Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two years my home but have I ever belonged?

This afternoon was my going away party. I'm not actually leaving the lab for a little while longer; this just turned out to be the best timing for a party for whatever reasons. The two lovely professors whom I have worked for these past two years threw the party down at our lab's pavilion by the water, with a barbecue, chips and salsa, salads, beers, wine, sodas, and cake. We had pleasant weather, and it was a very lovely party.

The big question in my mind as I walked to the party was How many people will show up? Assuming that the people who attended would be there not to celebrate the fact that I'm finally going to be out of their hair but rather to celebrate the time I spent at the lab and to give me their goodbyes and best wishes, the party turnout would be a little measure of popularity. There are obviously reasons that people who might have wanted to attend would be unable to, especially since it's the middle of the week and the invitation was only sent out to the entire lab (including me!) yesterday morning. That said, I still couldn't help but take notice of the attendance.

Here's the breakdown:
11 of 24 students
4 of 31 faculty research assistants
8 of 32 faculty
We also had 1 spouse, 8 children, and 2 dogs (maybe just 1.5 dogs... I'm not sure if the Pomeranian counts as a whole dog).

Actually, I was quite pleased with the turnout. There were a few people I expected to see who didn't make it, but also a few I did not expect to come who did. There were enough people so it didn't feel dead, but not so many I couldn't have a good conversation with everyone.

Still, it is clear that I was not the most popular girl in the lab. I didn't even mention the 0 of 30 support staff who didn't come. The fact of the matter is that I have not been overly social here. Even though I was myself a faculty research assistant, of the 31 FRAs, I can only recall ever having conversations with 16 of them. I just don't know enough people here well enough to have expected more people to come to my party.

I am not particularly social by nature. As I've mentioned before, I am all too happy to sit at home watching TV or playing a computer game. I'm not a big party person and I'm not a big drinker, so when the large part of the grad student bonding time is at the bar, I usually pass on the opportunity to join them. I have attended some parties, and I'm always friendly around the lab, but really the most time I've had to talk with most of the people in the lab is over lunch on Wednesdays after seminar (oh, free post-seminar lunches!).

My social detachment is also linked to my seemingly temporary position here at the lab. I arrived at the lab two years ago thinking I would stay for two months. There was no reason to get attached to anyone. But two months turned into 6 months, then 9 months, then 12 months, then 24 months. At the beginning there, I always felt like I was about to leave. I felt that I shouldn't bother with the people here, because this wasn't my place, it was a placeholder, a temporary landing pad. And even when I finally figured out I would probably be around for another year, habits had already been formed, people had already ruled me out, and I had already ruled myself out. I was out of the loop, and I was not going to try hard enough to get in.

Now that I look back on my time here, I can recognize that I have never felt I belonged here. I never particularly liked the town (it's small and in the middle of nowhere and the only place to shop is a WalMart). The lab is nice and quite pretty but it still gets too hot and buggy in the summer and in spite of the water being right here it's no good for swimming. But more importantly, socially, I was always that girl that no one disliked but few ever remembered to include. Two years I have been an outsider at home.

I am not sorry to be leaving this town for Honolulu. I will not miss the weather here. I will not miss our muddy river when I can have the Hawaiian beaches. But I will miss the people. I will miss the very few that I got to know well, and I will miss the missed opportunity for friendships that never were.

Maybe they will be my friends if I invite them to visit me in Hawaii :-)


Anonymous said...

It sounds amazing where you're going... hopefully you will get there and everything will just fall into place.
Nothing wrong with not being overly social...you just need to find other people who aren't either and you can sit and watch TV together!!

Sebastian said...

Ah, you just stumbled across why I generally... sneak out of things.

I always sneak away at the end of parties, or a night out, or even the end of university...

I can't believe that anyone would actually want to say goodbye to little ol' me... so I just slide out the back exit. Occasionally I say goodbye to 1 or 2 close friends and then POOF! Gone.

Eleni said...

Hopefully with more people where I'm going, there will be more people that I find something in common with. More friends to choose from and all. Maybe it'll be like college again. Who knows, maybe it'll be even better!

I hadn't realized that they were going to throw this party for me until the day before. One of the professors had mentioned a picnic and asked if I was free, but I thought it was just a little party with my lab group, not an open invitation to the entire lab facility. I have to say it made me rather self-conscious. But while I generally do sneak out of parties, in the kind of community that is my work place I think it would be bad manners not to say goodbyes.