During move-in week ’19, we asked UI faculty members to tell us a story about their own experience of leaving home for the first time. Here’s Australia-born author, editor, researcher and Monash University grad Gillen D’Arcy Wood, a UI professor of English and Geology.
“I went to college on the outskirts of Melbourne. The school was named for an interesting Jewish-Australian named Monash, about the only general to emerge from the western front in World War I with any credit.
“The drinking age in Australia is 18, so the student union spent its entire budget for orientation week on alcohol. No bands, no clowns, just booze. I have blurred memories of a two-day toga party, viewed from a beer-soaked carpet.
“The 1980s were not famous for juvenile responsibility in Australia. Looking out my window one night, I saw two of my roommates drive a car straight through a brick wall in the parking lot. They got out, and bolted.
“To get from the dorms to classes meant crossing several acres of bushland. Not kidding.
“I got lost the first few times, so hailed a goanna. Kidding.
“We all trooped off to the cafeteria, where the favorite dish was cake swamped in steaming custard — especially delicious when it’s 100 degrees out. Every night on the way, a giant senior from the football team would be preening on his second-floor balcony, music blaring, his bare torso rippling with muscles.
"I remember the straight girls being very appreciative, the straight boys less so.
“I didn’t know anyone, except one short, chubby kid from school who had grown three inches over the summer, thinned out and transformed himself into a cool kid sex idol with a cigarette dangling permanently from his lips, a la Tom Cruise. Three decades later, I’m still mystified by that.
“I suppose the lesson is that college is a great place to swap out your old identity for something you like better.
“So, I was pretty lonely, until one evening I saw a group of freshmen in the lounge playing cards. I recognized the game instantly as 500, a kind of poor man’s bridge my family played all summer long at the beach. They dealt me in, and soon we were playing rapid-fire hands on our dinner trays while in the line for second helpings of custard.
"And that’s how I made my first friends in college.”