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Rowland '17: Time in and outside of the college bubble

My hometown is a college town — it houses three small liberal arts schools whose students are a fixture of our demographic. Growing up, I would cut through a college campus to get to elementary school, go to haunted houses hosted by fundraising student activists and attend training sessions offered by college athletes. But, despite my repeated exposure to these students, I always viewed the category of “college kid” as an alien species, light years of maturity and experience away. I understand how ridiculous this is, but I only finally realized and internalized the reality that these students are now my peers when they started popping up on my Tinder feed this past winter break.

I recognize that this is probably a metaphor for my larger encounter with the world of adulthood. It’s a new rite of passage fueled by technology and hormones. But, as my worldview has changed in the past few years (read: I went to Brown), I have forgotten that my relationship to my surroundings, especially those that are also human, has changed.

I’ve been very cognizant of the fact that college has given me the privilege of a time and place to solidify my values, explore my political beliefs and challenge my perspectives through new experiences and encounters. As the semesters whip by me, I’ve edged closer and closer to finally becoming a real adult with steadfast values, well-formed political views and lofty professional ambitions. But it’s possible that I was so internally focused that I failed to notice that the world around me isn’t so static either. As a result, I feel like I’m riding a weird cosmic merry-go-round that, at times, makes me feel pretty nauseous. 

This seems like a pretty dumb “aha moment.” Did I go to Brown just to realize that the world is changing at a constant rate, whether or not I’m in Providence or New Jersey? Maybe. But the implications of this revelation have a meaningful impact. It means that I’ve misjudged my current standing on the path out of adolescence. That kind of miscalculation can have traumatic effects on an individual, especially one who pretends that her biggest choice is what kind of cereal to eat.

Being on campus all the time, we generally only interact with a very specific subset of the adult world, namely professors, potential employers and family members (for some, those groups aren’t mutually exclusive). Many often gripe that the collegiate bubble prevents us from coming to terms with the world’s harsh realities. Given my extraordinary levels of cynicism, that’s not my complaint. My gripe is that the college bubble enabled me to forget that the time I spent gaining a world-class education flew by just as quickly in the real world.

But it’s not crazy to say that we perceive time differently based on where we are and what we’re doing. The body of time perception research within psychology and neuroscience is growing. For example, some studies show that our “internal sense of time” ticks slower when we’re learning something new. As a result, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that being fully consumed by the demands of college has distorted how I view the passage of time.

But seeing local college kids on my Tinder feed didn’t just prove to me that Brown earned its title as the hottest school in America. It also made me realize that, despite my efforts to warp the passage of time, the label of “young adult” has crept up on me. It still seems alien to me, just like the college students in my hometown, but I’ve decided to try and embrace it as much as possible.

Lainie Rowland ’17 can be reached at

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