I want to be completely honest and raw even though this all of this may sound quite unreasonable, whiny, and uncomfortable. But, it is 11:37 pm, I am exhausted from tennis practice, and I am feeling a lot of things as I sit here and type on my phone (I am too lazy to pull out my laptop).
Last summer I attended a program at a prestigious university, a university I will not name simply because a) you may already know which one I am talking about, and b) it isn’t very ethical to do that, right? Man, was I excited. I spent a lot of time constantly telling myself that I had to get out of town for the summer, that I had to exceed expectations, and that I had to get my peers to appreciate me (my attitude was quite skewed, but we all go through a phase like that as teenagers, don’t we?). This was my one-way ticket to all of that. I was ecstatic and hell, I was proud of myself.
Unfortunately, I cried my second night there. It wasn’t because I was homesick or anything, but because I felt out of place. I felt like an impostor. I felt like I didn’t belong there and that I was pretending to be someone that I am not. There’s no way to gently put how I felt, because sometimes our emotions are crude and unreasonable and they make us perceive things crudely and unreasonably, so here it is:
Everyone was so f***ing rich. There were many people that I met who came from affluent families and attended private schools or boarding schools or at least public schools in a safe, well-to-do area. There were these little cliques forming around me, and although I made plenty of open-minded and humble friends, I couldn’t help but notice the other few groups of people around me that seemed to be extremely comfortable and content with sticking alongside their cliques, with the people they sort of deemed good enough to be with the entire duration of the program.
Being around people with money is hard. Some people do have this sort of inadvertent apathy or indifference or plain obliviousness to the fact that you don’t. And for some of us it can be hard to tell them that. I found myself wanting to stick to the meal card that I was given because the food in the cafeteria was actually so damn delicious compared to anything else that I ate on a regular basis or anything that is usually accessible to me, but I found people saying “they didn’t like it” or “it was OKAY” and wanting to spend money at an expensive restaurant close by. Under the pretense of “yeah totally I am fine with spending more money than I actually need to”, I was one of those people. It took me a couple of days to get away from that and adjust myself to this totally new environment. I loved the intellectual bent of the community, but it was hard trying to resonate with anything else. If only knowledge and wisdom were enough for some people to think of you as “acceptable.” If only it was enough in the beginning, so I could have been open about who I am and eaten the damn cafeteria food.
Despite all of this, I cannot begrudge kids who come from affluent families. It’s hard to constantly think about other people’s situations and how hard they might have it because you can’t always be full of empathy and selflessness 24/7. Also, I would like to point out that there were also many people at the program that were extremely humble about where they came from, and they did not let that define them at all. I admired that and respected that so much.
With that being said, it was still hard. My parents aren’t politicians or socialites or doctors or business people. My mother, who was a single parent for the first fourteen years of my life, couldn’t pay for dance classes or music lessons. I go to the closest public school because my parents couldn’t afford to buy me a car so I could drive to a better school, elsewhere, in a better neighborhood. I can’t travel abroad every summer or spring break because my parents simply don’t have the money. I just felt like absolute shit. And not because of me or my situation, not because I was feeling bad for myself or developing a sob story for the world to see, but because it’s extremely difficult to talk about affluence or to point it out even when it’s right there. You just don’t do that. You don’t go up to a group of people that spend ther summers at the Hamptons or prancing through Europe with Kate Spade ballet flats and say “Hey, your parents are wealthy, mine are not, and I don’t appreciate the fact that you’re completely apathetic and indifferent towards people, normal people like me, who may not have it as ‘easy’ as you do. Talk to me. I’m a human being, although I don’t live on f***ing Fifth Avenue or go to an expensive private school, I’m human.” It’s scary. I was scared.
I do want to have a kid (or two) and I want to be able to provide for them comfortably and easily. I want them to be able to travel and try new foods and walk in those freaking Kate Spade flats. But here’s the whole point: I don’t want them to just care about the fact that their parents make a lot of money. I don’t want them to think that their parents’ paychecks define them, just like how I don’t let my background define me as a person or what I want to achieve in the future. I don’t want my kids to be totally oblivious of the people who are absolutely normal and do normal things and can only afford normal, average things, but are still as brilliant and innovative as they are. I don’t want them to be a part of a clique that is so obviously identified by where they live and who their parents are.
I am going to end this abruptly because it was hard typing this, because this is based off of my feelings, and my feelings aren’t necessarily correct or objective. If anything – in more simple, less emotionally-driven words, perhaps – I just want everyone to know how important it is to talk to people and accept people and be around people no matter what their socioeconomic background is.
Please enjoy this gif of Alicia Silverstone. It kind of makes sense in context of my post, but it also doesn’t.