I was chased by a zebra — and that really sums up college

Why my mistakes at a petting zoo exemplify the college experience

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Growing up, everyone always tells us how incredible college life is. You’ll be able to cook for yourself! You’ll make so many friends — your future bridesmaids! You’ll suddenly be perfect at parallel parking and become the best person you know!

So many promises.

And your reminiscing relatives are right — you’ll no longer have to rely solely on your parents for transportation, food and housing. Now you can walk uphill in the rain and try not to get run over by a bus — or worse, an aggressive scooter-driver. You can scrape some burned rice and chicken out of the bottom of a pan in Newcomb. Did I mention you also have a roommate and barely any living space?

Congratulations! Welcome to college.

I’ve been thinking about what I’ll tell my younger relatives about my time in college. How can you possibly sum up the college experience? How can you convey the heart-stopping panic of discovering that your 15-page philosophy paper is due tomorrow? How can you describe the terrifying, soul-wrenching pain of finals?

After a lot of reflection and a family trip to North Carolina, I can finally answer.

College is essentially like being chased by a wild animal.

And I would know, you see, because I was chased by a zebra.

Yes, you read that correctly.

When I was nine, my parents and I rolled up to the Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville, N.C., famous for their “drive-thru” petting zoo. We paid the admission fee, the employees gave us a big bucket of food for the animals and then they warned us not to — under any circumstances — feed the zebras. They are aggressive animals, they said.

But if you’ve ever looked at a zebra, it’s basically a horse. It has stripes, yes. It isn’t domesticated, I know. But in my defense, I was nine, and it was basically just a fancy horse. So there I was, sitting in the trunk of my parent’s SUV with a bucket of weird-smelling animal-food chips in my hands. Everything was going great, it was sunny, I was full of joy and had no concept of my own mortality.

And then I spotted it — the zebra.

So I decided to feed it.

The zebra trotted towards me, chomped on some chips and let me pet it. The beautiful moment didn’t last long, because before I knew it, the bucket had fallen to the ground, more zebras were gathering and my parents were yelling at me to get back in the car.

But being the fiscally responsible 9-year-old I was, I refused to let our food bucket go to waste! I crouched down, frantically collecting what food I could and turned around to jump back in the car. That’s when I realized that the car was another 10 feet down the road. Unfortunately, my dad had started to drive off, thinking that I was still in the back.

So there I was, at some petting zoo in North Carolina, smelling like animal food and fear and being chased by a dazzle of wild zebras.

And if you’ve ever been to college, it’s basically just that experience, repeated in four-month cycles for four years. Let me explain.

When you get to college, you pay a steep $68,000 entry fee — give or take a couple thousand — and you’ve got your sanity nicely packed into a bucket. Your advisors tell you not to take that 8 a.m. discussion and that 3000-level politics class — just like the zoo staff warned me not to feed the zebras.

And what do you do?

You decide to feed the zebras. You take those classes because you’ve paid to be there, and they look fancy and interesting. And you think all is well — it’s September, it’s sunny and you have yet to take a midterm. Life is good. You relax, stop meticulously doing the readings and maybe skip that 8 a.m. once or twice. The zebras are calm and docile.

But one day you look up and it’s October, you’ve got five exams in the next two days and you’ve dropped your sanity bucket somewhere in the stacks of Alderman. You’re in trouble. You realize you’d better start packing that sanity back in your bucket and getting your life together fast.

You salvage what you can of your sanity, turn around to jump in the getaway car and realize there is no getaway car because your parents don’t drive you around anymore.

And suddenly you’re being chased by a pack of metaphorical zebras.

But I’ll be honest. While I think it holds some truth, my zebra analogy is a stretch, I’ll admit. Because as much as we here at the University joke about finals and midterms, I think we handle this college thing pretty well.

While college isn’t quite the magical place everyone said it would be, I only needed to be chased by zebras once to learn the importance of listening to people who have been around the block once or twice.

So as midterms cycle back around, remind yourself to slow down and breathe. Take care of yourself out there.

And whatever you do, don’t feed the zebras.

Savannah Page is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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