I’ve been back at TU for a few days now. As I expected, it has been significantly different than going back home to Coon Rapids was. The changes are bigger in every way – people, places, and things.
My brother and I turned the corner onto 5th Pl. and caught sight of McFarlin library around 4:15 on Wednesday afternoon. I stopped in the apartment office to get my key and then raced across campus, ready to be back at my apartment after 15 long months. But I was driving distracted, my attention hogged by the behemoth on the horizon – a behemoth that was NOT there when I had last been on campus. It’s the TUPAC (or “the Thing”, as I call it), and while I knew it was going in while I was gone, I was not prepared for its [enormous] physical reality. The Thing is HUGE.
Due to The Thing and other construction sites, it took me three tries to get to my apartment. Fortunately, the Apt is the one haven of familiarity that I’ve found. My furniture was all in place, my cups were in the cupboard, and there was even a small pile of pasta preserved in the exact position it had been left. Matt and I unloaded the car and I spent the next few days getting settled in.
We went to McNellie’s that night for $3 Burger Night, joined by a friend who left TU after my freshman year to enter the seminary. Another night, my former roommate came into town from OKC and we walked around campus talking about the changes we’d witnessed over the years. Saturday night, I had a dinner party with a few close friends, most of whom had graduated after my sophomore or junior years. The only current student there had been a junior when I entered but is still working on her degree due to health reasons that keep interrupting her studies. We were able to commiserate about our victory lap years, while all of us enjoyed talking about the common friends and experiences we’d had here.
I’ve seen a few friends who are still around, but during this pre-school period I’ve seen more of graduates. I guess it makes sense, considering that I know 3 classes who have graduated and only 2 classes who are still here. It’s been nice because in a lot of ways I have more in common with the graduates. It was easy to join in the conversation of a bunch of friends who all see each other sporadically; it was much harder for me at the Welcome Back dinner hosted by an organization I used to be active in. There were new members and new projects, and the members and projects I was familiar with were unknown to some of the newbies. Also, when everyone has a separate life, there’s lots to talk about – but when your common link is an organization, that’s mostly what you talk about . . . and I didn’t have anything to offer on that topic.
But it’s not like I’ve had nothing to say. People have a lot of questions about China – and, surprisingly, they’re not always the same questions, so it actually makes for interesting conversations. People want to know about the language, the people, the One Child policy, freedom, religion, health care, food, transportation, weather, everything! On Saturday night I ended up giving an extensive talk about going to the bathroom in China, including a demonstration. Apparently when most Americans think of squatting to go to the bathroom, they think of “hovering” over a Western toilet. The whole geometry of the appliance is different, though, and the body posture is too. Trust me – it’s not uncomfortable, it’s not hard, and I have yet to pee on myself.
While I was hanging out at the Newman Center (the Catholic student center on campus), a young woman came into the sanctuary, asking about a wedding rehearsal she was supposed to be at. As soon as I heard her accent I knew she was Chinese, but I gave her directions to the other chapel before asking her. When she said yes, I switched to Chinese and we talked for a few minutes. It felt really funny to speak Chinese in America! She’s a student here and since she comes to the free lunches at Newman on Tuesdays, I think I’ll see more of her. Yay! A Chinese friend!
During dinner that night, I used the word “gunner” in casual conversation. One of my friends, Meghan, heard me and interrupted to ask where I had learned it. I thought about it and realized that I had picked it up from my friend Matt when we met up in China in July. He used it several times, so I figured it was new slang back home and started incorporating it into my vocabulary. Meghan said she had only heard the word from her sister, who is studying to be a doctor, in relation to overachievers in med school. Come to think of it . . . Matt was heading to med school in the fall and used it only when talking about overachievers in med school. I just liked the sound of it and liked how clear it was when used in context, so I figured it could be used in lots of situations. Guess not.
Sunday night at Newman was the first time I saw most people. The ones I knew – The Sophomores who are now seniors with me and the cute little freshman who act all grown up like juniors now – but also two classes of new people. Some of them recognized me from a music video I guest starred in at our annual film festival, which was mildly horrifying. But then again, before I went to China I was widely known as The Poop Girl or the originator of No Pants Week and Drink Naked parties, so I guess I shouldn’t really complain.
It was amazing to be back with my friends and my church community – exchanging close hugs instead of shaking folded hands in their direction, singing familiar songs in harmony, understanding a homily directed towards college students. But I was exhausted after the few hours of socializing that followed Mass! I was meeting so many people, it was like being a freshman again. Worse than the new faces are the new names that are so familiar to everyone that they don’t warrant last names or explanations. With two Graces, two new Wills, another Alli, a second Caitlin, and – for goodness sake! – ANOTHER Matt, my poor brain was exhausted.
But it’s the night before school starts. Let the constant exhaustion begin!