Posts from Memory Lane: The Myth of the "Real" World

Thursday, March 21, 2013

These posts were written during the summer while I was in Bangladesh, in preparation for the upcoming academic year. Long story short: when I looked back at the archive, I didn't have the desire  or the time to put them up. But now, since I'm coming back to the blog, I decided that some of them aren't half bad. Read on!

While in college and while anticipating going abroad, I have often heard of people seeking "the real world." The idea always confused me, though I knew exactly what they were referring to. The "real world" was a place (at least for people in college) where people had jobs and didn't have the opportunity to goof around and learn anything they liked. It was a place that required a lot of responsibility and where you had less fun than you were having now, so you better soak it up while you could!

Likewise, while getting ready to leave the country, I met another type of "real world" seeker - the one that was looking for the "authentic" experience of "gritty reality." Maybe this was because I was not going to a country in Europe or North America (though we often leave Mexico out of that equation), but people seemed to believe that the world out there was more "real" than theirs because in some ways it held less privileges and had more hardships to navigate. Something about that made it more real.

These ideas always bothered me. What was less "real" about the experiences we were having now? That's when I realized that these people were using real to mean something entirely different than I thought it meant - they were using real to mean "privileged." They just didn't want to say it that way.

It's true, there are few places that are more privileged than an elite college campus (just that label makes me cringe), but when I first thought about this alternate use of "real/authentic," it got me thinking: why are we so nervous to call it what it really is?

The main reason, I think, is that we make a big bogeyman out of not having an easy life - it's something that we want to avoid with all our might or feel is inevitable and must act accordingly (e.g. by partying and doing things to excess). We prefer to stand in awe of our own privilege and point to it as if we were some mythical beings. It's as if we're saying "Look! Look how far from the average we are in not having to work and not having to deal with these particular problems on a daily basis!"

But college campuses have hard work involved in them too, and there's nothing less "real" about it. It's just a type of work that we are privileged to take on, that we are not obliged to do. However, instead of examining our privilege in this way and becoming more at ease with/grateful for the allowances it affords us, we decide to hide behind that bogeyman of the "real world" and ignore the possibility that we, maybe, are just not so darned special after all.

Not everyone has this attitude. Surely those who have heard power and privilege discussions before will recognize that these blinders are learned. But perpetuating the myth that we are special and unique not because we are privileged but because we are "less real" sets us up for a pretty big fall. When we do reach that "real world," have we processed enough to deal with what it entails? Or do we pine for the protected space we have come from? Likewise, when going abroad, do we gawk at the examples of "authentic" living and feel secure in our "non-real" space (hotels, resorts, etc) or do we participate in an active dialogue about how our world functions and how we ourselves are part of that system?

The myth of the "real world" allows us to bask a little longer in our own glory, but it doesn't set us up for future success. If anything, I'd say that starting to recognize that all our experiences are "real" will make us more apt to seeing other people on an equal level to ourselves - and then maybe we'll start wanting to work together.