The other side of the bubble

By Josh Towner

From August 19, 2017 to July 29, 2018, I spent less than 50 days away from Bethel. For that dubiously long stretch of 345 days, I was never away from campus for more than two and a half weeks at a time.

To put it lightly, I was tired of Bethel. I had eaten enough Sodexo taqueria and drank enough Royal Grounds dark roast to last me a lifetime. I saw enough people who claim to be good Christians leave their bags at an empty booth in the Grill while they ate dinner in the DC to make me consider never coming back to Bethel. That’s part of why instead of attending Bethel for the fall semester, I’m in New York City in a study abroad program.

When I moved to New York, I immediately felt a change in energy. The city moves fast – it doesn’t have time to worry about you. Everyone is busy going somewhere, doing something. Despite the millions of people swarming the streets, it’s easy to feel completely isolated. No one offers you so much as a glance of recognition, instead opting to look forward with a frosty, lifeless gaze.

But, if you look close enough, New York isn’t as cold and unwelcoming as it first seems. There’s a kind of unspoken camaraderie between everyone. It’s the inaudible groan the collective audience makes when a mariachi band sprints onto the subway car, or the snarky comment about how slow the elevators are that makes people smirk. It’s the exchange of a panicked look when a homeless person steps into the street during a red light. New York is a unique city. It’s hulking and brisk, but full of microinteractions that make you feel at home.

Bethel works differently. The second I pulled up at Nelson freshman year, what seemed like 800 people collectively screamed “welcome home.” I felt like I belonged from the very start. People showed genuine concern for me. It wasn’t hard to see the community blooming.

There are a lot of things about New York that I like more than Bethel. For instance, at Bethel, it’s awkward to blow past somebody going up a staircase. In New York, it’s annoying if you don’t blow past the slow person on the stairs. When people walk around Bethel, they generally look happy and relaxed. If you’ve got a smile while walking in New York you’re a tourist. But if you thought the dude playing guitar by the firepit in Kresge was annoying (let’s be honest, he is), that’s got nothing on the man playing bongos in the subway car. The difference is, you can yell at bongo-guy. Yelling at guitar-dude is borderline sacreligious.  

But there’s a sweetness to Bethel that New York lacks. Growing up in the Midwest, “Minnesota nice” never meant anything to me. Being polite and well-mannered is just how you’re supposed to behave. Then I got an internship at an old-school newsroom in Queens. Everyone was cursing and cracking profane jokes. I heard people say things like “No, I like short women. Most of my ex-wives are short women,” or, “when’s the vodka coming out? Oh, that’s right, we already drank it.” I heard someone ask Alan if he still smokes, to which he incredulously responded, “of course I still smoke. Why wouldn’t I still smoke?”

Then, one day, while gazing out the window on the Long Island Railroad, I found myself suddenly missing “Minnesota nice” for the first time in my life. A gentle reprimanding feels better than a screaming match. Midwesterners won’t call you out over a minor inconvenience. In New York, a co-worker said to me, “if you don’t respond to my ‘good morning,’ you can go f–k yourself.”

Even though I miss it, “Minnesota nice” isn’t exactly feasible in NYC. You’ll miss your subway stop if you aren’t outspoken in getting people out of your way to the door. The barista at the coffee shop doesn’t have the patience for you to small talk when you’re ordering. I missed out on an internship at the New York Post because I was shy and unassertive.

Despite how vexing the Bethel Bubble is from the inside, I miss it now that I’m out. I had to move 1,000 miles away to appreciate what Bethel is. It’s hard having a debate when it feels like everyone else at Bethel already agrees on everything. It’s hard trying to figure out your own beliefs when it feels like you have to think a certain way to fit in the Bubble. New York isn’t hospitable at first, you have to hunt for that feeling. At Bethel, hospitality is the priority. The Bubble can be exasperating, but it’s far warmer than New York.

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