Face-to-face with his former self, Bwog staffer and summer denizen Armin Rosen reflects on the pre-college phenomenon. More after the jump.

Of all the traumatic events that marred what would have otherwise been a happy and productive middle school career, my brush with president Dwight David Eisenhower was one of the worst. Going to an unfamiliar, far-off corner of the globe with People to People–Eisenhower’s Cold War-era “student ambassador” program–sure did seem like a good idea at the time. But since that time was the summer before seventh grade and that part of the world consisted mostly of dusty, open wasteland (nothing personal, Australia–I’m just not a fan), the ten days had a certain Hell-on-earth quality to it that took me a while to shake. 

So when a small army of innocent-looking high schoolers in identical People-to-People polo shirts descended on Van Am quad this afternoon, I vanquished any lingering Proustian associations and endeavored to figure out why they were here.  

The almost fascist uniformity of dress–maroon polos paired with heavy, sweat-stained khaki pants–must have been a red flag for at least of few of these kids. And as a pre-college program brat myself (Summer at Brown, ’04), I know that freedom is crucial in staving off insanity whilst surrounded by hundreds of overeager resume-padders like yourself. So did these kids realize what they had gotten themselves in to? 

Answers varied. A group of girls lounging in the shade outside of Wallach said they were here for a “Theater Leadership” program. When I asked them exactly what Theater Leadership entailed, they shrugged and told me that the program promised to immerse them in the “culture of New York” and teach them about what it takes to succeed in the arts world. I approached a larger group of students here for an international affairs seminar, and when I pointed out the grim economics of the vast summer college program industry–exploiting the hysteria of upper-middle class parents intent on giving their children an entirely theoretical leg-up in the college admissions process–an instant look of familiarity came to their faces.  One girl from Hong Kong said that she chosen the program because it “sounded prestigious.” That’s how they get you, I explained–although, I said, a summer program can still be a 10-day long alcoholic and hormonal binge if you try hard enough. 

Not so for these People-to-Peoplers. A girl from Ithaca told of a strict 11 PM curfew, when she had to return to her phone-booth sized John Jay single. What was she planning on doing during the evening hours, aside from reflecting on life, staring into the quad, or, Heaven forbid, reading a book? Not surf the web, a boy from Toronto told me–the Columbia wireless network is password protected for summer residents in John Jay and Hartley-Wallach.  

After learning that there are punishments in place for everything from “inappropriate displays of affection” to wandering Van Am without two or three buddies in tow, I began racking by brain for ways around People-to-People’s security cabal. Finding none (aside from a likely-nonexistent connection between the Hartley-Wallach and Hamilton-Kent tunnels), I passed my sympathy along to the imprisoned and over-pressured Peopleniks, whose retainers seemed even more authoritarian than I remembered. 

“Man,” said the Canadian, “I musta been high when I signed up for this shit.” But never fear, young northerner! Columbia’s a playground once you figure out a way past night patrol. And to that end, here are THINGS EVERY HIGH SCHOOL SUMMER RESIDENT SHOULD KNOW ABOUT COLUMBIA AND MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS: 

— Not that Bwog encourages underage drinking or anything, but for certain bouncers at certain neighborhood bars a polite nod of the head usually does the trick. Also the liquor store on 123rd is cheaper, better stocked and a bit more lax than the one on 113th.  

— Since most of us realize that the summer fee at Dodge is complete and utter bullshit, you can probably just pretend to be a Columbia student and get sympathetic visiting and summer students to swipe you in. I, for one, would be happy to pass a swipe along to anyone who needs it. 

— There’s nothing you can get on 34th Street that you can’t get cheaper on 125th Street. 

— The best Mexican restaurant known to man is located at 139th and Broadway. 

— And speaking of mouthgasms: 109th and Amsterdam. Spicy Special. Go there and get one–or hell, get four.  

— Read Bwog obsessively. No–religiously.

— Columbia Cottage at 111th and Amsterdam is a must. Order the Orange Beef–and if your waiter decides you’ve had enough, there’s usually an unattended box of Franzia right by the bathrooms.

— You probably don’t realize it now, but Central Park is all of ten minutes away on foot. 

So Bwog wishes all but the best to this year’s People-to-People participants. We hope this program turns all of you into strong, future theatre-leaders and so forth, and that you find there’s more to New York than the lovely though undeniably constricting Van Am Quad.