’t want to remember Rice like that.
I spent a lot of yesterday crying in the company of various Rice friends, and I felt so much better being around them, except then I went back to campus and was confronted with all of my old feelings all over again. I hate feeling this way because I honestly want to just be positive and optimistic and live in the moment here. It’s hard to make my brain now feel things it feels, though, and I don’t know how to stop this train of negativity and comparison and loneliness.
So that’s kind of where I am right now. I’ve been so impressed by the efficiency of TFA, and I really like the people I’ve met so far, but things still feel new and weird and overwhelming. I know that’ll be better once I meet my Induction Group and I feel more connected to more people. I also know it’ll get better once Institute itself starts; I’ll spend most of my days teaching off-campus, plus my fellow corps members and I will be focused on something specific and difficult (so I won’t have the emotional energy to spend my time reminiscing about my Rice experience).
My action plan for now:
1. Only go to the places on campus I need to for TFA – my dorm, the rec center, the parking lot. I don’t want to blur the edges of my experiences any more than I already am. And I want other places on campus to remain how they are in my memories as just that. Memories. I know this sounds absurd and juvenile but it’s honestly what I think would make me feel better right now.
2. Do my best to recognize that these are two entirely unique and different experiences, and all I can do is try to separate the two in my mind. Whenever I catch myself comparing I need to consciously stop before I get too far into the comparisons.
3. Interact as little as possible with non-TFA Rice people I happen to see on campus, because that only accentuates the feeling of being at home but not-being-at-home.
4. Be very focused on being present, in terms of both making friends and thinking about teaching/TFA in general, because constantly depending on my non-TFA Rice community is not a long-term feasible solution. Plus, I’d be robbing myself of the chance to meet some really awesome people here.
I just realized the perfect comparison for what things feel like right now. The part in Harry Potter when the Resurrection Stone brings back a lost loved one, but it’s only a shade of that loved one. The person is stuck between the past and the present, and the living person goes crazy because their loved one isn’t fully in this world. They’re just a ghost – a relic of what used to be. That’s what this feels like. I’m back on the same campus but things are only a shade of what they used to be. Not fully the same, not fully different, just somewhere awful in-between. What’s harder is that so many people are telling me Induction is the fun part. So of course I feel odd feeling so miserable about things right now – is there something wrong with me? Why is it fun for everyone else? Does this mean Institute will feel even worse? And there’s my brain again, worrying over things I can’t control, doubting myself. It’s not productive and I really need to stop.
So that’s where things stand. I think writing things down here makes me make sense of them in my mind, and will hopefully help keep my mind focused on just being emotionally present here. It’s difficult but I’m trying my best. I will be sure to keep you updated on how my action plan progress goes. And in the meantime, I’m just praying that I’ll be able to get over this initial adjustment period and start to feel more emotionally settled in over the next few days.