Different Air is a song by Anthony Zirfas. Every time it pops up on my iTunes, I can’t help but be transported back to my freshman year of college.
When I think back on that year, it is bittersweet. It was my first experience away from home, it was the first time I could truly do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, it was the first time I was accountable for myself and for my student account (colleges like timely tuition payments, apparently), and it was my first taste of young, wild, immature freedom. But that was the same year that I had to reevaluate the future I’d pictured for myself, handled the news that I was just like everyone else, had to suffer the consequences of my impulsiveness and over-zealous alcohol consumption, and that there would be no more easy passing in classes, work, or life. There are times when I look back on that year and smile; and there are times when I look back and remember that I made so many mistakes and wasted so much time, energy, and money.
Mostly, I feel happy because I was able to recuperate from that year and I truly made some amazing friends at that college.
The specific sentimentality of this song comes from two different issues. First, was the fact that the college I went to my freshman year was in the middle of nowhere in Northeastern Iowa. I was from the suburbs of Chicago, specifically, a suburb of Chicago that was predominantly Latino, black, and not white–definitely not Norwegian or Scandinavian. This college drew in people of Norse or Scandinavian background like moths to a musical flame (the school also drew in musicians because of its strong music program and campus culture). My interactions with people of color was minimal and I felt like a fish out of water. The diversity center on campus was mostly geared towards the international students or, at the very least, not me. I tried to get my work-study there and get information, but they never quite connected with me.
So it was a struggle just in the cultural aspect. The first five months there, I was in extreme culture shock. Alongside that culture shock was another culture shock: where instead of being in a suburb and having a big metropolitan city was just a train ride away, I was in a developed corn field that had absolutely no mode of transportation besides cars and tractors and the closest city was a three-hour drive away on either side. It was a real struggle for me to adjust to that and I don’t think I ever did. Whenever I came home, I was speaking Spanish with strangers and going into the city just to remember what it’s like.
I felt suffocated, out of place, and panicked. It was a difficult year to get through in one piece. It’s hard to describe in a blog post, but every day was like a coin flip. I’d wake up and be okay and then the day would progress and I would be happy and then I’d hang out with my friends and it’d be joyous! Then the next day I would wake up and hate everything and then the day would progress and I would be really sad and grumpy and then I’d hang out with my friends and wonder what the hell I was doing in a ho-dunk town, enrolled in an expensive ho-dunk college. Every week I made a list of the universities I was going to transfer to and then threw it away. Every time I called my mother, she asked if I was going to transfer and my answer changed every time. I went back and forth so much that I gave up trying to decide. I was so miserable, but the good times were very good and I was also terrified to leave.
Every time that song came on, I thought about how conflicted I was. I remember walking to class, more than a few times, and the song would come on and I would burst into tears. I missed my suburb, I missed Chicago, I missed my family, my friends, my people, and, second most importantly, I missed El Faro Mexican Restaurant. At the same time, the college I attended was safe. I knew the system, I had people, I had friends, I had connections, and I’d already spent a year there. I could see my future at that college. The idea of leaving it all behind and starting over in a bigger school or harder school was more than daunting and it held be back (temporarily).
Thankfully, I overcame all my doubts and fears and I corrected my errors. I hear that song and I’m taken back to my freshman year. Then I think of where I am now and how that all unfolded. It was a hard year, but without all that struggle and emotional mess, I would have missed out on the best two and a half years of my life (to date).