A couple of years ago I was working on a study of the “internationalization” of universities. The huge influx of students who don’t speak English as their first language is supposed to be this awesome thing that brings diversity to universities. Ideally anyway. But it’s actually very difficult to get international students and domestic students to interact and form friendships.
What’s kind of interesting here is the apparent level of obliviousness – at least as best as I can tell from the academic literature I read on this topic – about the role that drinking culture may play in this absence of cross-cultural friendships. I found only a couple of research articles that spoke directly about partying as a cultural thing that might influence “internationalization” efforts, specifically by really turning off the students (like the Chinese students in this case) who just weren’t in to it as a leisure activity. I wondered at that time whether our own cultural blindness to the ubiquity of “partying” in unis and colleges might explain why this factor wasn’t more widely considered.
I also remember reading said research articles, and feeling a stab of sorrow. My own young adulthood exploration was cut short when I became a mum at 19, but I remember being a person at that time, and in to my early 20s, who did not think about alcohol. My social life (scant as it was) did not revolve around alcohol. I was a person then who did not have drinking tightly wound in to my identity. I was, in this sense, free. Perhaps I was romanticizing this period in my life, or romanticizing Chinese kids going bowling or something, but I wanted to be there again. I wanted to know what it would feel like to have fun without drinking.
Okay, so guess what? Freedom is feeling more possible. It has been almost two months now, and on sober reflection – for real. Sober joke. Ha! – I can safely say that I have had no net loss of fun in my life sans alcohol. I’ve felt twinges of longing in the moment for the wonderful, terrible “fuck-it” self-indulgence that accompanies a drink after a crap day, or in a celebratory moment. But when I back up and look at the big picture, they were moments and nothing more.
There are highs and lows in this process, but these past few days I’ve had lots of moments of feeling excited about a sober future and its possibilities. Now all I have to do is learn more Mandarin and find myself some Chinese kids to go bowling with. 加油！