My expectations for university life were golden. I’d envisioned an intellectual utopia with towering masses of books standing as pillars of knowledge, stoic professors eluding to hidden literary treasures, and long philosophical debates over steaming cups of coffee while sitting in a bohemian cafe. Sure, I’d visited my university’s campus several times and met many of the professors, but my imagination ran rampant. My imagination tends to do that on a regular basis.
I think most of it stemmed from the fact that I was bored. My mind was dying to move beyond the mundane subjects I’d been reviewing for like the last eight years of my life (booooring). I attended community college as a remedy. Instead, I became an academic cynic…Really though, did my psychology professor read any of my papers, or did he just glace at the word count to make sure I’d made the bare minimum? Because the content of those essays did not deserve 98%. Yeah, I’m complaining about high grades. I do that when the academic standards are disappointingly low.
Anyhow, the unsatisfactory encounter with community college only gave me higher hopes for university life. The academics would be more challenging, right? I’d be exploring new topics and fields of study. My cognitive horizons would be expanded. Oh, but I’d forgotten about the core subjects. You mean I had to take biology and math again?
So, five months ago I moved into my dorm, beyond annoyed that I didn’t get to clep out of my freshman level English classes, math, and sciences. I’d made the decision to leave math off until next semester, because my brain needed a vacation from numbers. Actually, it was more like a desperate attempt to make that class disappear, which still hasn’t happened. Anyhow, five months ago I walked to my first class praying I’d find an atmosphere where I could finally become myself. The answer was beyond anything I expected.
That first day I spent six hours in the library reading fifty-eight pages of research on wolves and finishing two pages of Spanish homework. This is also known as heaven on earth. Except at the time I had friends who didn’t understand the wonderfulness of studying. That changed quickly enough.
After about a month, I wormed my way into a circle of English majors. Actually, it was more like “Yeah, I found a 1896 Cambridge Edition of Lord Tennyson’s complete poetical works at a book sale”…”You write poetry to deal with your depression? Me too”…”Of course I love symbolism in the Hunger Games. Symbolism is life.”…”Do I want to hangout at the library to do homework? You bet!” So I found myself surrounded by fantastically nerdy friends who were content to sit in silence for hours, discuss the deep, unspoken topics of favorite books, and further extend my massive “to read” list.
These friends accepted me at my worst: sleep deprived, moody, and unmotivated to make a decent physical appearance. I’d survived high school by mirroring everyone else, not by being myself. You could say I was a bit confused when I was actually having fun with the people surrounding me. I honestly hadn’t known that was a thing outside of the occasional NaNoWriMo write-in or coffee with the cute local librarian. My best friends lived out of state, so mostly I was miserable with my close companions. I felt like an outcast, one of the reasons I allowed myself to fall into such a relentless academic state of mind. I had always felt comfortable being a nerd, but I didn’t realize just how much I longed for acceptance until I had it.
After that, I started to realize that it was okay to smile and laugh. Life wasn’t always about being stoic and mature. Sometimes it’s okay to just let things happen. Sometimes it’s okay to let go of your emotions, fall in love, and date your best friend. It’s okay to sit in your dorm and binge watch ‘Sherlock’ when you should actually being studying for midterms. And it’s perfectly okay to drive an hour at one in the morning to go get hot wings.
So the longer I was at college, the more I learned to love life. The academics weren’t exactly challenging (I still have high expectations for my upper-level courses, meaning I can’t wait for Linguistics and Latin American Literature Fall ’15) but I was learning new things, which is a key element involving the preservation of my sanity.
In fact, I loved all my classes–even biology. Being homeschooled, I’d missed the opportunity to participate in an actual lab, meaning I had never had the experience of dissecting a frog. That particular lab assignment was an adventure. My lab partners were all juniors, so I was the baby, yet I was the most serious. They taught me to loosen up in the classroom. We named our frog Kate. It turned out to be a male, though, so we changed his name to Mr. Kate. He had many escapades, like chasing squeamish girls around the lab tables… possibly with the help of our convenient mobility… I’m assuming that lab was similar to public high school, only glorified since most everyone was over the age of twenty…
Anyhow, I learned how to be obnoxious by dissecting frogs in biology. English was boring. Even my professor (who is the most fabulous dean ever) could tell I was bored. She made up for it by allowing me to extend my papers and tweak the grading rubric. So much research. It was beyond beautiful, and I’m quite glad that I took the class, because I gained confidence in my academic writing. Also, I was able to write research papers without being confined to a class syllabus, which means I obsessed over pet topics.
On the other hand, my honors class let me completely nerd out over literature. For instance, we read “The Crossing” in two weeks. Have you ever tried reading an insane amount of Cormac McCarthy in such a sort time? It’s a beautiful state of insanity, and I gave up fighting it after the first week. Regrettably, I’ve been corrupted into a McCarthy lover. The best thing was probably being introduced to Barry Lopez, though. Our class had extensively studied one of his books, so meeting such a well known traveling writer was the highlight of the semester. In fact, I learned so much from the meeting that I wrote a post about it: Learning From Lopez.
Meanwhile, Spanish class was definitely the highlight of my day…Mi clase de español es mi favorita, porque yo quiero estudiar lenguas extrenjeras. Yo deseo viajar mucho, así hablar en español es muy importante… Anyhow, a small university means small class size (my honors class had 8 students). Toss that in with the best professor ever, and you’re in store for a semester of memories. Our class learned quickly, so we finished our course a week ahead of schedule. That led to several interesting class periods of us insulting each other in our newly obtained language. There was never a dull moment.
Now I’m sitting in my old bedroom, reunited with my desk and favorite tea cup. When I left for college, I thought I would miss this– my own space, sweet silence. Except it’s strange being home, because university life exceeded my expectations in ways I never expected…
(Thought, we could say that the food lived up to my expectations. By the second week I stopped questioning what was on my plate. The freshman fifteen became a myth. Honestly, I’d probably starve before gaining weight. Plus small campus means you walk everywhere. It also means you can sleep until fifteen minutes before your first class and still show up ten minutes before the professor. Except that only happens when you accept wearing sweatpants and hoodies to class. I didn’t learn any of that until after midterms. It’s a shame.)
…The towering books didn’t exactly gleam in the dazzling spotlight of wisdom, my favorite educators turned out to be the witty, laidback professors who held high standards, and I probably spent more time at the local Brew with a hand of cards than philosophical debates. Yet, what I had was better than a strict, black-and-white education. I had found a new home—a place where the professors and classmates are my family and learning is a joy, whether it be academic or lessons of life.