I was born and raised in Irvine, California — a place consistently ranked among the top ten safest cities in America and even in the world. Growing up, I could walk to the park by myself with no worries. School was around the corner for my first seven years in the Irvine public school system, and most families kept their doors unlocked and garages open throughout the day. Kids ran around to each other’s houses and knocked to see if their friends could play.
Orange County, and Irvine especially, is definitely a “bubble.” Although my acceptance of it as such has changed, the fact hasn’t, and I never expected it to. I lived each day in expectancy of safety, consistency and even sheltered ignorance. With surrounding and sometimes permeating affluence, I would even diagnose some of this “bubble” as privilege. Granted, it’s not really like The O.C., and not everyone is rich and white and conservative as a monastery, but some of the stereotypes are prominent.
However, when I moved to Stanford, I was anticipating something far from what I had grown accustomed to. After all, I was going into the real world, wasn’t I? My mom wouldn’t tell me to make my bed anymore, so I would be a grown up. It was a jungle out there, in the land of pour-over coffee bars and all-nighters pulled just for the hell of it. The entire world would unfold itself in my hand, pirouetting so I could peek into every corner. Seventeen-year-olds knew nothing, but when I turned eighteen, I would be a teleological philosopher; I would see it all.
To say the least, college has not been like this. In fact, my corner of the world has shrunk to about three square miles. I barely get off campus because I don’t have a car. In fact, I barely get out of my dorm because I don’t have to. Most of my friends live across the hall, and my two daily meals are a walk downstairs away. In a college town that is so insulated and routine, I have to make a conscious effort to know the new songs on the radio, to get into political conversations, to even eat normal food. Living like a regular person has become an expenditure — of time, of money and of energy.
In this sense, Stanford is an even more fortified bubble than Orange County. I inhabit my own little world, things provided for me and nothing really changing. This world is static, it rarely disappoints and its borders are plentiful. Every walkway is dotted with pillars and my classes are within a mile of one another. It is the illusion of utopia; nothing can touch you.
I spent the break back at home, and with the privileges of my car, money, time and relative freedom, I felt my Orange County bubble pop. I’d never been so grateful for the agency to travel through three cities in one day, to drive somewhere but nowhere, to wait in line for food alongside people outside of the 18-22 age range. Home felt like the real world, and I was apprehensive about coming back here.
Surely, part of this phenomenon is my own fault. I have to work on time management so getting off campus is easier. I can get a Zipcar account despite being stingy as Scrooge. I should not be operating out of convenience.
Still, there is no denying that Stanford tends to foster the bubble mentality. Although the university promotes global consciousness and career-mindfulness, the relative removal from suburbia and typical city function creates a distinguishably isolated experience. I mean, Stanford is literally a city on the map. We have everything necessary for survival — there’s no need to leave or even to think about elsewhere.
For me, though, the pure orientation towards convenience and stagnation has been detrimental to my sense of adventure, initiative and belonging. Being comfortable in the bubble, or however else you want to coin it, seems to me quite treacherous. Like my childhood in Orange County, it has made me antsy to get somewhere else, to get out, to be in the real world. And although the real world is itself an elusive notion, I surely haven’t found it yet. So here’s to moving from one bubble to another, and maybe someday discovering how to get out.
Contact Malia Mendez at mjm2000 ‘at’ stanford.edu.