Columns

Vilsan ’19: Coming home

By
Staff Columnist
Monday, February 1, 2016

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Providence anymore.

There’s no Dunkin’ Donuts to greet me in the Paris airport. As I step outside, I can’t help but wonder whether oddly shaped pastries will be the only difference that my newly developed American eye will pick up. Am I still the die-hard European I was when I left in early September, or am I going to have to stop rolling my Rs and start accepting that I’ve changed?

Driving through the city, I decide against trying to spot the differences between the Champs-Élysées and Thayer Street. Instead of the crepe shop next to the minimart that promises to bring Paris to Providence by combining s’mores with French cuisine, there are authentic creperies at every street corner. The Parisian streets are lined with one extravagant store after another, bringing you the latest fashion trends from around the world. Meanwhile, suffice it to say that the two or three shops on Thayer resemble a shopaholic’s nightmare. As I follow the glamorous streets filled with overjoyed tourists, gorgeous architecture and glimmering lights, I convince myself that I’m home. But as I eat a combination of sticky cheese and snails for lunch, I catch myself thinking back to the taco bar at Andrews and the cream cheese bagels at Au Bon Pain. I’m in the city of love! Why am I still hung up on Bruno?

A question many college students ask themselves at some point during their education is: “How would my life be different if I’d gone to another school?” Universities with personalized mascots, teams, atmospheres and opportunities promise to create a unique experience. But at the end of the day, are we all having similar experiences within different institutions? In other words, what would my life be like if I’d chosen to study in Europe?

Europeans and Americans alike look forward to catching up with old friends after spending time apart. I do the same, meeting with some high school friends and trading experiences. Since I studied in Europe in high school, many of my friends decided to stay close to home for university, generally choosing schools in England, Scotland, Holland or France. The University of Paris, established in the 1100s, seems to blow Brown’s 250th anniversary out of the water. My friends at Oxford, the second-oldest university in the world, adopt a similarly condescending attitude as they rattle on about the school’s historical buildings. And yet I once again find myself thinking back to the Van Wickle Gates and the Rock, knowing that, on any given Sunday, I can study in my school’s historic library without having to share it with hundreds of camera-ready tourists.

As the subject changes to classes, I listen to my friends as they walk me through their required curricula for the majors they chose back in high school. Their eyes seem to sparkle when they mention the one elective they have the freedom of choosing themselves. Though I do feel a tinge of jealousy when several of them mention that their bachelor’s degree is a three-year program, listening to them only makes Bruno seem more attractive. I can’t help but wonder if their schools’ long histories stymie current-day experimentation and cross-disciplinary focus. “I’m still deciding between two or three majors,” I say casually, as they stare at me in disbelief. “At Brown, we have what’s called the open curriculum.”

Some of them expound on the benefits of studying in Europe, and I agree. Studying in Paris, or London, or Amsterdam is nothing short of fabulous. You can get shortcake at 3 a.m., walk by the river by day and watch the twinkling Eiffel Tower by night. So why am I not jealous? After all, wouldn’t any European in her right mind drool at the idea of studying at the world’s greatest tourist attractions? But I keep thinking back to Bruno.

As I step out of Logan airport, greeted predictably by a Dunkin’ Donuts, I decide I’m going to keep rolling my Rs. But I have changed. Though I’m a freshman at the bottom of the university food chain, I’ve learned enough in one semester to know there’s no place quite like Brown. Sure, Providence may not be at the top of a traveller’s “Ten Places to Go Before I Die” list, and Brown may still have a ways to go before it can celebrate its thousandth birthday. But as I walk onto campus, I’ve got no doubt in my mind that I belong with Bruno. That bear’s got a way about him.

Fabiana Vilsan ’19 can be reached at fabiana_vilsan@brown.edu.

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