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Reality Check: Popping the bubble


He regards me with a side long, speculative glare: how much effort would it take to bite this human’s nose and make a blitz for the nearest roof? I don’t blame him. It’s a beautiful Sunday morning at the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo and, if I were a similarly feathered specimen, I would want to go preen on a high perch too. I turn my grudging charge this way and that on my fist, letting guests view the striking tail feathers that are his namesake. No, they don’t eat fish too often. Yes, he is native to the area. A red tailed hawk wings past far overhead to make my case in point, no doubt wondering why the sulky looking male on my glove isn’t making better use of the day. An older gentleman strolls over, a giant STANFORD reading in stark relief across his chest. We talk briefly about campus news before questions turn to me. Am I here with some sort of Stanford volunteering committee? I can’t help but laugh. Oh, Stanford.

People on campus are quick to say they want to leave the Stanford bubble, but I don’t think putting geographic distance between yourself and campus is going to necessarily work. I’ve never felt as detached from campus as I do when at the zoo, and the PAJMZ is a mere nine blocks off campus. There are groups that venture further for service based goals and still drag the bubble with them. What about those that don’t necessarily have a passion for the topics targeted by the group, but are looking for a way to escape campus living? Really, unless you distance yourself from the remnants of the Farm, you aren’t doing much except toting the pressures of Stanford living around with you.

Similarly, loading up on the “Stanford University <insert club name>” extracurriculars isn’t going to cut it either. Your friends from section are your friends on Facebook; your friends from your club are in your lecture, and there gets to be a point when going to unwind with some juggling turns into talking about whatever you were talking about in lab class. There is something to be said for meeting people who have no idea why Professor Doe gave you 17 problems for next week, and hopefully, don’t care.

I know that, when I get to the zoo, I can let go of that Alex tied into the workings of Stanford, and meet people as just another animal zealot. As I’ve expounded in “New GER Required,” there isn’t a way to show, via transcript or admission, that you are a decent person. By seeking out activities beyond the reach of Stanford, you can forge a reputation based on your character, and not your image amid the group. I’m the type of person that revels in cutting up squid for the shark tank, sharing my knowledge of ferret anatomy with kindergarten science classes and forcing the raccoons to get some exercise by running around their enclosure with grapes. If I were just another volunteer amid the Cardinal swarm, I would probably be constantly reminded of some bit of busywork or stress I should have left on Palm Drive.

Even more importantly, for those who feel misrepresented by their transcripts, pursuing opportunities outside the University shows initiative and drive that otherwise might not be emphasized on paper. My boss at the zoo, for example, wanted to be sure I was diligent enough to arrive on time to my shift indefinitely. Even before I arrived on campus for fall quarter, my resolve to volunteer there was tested. My boss didn’t return my calls, ignored my e-mails and generally hid from me. When I finally got to California, I wasn’t greeted as just another member of a Stanford affiliated program — I had to go through all the paperwork and finger printing and waiting associated with getting a volunteer position with the city of Palo Alto. I couldn’t just rely on students from previous years to have made a good impression on the zoo staff. As strange as it may sound, the fact that I had to struggle a bit to earn my place at the zoo makes me all the more proud and thankful for the opportunities I’ve found there.

While I enjoy hearing about Stanford affiliated “giving back” programs, I can’t help but mull over the state of institutions wholly unconnected to the Farm. The staff at the PAJMZ didn’t realize anyone on campus would be interested in helping out at the zoo, and I expect many nearby organizations have much the same mindset. How mutually beneficial it seems, then, to finally escape the Stanford bubble by venturing outside of the clubs and organizations tightly knit into its structure.


Have you found your own way to defeat the bubble?  Tell Alex about it at [email protected].