Being Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

For a guy who builds global positioning systems, my dad’s not too great with Google Maps.
Big thumbs, small iPhone screen — I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

We’re dropped off in Seekonk, Massachusetts, overstuffed bags in hand, with no idea how to hike to Brown University on College Hill. For my dad, this is not an unfamiliar situation; from growing up in India, studying in Iowa, and building a family in California, he has mastered the art of being comfortable being uncomfortable. He tosses his phone into his backpack and navigates us to Providence by reaching out to passersby and gas-station cashiers.

I am, however, acutely aware of the time left until my dad packs up and heads back home to the Bay. Two times twenty-four times sixty-squared times a thousand. I number-crunch the milliseconds in my head to keep the impending reality from smothering me.

When the last millisecond is up, Rhode Island will no longer be a vacation spot. Rhode Island will be my home, and I will be on my own.

In high school, living in the tiniest state in the US wasn’t on my radar. And although I had applied to schools all over the country, I nonetheless believed that I’d spend the next four years within California, if not a stone’s throw away from home.

Yet against all preconceptions, I step into Keeney Quadrangle on September 2nd, wondering what pebbles had fallen in place to build my path to the East Coast. For the first few days, I explore Brown’s campus, entranced by the frisbees that traverse the length of the Main Green, the brown brick and colonial-era styled halls, and the distinct vocabulary thrown casually from one friend to another:

“I’m heading over to the Sciiiiii-Liiiiiii.”
I think to myself: You mean, the cheese grater that touches the sky?
“There’s pasta at the Ratty today.”
Why is the dining hall associated with rats?
“Meet me at the Blue Room.”
But it’s not even blue!

I am trying my best to be comfortable being uncomfortable — not yet knowing the directions to these foreign places or the companions to take there with me. In my head, I make mental maps of the roads I walk, intersecting George Street with Thayer and Magee with Benevolent. More often than not, the streets crumple together and dissipate in my mind, and I become lost.

But the details I discover while navigating these infinity loops around campus are fascinating—a rock nestled in a tree, a giant blue teddy bear, an armless Caesar Augustus. Stapled to bulletin boards are flyers advertising study abroad programs in the Himalayas, swing dancing lessons, and acapella auditions. I call one of the phone numbers on these advertisements and sign up to have my brain waves measured for a neuroscience research project.

A week later, as two scientists gel my hair and attach metal electrodes to my scalp, I realize that I am becoming comfortable being uncomfortable.

The mechanics of living on College Hill become more natural with time. There is a new fluency in my movements, demonstrated in the way I trek to my morning classes in my pajamas, press my weight against the perpetually jammed dorm door to force it open, and maximize my food intake in the dining halls. These routines help me feel more at home, but I am still missing a key element of familiarity: close friends and tight-knit communities.

I try to boil down social interaction — a fundamentally nuanced activity — into a formulaic process that I am inclined to develop and follow. My logic: The more smiles given, the more smiles received. The more invitations extended, the more invitations reciprocated. Simple math.

In the beginning, I’m both brave and successful. I take initiative, say yes, start conversations, and smile. I feel as if I have reached another checkpoint in achieving comfort on College Hill. (First, the electrodes. Second, the impromptu frisbee sessions, movie nights, meals with friends, and exchanged phone-numbers.)

But soon, I find that with bravery inevitably comes vulnerability, and with vulnerability comes rejection. For weeks, I desperately try to forge a friendship that is destined to fail, ignoring the third fundamental rule from Aladdin’s Genie: “You can’t make people love you!”

When I finally grasp the Genie’s lesson — when I’m rejected for the first time — the semblance of College Hill as home fades. Without a spot of solitude or a long-established friend to turn to, there is no existing mechanism here to make the pain go away. I feel overwhelmingly alone. The three thousand miles between myself and spaces of familiarity become almost tangible.

My new routines suddenly feel shallow, like poor imitations of those at home. I’m now aware of the bitter taste of my morning tea at the Ratty, the lengthy trek between my dorm room and the bathroom sinks, the chill in the morning that hints towards the icy weather to come.

I realize I am still in that rough spot of transition, the one that, as the exceptionally nice grilled-cheese chef at Jo’s told me, no student ever wants to go back to.

But that doesn’t mean I’m still at square one. After weeks of putting myself in unfamiliar situations on purpose, I have grown tremendously, becoming more open-minded, confident, and spontaneous. I recognize the opportunity to further develop through this difficulty and look forward to who I will become because of it, readily accepting the fact that finding my place in Providence will not be easy. It will take time and marked resilience, but one day, I’ll wake up and realize that I am home.


Photographs by Alkim Kara, Jack Hegarty, and Miranda McDermott

Edited by Rachel Lee

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