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Notes From the Other Side 

Two Gambit Weekly interns reveal the secrets that helped them emerge from the local college experience with degree in hand.

Boomerang or Punching Bag?
By Ian Morrison, Loyola University '03

I am not a native of New Orleans, but a Midwestern transplant. Hence, my observations are based solely on my own non-"Y'at" experience (if you don't know what that means, ask a local) -- which I'm told is far different from the natives who chose to stay and attend college in New Orleans.

The best advice I ever received during my four-year stint as a New Orleans college student was "everything in moderation." The notion may seem absurd to party-hungry students, but it is the only way to simultaneously survive and embrace a city hell-bent on absorbing each and every person into its cultural fabric. It embraces diversity but demands individuality. I always imagined the Big Easy lifestyle as either a boomerang or a punching bag -- i.e., the more involved you become with life outside the university boundaries, the harder it is to stay put on an exam night. Or, feast today and pay tomorrow.

I could go on about museums and other pseudo-significant landmarks. I say, save the popular and tangible cultural amenities for visiting relatives. Most colleges offer campuses shock-full of comprehensive university fun, fueled by sandwich triangles and team-building activities. I say, save those days for when you're broke. I can only imagine that four years of "quad"-filled fun can only contribute so much to a student's growth. Take my word for it -- the college years blur by in unison and then it's over. From my vantage point, I discerned two kinds of people coming out of college. In one corner are those who had a prototypical college experience, rife with fun and colorful anecdotes that could be swapped between students from anywhere across the nation. These are the stories that often begin with "Dude, I was at this party once ... ." Then again, who wants to be like everyone else?

The opposite corner holds a handful of students prepared to take on the quagmire of post-college life; those who do not need a common bond to feel secure. I am generalizing, but these students think outside the proverbial undergraduate box. Maybe they eschew the common fear of the "freshman 15" and, with reckless abandon, gorge themselves on succulent po-boys, slathered in gravy and prepared in a establishment most tourists and health workers alike would shun. What about attending a show that does not start until 4 in the morning and then goes on until lunch? Believe me, it's the closest thing to being in the throes of religious rapture I have ever experienced.

Outside New Orleans' bevy of picturesque campuses, you may have to look over your shoulder, but a wealth of experiences and many good stories await. Our city has a vibrant music scene to fit most tastes and a bewildering number of bars, restaurants and theaters. Lest we forget the major festivals that never end; I am referring to Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, the French Quarter Fest, Satchmo Fest and all the others. Most of them are free if not cheap. Yes folks, you can do all these things on a college budget.

Back to my initial adage of "everything in moderation" -- at some point, most New Orleans college students will notice that many friends, acquaintances and familiar faces will disappear without a trace. Fear not, college newbie, they weren't built for this.

This city has more to offer than most people can handle, not in terms of partying but in a general sense of acceptance and revelry for life. Have you ever seen those people who run from bar to bar, drink a beer and then keep going? There is a reason they only drink one beer at a time.

Charm Like a Mutt
Kris Bares University of New Orleans '02

Going to school in New Orleans -- the idea itself seems like an oxymoron, doesn't it? How do you explain so many times to your professor that your paper is going to be late because you were out at the Maple Leaf tossing back way too many beers? O.K., you don't say that's what you were really doing. But how many times can you doze through your 9:30 Milton class, trying to focus on spatial theory in post-1660 literature?

How many times can you show up to your part-time job looking like Keith Richards? You change one part of your outfit, like your shirt or your jeans, and you hope no one notices. Febreze only goes so far to kill the ashtray smell of a bar, and you find that downing three vitamin-C tablets the morning after makes that annoying dull roar in your ears subside. They don't put that in the brochures, do they?

But that's what this college thing is about. The best parts about going to school in New Orleans are what you find when you're NOT at school. The city has a charm like a mutt you just couldn't say "no" to. The history seeping in through all the cracks, the music around every corner; my God, the food. This city allows you to live. You are educated in your senses while you educate your brain. The trick is finding moderation.

My first semester at Loyola started out idyllically enough. On Wednesdays, the bulk of my literature survey class would hop on the streetcar and meet for a beer. We would sip our drinks, discussing everything from feminist theory of Jane Austen or who was the crazy co-ed that kept flashing people from his window? I would sit back and think, "Yes, this is what I hoped college would be like."

Flash forward two months later. My caffeine tolerance has risen to three cups of coffee and four Vivarin. I don't remember the last meal I ate that wasn't pizza. I am 20 pounds heavier with bags under my eyes. Halloween night, I am driving back from a party and I see chairs in the middle of the road. Until that point, I didn't know that sleep deprivation could cause hallucinations. After seeing me swerve to miss said chairs, my friend Shannon wakes up and forces me to pull over.

What did I learn, gentle reader? Sleep is good ... and so is knowing your limitations.

For financial reasons, I transferred to the University of New Orleans in the fall of 1999, and in many ways, grew up. The commuter environment was more my speed; everyone else there had a job, a family, a life beyond school, and knew all too well -- like I did -- that there was a time for play and a time for work.

I also learned that you are your own best source of motivation. I learned that if you want answers, you must seek out who has them. I learned to use maps; they are your friends. I learned you can't be intimidated by your peers. I learned that coffee and cigarettes are not substitutes for food. I learned that someone who has a degree is not always your superior. I learned how to balance the demands in my life and not become dangerously unhinged.

Yes, along the way I took in my math and science and everything else that was required of me, but when I crossed the stage in December, the curriculum wasn't what, I felt, had enriched me. It was the journey there.

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