During a late-night exploration of the Claremont Colleges, my friends and I reached the northernmost edge of Harvey Mudd College. I found myself five feet away from the shocking brightness of store signs and streetlights, and in a couple steps, I was officially off campus.
It was absolutely terrifying.
At that point, I’d only been moved in for two weeks. That was all the time needed for the Claremont “bubble” to completely suck me in. As far as I was concerned, the boundaries of the 5Cs resembled the mythical edges of the world. There was simply nothing I needed that I couldn’t find on campus, and I quickly became overwhelmingly complacent about life here. Why eat out when there are seven dining halls? Why go to other campuses when other college students come here for our parties? Why would I ever leave when everything I need is so conveniently condensed into one place?
The Claremont Colleges are an island. It’s a completely different reality once you drive past the shaded streets of the Village into the colleges. Its culture is as distinct as its aesthetics, and you feel like you’ve stepped into an alternate universe. It’s so easy to forget that there is a world outside of here.
College, I’ve been told, is like that. Everything in high school is supposed to seem unimportant in comparison, and everything you’ve done before now is supposed to be inconsequential. However, I don’t think they meant that I’d totally freak out about going into the actual world after two weeks of college. Maybe my case is a little exaggerated, but I definitely felt a sense of unease walking into commercial streets and seeing stores instead of residence halls. It was disorienting after being so immersed in the 5C culture.
This disturbed me. Forgetting about the outside world and becoming so narrowly absorbed happened so easily. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that if you live in a bubble, you’ll eventually run out of air. This consortium can’t be a self-sustaining organism. While we’re sitting in classrooms discussing how every discipline is interrelated and how everything from culture to economics is globally connected, the bubble hangs over our heads.
I can’t complain about falling in love with my college, and we’re lucky to have so many resources available within a ten-minute walk. Still, I need to remind myself that a reality exists outside of these colleges, because that’s where we’re going to end up after four years. Our schools, no matter how isolated they may seem, are connected to the world in many ways. We’re still a part of the outside reality of street signs and traffic lights, and that won’t change. What happens in your hometown, the state, the nation, the globe—it all affects you in some way. We’re in this bubble because we’re trying to attain some higher education in order to affect the world. But inevitably, the bubble pops.
Luckily, our case isn’t hopeless. The outside world is no more than a newspaper, a phone call or an off-campus excursion away. Stepping out of the bubble isn’t always frightening; sometimes it’s refreshing to talk to a friend from home and remember how you grew up, or to watch the news and gain some awareness of current events. Every time you reach out, you reaffirm your connections to the world beyond the 5Cs.
I think I’m getting better. I no longer hyperventilate when standing at the edge of the Claremont Colleges universe, and I’m starting to remember that I actually have a life back home. Eventually, I hope I’ll let in enough air to breathe.