The question I dread most: “So, what music do you like?” I’m one of those unicorns who don’t really listen to music. If my AirPods are in, I’m listening to an audiobook or a podcast. If I am listening to music, 30% of the time I’ll listen to some Chinese or Korean R&B or American chill pop, the other 70% I’ll be listening to a playlist to try to get into some mood. These are the synthwave, cyberpunk, lofi beats with rain in the background, and dark academia classical playlists—the auditory version of Tumblr moodboards and Tiktok vibes.
I’m a lover of aesthetics, the particular tone of which depends on my mood and stage of life. In high school, I was much more cyberpunk and dark academia—a pessimistic, Slytherin, danger-loving, angsty teen. As I’ve become more focused on self-love and personal growth, I’ve found that my aesthetic preferences are beginning to lean toward the brighter side—solarpunk and light academia. I’ve even added pastels to my once-black wardrobe.
For a day trip to University of Cambridge, I was fully prepared to live out the dark academia aesthetic of haunting libraries, castle-like halls, and damp autumn leaves against cobblestone pavement. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find it a quaint town with a bustling market, lively music, and several gelato shops. We went punting on The River Cam and for those precious moments I felt like I was in an early Harry Potter movie, spellbound by the scenery and the sunshine and the smiles. (Our guide told us about his two worst boat rides: (1) a drunk woman peed off the side of the boat (2) a failed marriage proposal with 30 minutes of the ride still left)
What always surprises me, despite hearing it many times, is how old wealth runs here. Like the fact that Trinity College of Cambridge was founded in the 16th century by King Henry VIII, has 34 Nobel prizes, and owns £800 million of land. Back in Seattle, I knew upper class but it was all new money—flashy on the surface, but fiscally conservative deep down. At Georgetown, being rich meant the inheritance of a few generations, having a vacation home in the Hamptons, and going to boarding school in New Jersey. In the UK, we’re talking old old money. Royalty. Wealth. Power… and it freaks me out thinking about the kinds of inequities that it perpetuates.
My visit to Oxford a few weeks later confirmed my thoughts of Cambridge. My friend doing Oxford PPE told me that he believes the value of the degree comes down to the connections he makes. He feels out of place in this old money institution, wants to “get out of this place,” but he’s still holding onto the idea that someone he’s worked with will become some important politician or journalist. I can’t help but think, how transactional those relationships must be.
On another note, I’m much more open to connecting with people from Seattle who I wouldn’t have taken the initiative to reach out to if we were all at home. My Oxford friend lives on the same street as me back home, and despite carpooling and sitting next to him in class, I’ve talked to him more in the UK than in Seattle. We chat about our family and high school friends, all the mutual people we know, our career plans and anxieties, and it feels safe… I don’t have to explain myself and the context I grew up in. And it’s crazy how much we’ve matured these past few years.Read More »