Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Jayal: For an exchange student at Northwestern, friend-making moves fast

I’m walking through Evanston on a Friday afternoon. A yellow light, dappled with green, butters the maple trees that line the road. I tread around the tall cylinders of their trunks, thinking wistfully of the quiet, sashaying music their leaves would make in the fall. Tassels of burnt orange that fell from branches and landed softly. How they accumulated in crackling heaps, the ground becoming interspersed by flashes of sparkling gold and brilliant red.

I have noticed the seasons very much during my time here. Each quarter has had a distinct air, a flavor. Much like how the trees frame my vision of campus — by the libraries, by the Lakefill, by the rocks — so have temperature shifts.

The nonchalant chill of fall and the ravenous freeze of winter permeate my memory of this year. Classes shuffle, once, twice, thrice. The academic calendar moves at a breakneck speed. In just 10 weeks, we are submerged in different worlds, first mapping them and then putting them away.

It is exhausting and thrilling. The quality of time mutates.

“Was that last week? Or last quarter?” I ask my friends, often. They too come and go. Apart from a handful of us, most exchange students are only here for a quarter, not a full year. As someone generally averse to change, befriending people in the fall, who were leaving come December, came with the sharp sourness of fear.

Nonetheless, friendship weaved a taut thread between us, spooling quickly from the shared experience of moving at a different tempo to regular students — of speaking with compounds of languages, shifty accents, scattered pop culture references.

I was used to London, the bounds of which seem infinite and where friendship comes to fruition over time. In a city, one must initiate, reach out, have volition to see one another again. Then, of course, closeness deepens naturally, like oranges in sugar, stewing into jam.

Here, the close embrace of NU’s campus kept us in each other’s spheres. Soon, over meals together and movies in yellow-lit dorm rooms, a deep sense of community began to crystallize. I realized how at ease I felt, waking up in the mornings and knowing that no delayed tube ride or kilometers of city ground stood between me and my friends.

“Campus is so boring.” I often hear this refrain. In the queues at MOD Pizza, in libraries or in lecture halls. And I understand: I got to live out my restlessness as a freshman in the zingy bustle of London, and I miss my friends and its constant, thumping energy. Besides, four years in close radius … it certainly must lose its novelty.

But I find that the novelty arises in the people. Especially those who are endlessly interesting and bubble easily into friendship.

Two of my friends left in December, returning to their home universities. One of them back to the rippling, blue-green folds of Cape Town. The other, to the smoky, silky glamour of Paris. I miss them very much and resent the miles between us and the twisty logistics and finances of inter-continental friendships.

I also have friends who will stay in the U.S., working and studying, after I leave this spring.

But there is always the missing. Missing my grandparents, in India, two oceans away, who wake up when I am going to bed. They implore me, over FaceTime, to eat more, go out into the sun more. Missing my parents. My sister. My two rotund little Jack Russell Terriers, who still chase after stones in old age. My best friends, in London, who are approaching their graduation.

It is a luxury, though, to even experience the missing. To have people so close that their absence leaves a dull ache. To see the world, and live, for a time, so far from what was known to me.

The prospect of going abroad for a year terrified me. I was scared of having to build friendships and then bid farewell to people. But each quarter, when life resets, I realize that the ground is still steady. That people may be far away, but I think of them every day — and over glitchy phone calls and rambling emails, they stay vibrantly close.

Tomorrow, it is going to be warm. I will go sit by the lake, where the ground is bursting with the first soft tufts of spring flowers.

Devaki Jayal is an exchange student from University College London. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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