The only word I can use to describe my return to Deerfield is weird. I know this is a very lackluster adjective, but that is the word that usually comes up when people ask about my return. I feel I do not know anyone, the school has an entirely different vibe from what I remember, and I am trying to reintegrate myself into a world that has changed dramatically since my last time on campus over 15 months ago.
Many people know I spent last year in Spain. Saying that I loved my year is a complete understatement. I loved and adored—actually fell in love with and obsessed over—my time in Spain. My experience there was the best friend and family member I never knew I was missing. It was the best decision I have made so far in my short life. It was a year of new experiences, new adventures and new people—the best people and the most amazing teachers. Even the worst moments I had in Spain were light-years more emotionally gripping and passionate than the best moments of the two years I had at Deerfield before I left.
This is to say that I have never really had an absolutely amazing moment at Deerfield. I have had great times with great people in a great place, but nothing has stood out. Deerfield is very much Deerfield, and the days can be so plainly routine and ordinary. I have loved the friends and the family I made at Deerfield, but I have yet to know if I have loved Deerfield. The people have changed my life and the teachers have made it bearable, but the institution as a whole is another issue itself. It is a difficult place to be, and that was a big part of why I so confidently said yes to SYA Spain.
So coming back to Deerfield has been difficult. It is isolating and can feel very cold. But every day brings something different. I am so thankful to be a proctor and have these great girls that make every day an amazing one. I am like a freshman, but worse. The freshmen come to Deerfield knowing nothing. They enter free of judgment of themselves and each other. They just want to make friends and make the most of the amazing opportunities they have in this “amazing” school. They can be whoever they care to be and have the blessing of a clean slate when they arrive.
In my case, I have come to find my main “friend group” has just graduated, and I don’t know more than two-thirds of the school. Everyone in my grade has finally settled down and shed the skin of self-consciousness that trailed them during their earlier years and fallen into set friend groups. Because I have been here for two years already, I am expected to fall back into my old place when everyone has changed and grown. It seems like Deerfield cannot see that I have changed and evolved too, that I am very different as well.
I don’t spend every moment of every day comparing Deerfield to Spain, because that would not help me as I try to make the most of this year and meet all the wonderful new faces and reconnect with old ones. Nevertheless, my experience in Spain last year has highlighted all the aspects of Deerfield that I had grown resigned to before. Deerfield can be a suffocating bubble that twists and warps those who are contained within. I felt freedom when I was in Spain: it was liberating to be treated as an adult and expected to act as an adult. We were give real liberty and responsibilities at which Deerfield’s administration would undoubtedly gasp. There was a growth as a result of my time in Spain that Deerfield yearns to cultivate. But seeing the two in contrast has shown me how DA fails in its goals.
The variety of people that surrounded me in Spain compared to that of Deerfield is probably the biggest difference. The kids at SYA were some of the most intelligent, precocious, witty, funny, open-minded and genuine people I have ever met. They thought and believed things in a completely non-fabricated way, unlike the students here at DA.
My SYA class was so interested in the world and travel and exploration, and they brought a diversity that DA can’t replicate. There were bisexual girls and gay boys, multiple black and Hispanic kids and other kids from other backgrounds—such as a girl who spoke three other languages besides Spanish. They never tried to be anything for anyone else, and because of that we all could truly be ourselves. They were accepting: we were a family. The conversations I had with them were not like the forced, artificial conversations I continuously find myself in during a day at Deerfield.
If you said “hi” to another person, they always responded and genuinely meant it. Nobody thought me weird for reaching out and throwing out a “hello” as I passed. I was never brushed to the side because the others thought they were better because of their socioeconomic class, skin color, ethnicity, intelligence level or any other factor. I felt respected and appreciated in Spain, at school, in my host family and when I was walking down the street because people there did not see the world in the same stereotypes.
One of the many things I will cherish from last year is that I went to a school in a place where the color of my skin, what my family does, my gender and where I come from did not inhibit me. In Spain, our disparities were not dividers and inhibitors, but rather things that brought us all together. Our differences enriched us in a way Deerfield tries to simulate. Deerfield, however, has haphazardly thrown together ethnicities and cultures in hope of a creating the image of a “diverse” campus.
Deerfield always emphasizes that we have a diverse campus with a diverse group of students from all over the world who come together on a progressive and broad-minded campus. But after last year, I can say that Deerfield has all the diversity statistics, but these do not come together to create a truly diverse community in the way Deerfield claims. The diversity and learning from my time last year are things that Deerfield has not been able to provide.
But I can see Deerfield has made greater efforts this year. We currently enjoy a visually more diverse student body than before. Visuals are not enough, however. There is still a lot more work to be done.