The end-of-the-semester blues

I am no longer a university student.

(cue confusing mixture of cheers and boos here)

But, because I live and work right near a university campus, I’m still affected by the habits and conditions of student life.  I’ve written recently about the big crunch that comes during the December exam period, when what seems like the entire city is wrapped up in the stress of desperate work, and the even greater stress of desperately not working.  And, while I got to avoid some of that because I’m not a student, I still felt the effects of it because a good chunk of my social circle suddenly became antisocial unabomber-esque recluses, toiling quietly when unseen, and unpleasant to be around when visible.  Just a year ago that was me, though, so I can hardly be critical.

But, now the wonderful personal challenge that is December exams is over, and the university scene moves on to the next December tradition: exodus.  Everyone is leaving.  Everyone.  In a week this place will be a ghost town, lightless, cheerless, empty except for dark figures shuffling in the shadows.  It’s like the zombie apocalypse, but with more Santa hats.

Universities are very interesting, from a social perspective.  What other community completely disappears for a month, then returns just as suddenly to take up exactly where everything left off?  It’s a little eerie and surreal, the way almost an entire city is put on hold for weeks, frozen in time like a scene out of some science-fiction show.

Of course, I’ll be around myself for at least one of those weeks.  On the plus side, there wont be lines at the grocery store.

What sucks even more, though, is that some of the people who leave won’t be coming back at all.  And, that’s just a kick in the junk at a time of year that is supposed to be about being with the people you care about.  Universities are probably the only place where Christmas is about not seeing the people you care about for the holidays.  And, when the end of the semester coincides with the holidays, all the people who graduated, or are spending a semester abroad, or are off to an internship, just… don’t come back.

That makes me a sad panda.

Of course, this is exactly what happens in much greater numbers at the end of the spring semester, when a giant chunk of the campus community graduates and leaves forever, off to pursue real lives in a real world.  It’s a little easier, then, though, because everyone is doing it.  At Christmas, the understanding is that the campus is on “pause,” and in a month everything will resume exactly as it was.  People who don’t come back are fundamentally misunderstanding the rules of the game.

A side effect of all of this is that it’s a real bitch to get Christmas shopping done in time, because you have to get the presents to people before they take off to whatever silly place they come from.  That cuts off, like, a week of shopping; more, when shopping for the keeners who somehow didn’t have any exams, and handed in all their papers on the last day of class.  Of course, no one wants to buy presents for people like that anyway, but the point still stands.

What all this means is that a time of year that should be (and, generally, is) a time of happiness, over the success of completing the semester, and the excitement of seeing the family and friends you left behind to come to university, is also tinged with a little sadness.  Going away to university is amazing partly because it creates a new world for you.  But, at times like Christmas, you’re forced to choose one world over the other, and that means always leaving something behind.

I’m not making any clever insights here.  Goodbyes are sad, even when they’re only temporary.  But, it’s a part of life that the bigger your world is, the more things you have to choose between, and the more things you have to leave behind as a result.  There are, I suppose, reasons why some people stay in the same place they grew up for their entire lives — a small world is something you can hold close all the time.

Going to university is about making your world bigger, though, so it should be no surprise that it sometimes means leaving things behind.  But, it’s still sad to say goodbye.

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