Here’s the first of a monthly series of columns I’ll be writing from abroad, as originally published in my hometown paper, the Barrington Courier-Review.
I remember in fifth grade when graphing calculators were the hot thing and everybody had one. It wasn’t that we wanted to do math and crunch numbers; we just wanted to play all of the games you could download onto them – most notably, Tetris. The time-pressure crunch of having to arrange oddly shaped blocks into neat rows proved addictive for many, but I for some reason never got hooked. Instead, I stayed true to my Garfield comics while watching the hardcore Tetris players from afar.
But now, as I write these words while looking out onto an English patio in an English townhouse in an English neighborhood in London, what comes back to me most vividly is that game of Tetris. One would think that adjusting to a country where everyone supposedly speaks your native language should be an easy process, especially when that country is the one that birthed you, in a historical sense, just a couple centuries ago. But it’s the little things that add up quickly, just like those blocks in Tetris that would come down onto the screen and were never the right shape and before you knew it you’d have a “GAME OVER” message blinking at you mercilessly. From the credit cards that use a chip and PIN system to British words (aubergine for eggplant, loo for bathroom) and a different sizing system for clothes, things are just (slightly) different here.
And so, when I tell people that I’m “studying abroad” on a Fulbright for the year, their immediate reaction is to ask, “Where?” When I tell them I’m going to be in England, their faces contort into a confused, even sorry expression: “Why’d you choose to go there? That’s not exotic at all.” They’re right to some degree, but in other regards, I’m in an otherworldly realm where pants means underwear and some of the institutions here are older than my country (Hello there, Queen Elizabeth II!).
This past summer, I lived in New York City as a law bureau reporter for the Wall Street Journal. In my free time, I often hung out with friends from college who had made a permanent move to the city after commencement. Inevitably, we talked a lot about what preoccupies the minds of college graduates around the world: money.
We came to two conclusions.
One: If you want things in life, you need money to buy them. Those things might be a toothbrush, a pet, an apartment (I mean flat) or a tomato. But no matter what, you need money.
Two: Some paths in life will make you more money than others.
What we never figured out, though, was an answer to the question of how important a role money should play when you are deciding what dreams of yours to pursue. Is landing that first job really all about the money and starting a stable lifestyle? Or is it an unspoken rule that you can live from temp job to temp job so long as you are in your twenties and are working towards your pie-in-the-sky aspirations?
The year ahead poses a chance for me to think about all this “Life Stuff,” without having to worry immediately about the money stuff. It’s an opportunity I’m utterly grateful for, as I know how much a privilege it is in our day to have even a few minutes to think to yourself, let alone several months. And as I go about my studies at Oxford, both by hitting the books and watching British television, I’ll share with you what I learn as a hopeful, probably naïve twenty-something-year-old trying to figure some stuff out.