Socially Confused: Where am I?

by Sarah Luna

One of the most interesting aspects of my adjustment to life at Cornell is determining where I fit in socially. As one of only a few graduate students admitted straight from college, I’m about 5 years younger than most of my colleagues. This is wonderful, and I love getting the benefit of their experience. During my “work” week, I interact with them professionally and feel quite grown up.

Then we get to my interactions with the undergraduates. Thanks to ballroom, I am good friends with freshmen and sophomores. While I’m dancing, I feel light-hearted and encouraged, and I remember Lechner and all the fun, awkward, nerdy things that happened in that dorm. Switching back to professionalism, I am now a TA for a group of juniors and seniors. These kids are older than my ballroom friends, but I interact with them as a mentor and not as a friend.

It’s like that experiment when you put one hand it hot water and one hand in cold water and then put them both in a bowl of room temperature water. Even though both hands feel the same water, the water feels boiling hot to the hand that was in cold water and freezing cold to the hand that was in hot water. I’m only one person, but I feel so much older or younger when I’m playing different roles.

If this weekend is any indication, my semester is going to full of social engagements. Homemade pad thai and a live band with my nutrition ladies describes my Friday night. Despite the snow, we made it down to The Haunt, a local music bar. From 7-9, a live band rocked 80’s classics while older couples with a few drinks in their systems rocked the dance floor. We were obviously the young ones in the crowd. The tide shifted almost exactly at 9 as an invasion of skankily dressed college kids flooded the bar. We stared agape at them and at ourselves as the realization hit that we were no longer part of them either.

On Saturday, I went contra dancing with my ballroomies. I had never been contra dancing and had no prior expectation. It was three and a half hours of pure awesomeness. Seriously, it was the funnest thing ever. Here is a video of one of the dances we did. I start out in the bottom right hand corner dancing with the boy in a skirt and pigtails. I’m wearing a dark teal turtleneck and brown pants, and my hair is down. See me? Before each dance, the caller walks us through each movement slowly (so there’s no experience required), and then the band starts up. We have “partners” whom we stay with for the entire dance and “neighbors” that change during the dance. In this way, we interact with multiple people during each dance. Fast forward to 4:19. I am now under the second lampshade structure dancing with Standard Partner. At 5:15, the music takes a tango turn.

During the hours of dancing, I interacted with my undergrad ballroomies, a few grad students, and a bunch of older men. Dancing equalizes, and we were all simply partners despite our differences in age.

In summary, I have undergraduate friends. I have undergraduate students. I have graduate friends and graduate teachers. Where does the intimacy of friendship crash against the boundaries of professionalism? With whom can I appropriately feel “young” and with whom do I have to be “mature”?

I love that I have this quandary. I am blessed with relationships with people of all ages and all levels of professionalism. But where am I, and what are the implications?