I never realized how comfortable I had become in the “Bowdoin bubble” until I ventured outside of it for the first time since coming to campus. Stepping off the train at Boston’s North Station during Fall Break felt like a jolt to my system in a way that I had never experienced before. Being from New Jersey, the simple act of striding onto a platform reminded me of the countless times when I hustled out of Penn Station. Yet, somehow, I felt a mix between nostalgia and disconnection that was prompted by experiences I’d previously given little thought to. What was once ordinary to me turned into the unexpected. I found myself amused by pigeons flying through the station when previously, I wouldn’t have batted an eye at them. I noticed my hyper-awareness heading out of the station, and I questioned this new feeling as I continued to explore Boston.
I caught myself developing a new appreciation for urban life. Instead of weaving through crowds of people and maintaining the classic pace of a city resident, I lifted my gaze to the sky and admired the architecture of towering skyscrapers. Each building I encountered became a landmark, a new sight to experience regardless of whether or not it was anything to marvel at.
Living relatively close to New York, Newark and Philadelphia, I never had to travel far to acquire a quick taste of a city. However, most of the time, I never craved it. Both of my parents worked in New York each day for most of their careers, so to me, it was never this magical “concrete jungle where dreams are made of”—it was an ordinary part of my family life. Nonetheless, arriving in Boston pulled out the hustle and bustle in me that I never knew existed. Still, the way I approached Boston was unlike any city visit I’d ever had before. I didn’t have a plan or a destination in mind; I was spontaneous and adventurous, on a quest to wander and explore.
After living my tourist moment in Boston, I recognized that my city shock had been perpetuated by my current experience in Brunswick. I had gotten so used to passing the same four-story brick dorms each day that I forgot what it was like to look up at the sky. I had grown so accustomed to greeting those I pass that I smiled at strangers in the streets, despite the common blank stares I often received in return. Along with its elements of urban charm, I was also reminded of everything I feared in cities. I forgot what it was like to be in the real world, where people yell in the streets in the middle of the night or approach you even when unwelcomed; where people must sleep in parks with signs that read “don’t sit on the grass” because they are unable to afford housing; where you cover the keypad to your room with your hand even when no one else is around; and where you have to Uber home instead of taking the subway because it’s too late to be out in public.
Returning to campus was a blissful escape from this reality, but at what cost? Of course, I’m extremely grateful to be part of a town and campus where I never question my safety walking home at night; where I always trust the people around me to respect my property and my being; and where I can breathe clean air and walk sidewalks lined with nothing but autumn leaves. My short getaway proved that this comfort and stability came at the cost of disconnectedness from the world beyond my one-mile radius. I became so focused on what was always in front of me, that I forgot what it was like to look around and challenge the world I see. I can’t say that I envy college students who aren’t experiencing the comfort we do, but one thing I will take from this experience is that there is more to life than what’s housed inside the Bowdoin bubble, and sometimes, it’s important to step outside of it to realize how unique of a privilege it is to be in it.
Kaya Patel is a member of the Class of 2026.