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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day – a freshman’s account of loneliness, I guess

The backseat of the car. Taylor Swift is playing. The sound of my friends discussing their finals week in excruciating detail. I opened my mouth and closed it again; that is how my winter break officially began on Dec. 18. 

Before that, I had a thankless Thanksgiving and a job shadowing experience where I learned almost as many “Seinfeld” references as professional knowledge. None of it felt like winter break, and being on a different schedule produced a consistent sense of loneliness. 

When my six-week break started, I was more than excited to finally go home for the winter and see my family, that was, until the lethargy kicked in. 

Joyful when I came back home, my friends and I sent each other “Happy Thanksgiving” messages while we were still all in town, them for a few days and me for over a month. The suggestion to meet before my friends returned to their respective college campuses was unrealized, as everyone celebrated Thanksgiving with their extended family. On the eve of Thanksgiving, I ate a dinner of leftover bread and three clementines on the dimly lit kitchen table. This occasion is not so different from any mundane day of the year, as our extended family lived on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, separated by thousands of miles, manifested in vast time differences.

I used to wake up and discover my cousin had already gone to bed. More often than not, my extended family had their own gatherings and entertainment at night and work in the morning. The growing conflict in schedules that had resulted in offbeat conversations is irrevocable at this point. 

Feeling somewhat lonesome at this time, I brushed it off and attributed it to different holiday traditions and the lack of an extended family. This would last for an entire week, during which I tried to fix my sleep schedule in vain until I began to job shadow in lieu of a winter job. 

I traveled to St. Cloud to see how public defenders do their everyday job and see courtroom proceedings. While my friends focused on finals, I took as much time as needed to review files. Of the few times we chatted, the prevailing silence stretched like the cornfields around Northfield, occasionally interrupted by a lonely farmhouse or tree that sounded like “How’s your studying going?” and “Meh.” On the other hand, while I had a compelling job shadowing experience, these conversations often ended with “What are you reading?” and “Um…Maybe we can see it in the public records later on?” Even more so, I found that I couldn’t fully empathize with what people operating on semester schedules are going through. 

Fresh off the boat that is final exams, I was ready to embrace the lack of looming deadlines, while my friends had yet to get off said boat. The review sessions, cramming and sleepless nights felt like a past life that I actively avoided recalling (until the next term began). Avoidance of the past placed me beyond the reaches of anxious thoughts, such as “I should have studied more, gotten more sleep, done this, done that, and so on,” yet simultaneously, it took away the ability to empathize with my friends. 

As days passed, one by one, they entered their finals week and gradually slowed the frequency of their messages, leaving little to no newly formed footprints on social media. Afraid to bother or distract them, I hesitated to reach out to them until I found myself alone in the basement bedroom one night. This realization hit me like a truck, and I really, really wanted to talk to someone my age.

Working with adults had embedded a sense of displaced nostalgia within me. Uneducated in the pop culture of the 1970s and 1980s, frequent references did not alleviate my sense of curiosity for that bygone time. I was working with individuals who could quote Seinfeld and pinpoint the episode. Agreeing that Seinfeld is a timeless piece of comedy and art, the fact that they could recognize a quote out of 180 episodes worth of dialogue is alarming at best. On a different note, it would be nice to have someone who knew about other topics closer to my time, for instance, the apparent resurgence of YikYak.

As a freshman, I did not expect to constantly wrestle with the feeling of being off the grid, or in this case, off the conventional schedule. 

Back to the current raging discussion on final exams inside the car, I tried to contribute something. Still, I realized that my memory of final exams has since blurred out the details, leaving only the sense of panic when my exam time ran out, still fresh as ever. However, hearing some of their horror stories about finals week was very entertaining. With “Tis the Damn Season” playing in the background, we drove to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant, after which we baked cookies and played Cards against Humanity into the night. This is when I felt the notion of winter break dawned upon me, whereas the previous three to four weeks felt like a strange limbo of stagnation.

Despite my six-week break seeming like a never-ending cycle of lethargy highlighted by small peaks of productivity and social gathering, I would not give up Carleton’s trimester system. Next winter? I’m looking forward to getting a winter job or traveling to places (maybe Mexico City in December 2024?) on my bucket list.

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