Dec. 26, 2019, 8:17 p.m.
For a long time, I watched the U.S. from the outside.
I studied the American social and political systems in my International Relations program at university and visited the U.S. occasionally to see family in New York. This was the extent of it. From my home in the Toronto suburbs, I could watch the downward political spiral on CNN without the feeling immediately threatened. It is like watching something violent and confusing from the safety of your sixth-floor apartment, through your window. (I speak from experience, here. Once, I saw a boy of seven or eight pushing what appeared to be shopping cart down the street. He was crying. He kept swerving into trees with this cart, and was pursued by an older boy, a teenager, who seemed to be throwing live firecrackers at him. Eventually they disappeared from my view and I was left with only my thoughts.)
Living in the U.S., in New York City, I feel as though I am in the middle of everything. Every conversation with my peers inevitably veers to healthcare, politics, education. The twenty-somethings I meet seem angry about the state of affairs, but tired, as though they’d like nothing more than to call it a draw. As a Canadian, I have experienced a different but similar system. Neither is perfect. I have my preferences and try to keep quiet about them.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, having lived abroad twice now, is that the worst thing you can do is continually compare your home country to your host country—“At home, we do it like this.” All it does is rub people the wrong way.
Sometimes it feels like the world is a battle between the right and the left, and that’s all it is.
Other times, I observe my peers at Columbia. The way they tether themselves to desks in study rooms and libraries, working for hours on end, until they slouch over their notes, asleep. I watch them, appalled. They’ll wake up, rub their eyes, and keep working, and once the working is done, they will snap back, violently, like a rubber band, and party for several days straight. It is the workaholic drive of New York City, and of this Ivy league university. I find it jarring. Anyone who knows me knows I prefer balance. Work-play-work-play.
I look at my peers and wonder if I am working hard enough. I wonder about the meaning of success: what it looks like, smells like, tastes like. What it is and what it isn’t.
My classmates snap back, every time. It gives me whiplash just watching them. At times like these, I feel the world is not a battle between the right and left, but in fact a tug-of-war between freedom and restraint.