Cultural Experience | All Experiences

Book Review: Graduates in Wonderland

For anyone who is worried about life after graduation, and finding that “perfect job” (is there even such a thing?) this is a book well worth reading.

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Friends Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale graduated from Brown University in 2007 and found themselves thrust into real life, except that they were now on opposite sides of the world from one another. Finding themselves working and studying in the big city life of NYC and Beijing, these ladies share honest thoughts and experiences that every 20-something women surely goes through after college. Written through email, the two made a pact to stay in touch and never gloss over what they were going through; and so the reader was taken on an intimate journey through the hardships, the excitement, the adjustments, the personal growth, the frustrations, and most of all the life lessons that occurred over a span of 3 years.

Texas-native, outgoing Jess ventures off to Beijing in the September after she graduates, bringing along her Norwegian friend and roommate Astrid. Trying to learn Mandarin, find a journalism job, make new friends, as well as navigating the expat dating scene in the city, Jess discovers a new love for the country her father’s family is from.

Shy and anxious Rachel moves to the concrete jungle of NYC in pursuit of a career in the arts, and becomes quickly disenchanted with her assistant job at an art gallery. Living with Rosabelle, her roommate from college, and Rosabelle’s boyfriend in a one-and-a-half bedroom apartment, Rachel becomes dissatisfied with life and it is here she searches for something more.

Their stories do not end here, as these two women travel the world from Paris, and Australia, to Malaysia and London. I don’t want to give up too much of the story, as this book needs to be experienced in full. This has been one of my favourite books I’ve read lately, laughing at Jess and Rachel’s tales as they navigate the barriers of learning a new language, flirting in that new language, working in new cities, making friends and losing friends, and most of all discovering who they are along the way.

This is the perfect read for any college student or post-graduate in her 20’s, if you have wanderlust, want to travel after college, or are just in need of a light and fun read. It made me want to buy a plane ticket going anywhere, and start my life in the real world as well. I will give you one particular paragraph from the book which instantly made me want to move to Beijing and start an expat life there:

“I’m finally realising that I’m so glad I came here. I’ll wander along the fruit market downstairs and haggle in Mandarin with the market stall owners, observe the old ladies sitting in a row fanning their faces, wave hello to my noodle-shop boy, and buy a green-bean-flavoured popsicle (sounds gross but is very refreshing). Then I’ll hop on my bike – a used one Jason gave me – and cycle to class singing at the top of my lungs because no one can hear me over the deafening roar of the construction sites and traffic horns.”

This paragraph is beautifully juxtaposed with a moment of sadness over her stagnating career, and the willingness for things to just fall into place. This book is so relatable, and I love their honesty about the feelings of being overwhelmed and panicked by a new life out of college.

Filled with relatable moments (I’m trying to think of a better word, but this just fits all the time) of happiness, love, success, amazing food, anxiety, and even crippling disappointment – Graduates in Wonderland proved to be a source of comfort as I begin my final year of college. I found myself laughing at their wit, worrying with their fears, and celebrating their successes. Above all else, though, I found myself filled with hope. If Jess and Rachel could change jobs, make friends, find love, and even uproot their lives to move to different continents – all whilst maintaining a sense of sanity and the stereotypical messy room of the average twenty-something – then I know I could do so as well in the future.

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Jade Smith-Love

University of Melbourne | 8 stories

Jade Smith-Love was a student at The University of Melbourne, Australia. With a double major in International Relations and Media & Communications, she was accepted to UNC-Chapel Hill for a year long study abroad program in 2014-15. Traveller, ice-cream connoisseur, avid reader, and now forever a Tar Heel.. Instagram: @jade.smithlove Twitter: @jadesmithlove

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