Wednesday, January 6, 2016

College and Complaint Culture

For the first month of college, I was sure American Heritage class would be the death of me, and I wasn't even taking it. Everywhere I went, people were complaining about it. When I told somebody "I'm stressed about a test on Friday" or "I have to go write a paper", they would automatically assume it was for American Heritage. Never mind that our school offers a few thousand others courses. If my test stress or assignments coordinated with their American Heritage schedule, they'd assume I was in the class too.
There's required, and then there's required. Most general education requirements give you a lengthy dropdown list. "You need a civilzations course? Okay take philosophy or music or theater or art history or or or-" but American Heritage only gives you American Heritage. There are a few ways to get out of it. My New Zealand born, U.S. permanent resident roommate told me she planned on putting it off as long as possible and would try to make the multicultural student center acknowledge her as an international student so she could take an easier course. But most of us don't have a hope.
For a long time, I assumed American Heritage must be some monstrous class. Then I realized the real reason everyone complains about it: everyone's taking it!
This means:
1. I'm statistically more likely to run into a student who complains about American Heritage than any other class, say, Survey of Judaism and Islam.
2. Misery loves company. People are more comfortable commiserating when they know everyone around them has the same problem.
3. Since there's no decision making involved, lots of freshmen take it their first semester, especially the ones who didn't decide on a major while still in high school. Living in freshman housing, I experienced the brunt of it.
My first day of American Heritage is Monday. I've decided not to complain about it anymore than my other classes. Just because I'm going to college doesn't mean I have to be part of collegiate complain culture.
I recently downloaded Yik Yak, an app similar to Whisper, which college students occasionally use to make witty insights about student life, but mostly complain about homework and talk about sex. I was disappointed. I discovered Yik Yak through their facebook page, where the wittiest responses from colleges all over the world were reposted so people outside the OP's radius could enjoy them. Once I had the app, it was all things I didn't need to hear.
When I was fifteen, I did a community theater production of Cinderella. Some kind of backstage drama put me in a mood during rehearsals one day, so I went and hid behind a ladder to sulk. Allan, my eleven year old castmate, found me there. "What are you doing?" he asked.
Since he was willing to listen, I spewed this rant about hating everyone and everything about the play. He sat through it. Then, the instant I was done, he asked me honestly, "Then why did you audition?"
That got me thinking. I could quit. I knew a few people who'd done so. But I was already there, and I'd come there because I knew there were things about the show I'd enjoy. The production hadn't taken some drastic turn that would stop me from enjoying them. It was simply everyday stress and drama. So I crawled out of my ladder corner and rejoined the cast.
Four years later, I can't remember what sent me behind the ladder, but I remember Allan's question. I remember that it was a question, not unsolicited advice. He was honestly bewildered at why I'd choose to do something I hated.
You can choose to not do something you'll hate, or you can choose to not hate something you do. It's hard. Life is hard. During finals week, I decided to stop complaining about finals, but that was the only topic of conversation and there's no positive way to spin it. I had my complaints during my first semester, and I'm sure there will be more this coming term, but I think there will be a lot less. I've snapped to certain realizations.
I have friends who aren't in college. Some lack the money, some the motivation, some have pressing mental health problems, and some are simply doing other things with their lives at the moment. But all of them chose not to go. And that reminds me why I chose the opposite.
Not for the dating scene. Not to move out of my parents' house. Not even to get a degree that would lead me to a higher paying job. I came to college because I wanted to learn.
Before I left for college, a neighborhood woman told me, "Everyone should be able to go to college three times. Once for all the classes you need to take, once for all the fun classes, and once for all the club and social activities." I thought that was crazy. Why stay any longer than you have to? Why lust after the whole buffet when sampling a few from each tray will fill you up just fine?
But now I get what she was talking about. I spend at least an hour or two each week pouring over the course schedule looking at what I could take. Instead of doodles, my notebook margins are full of dozens of versions of my four year plan. I want to take political science, child development, archaeology-but all those are out because I'm already doing psychology. There's a nutrition class? Why didn't I discover that before I took plant science for my biology credit? Just one arts class? Really? Why am I using my high school AP credit when I could've had excuse to take women's studies or World War II? Honestly, I don't know why everybody talks about their generals as a burden. I'm kind of pissed off that I need to have a major.
I'm here for four years. Well, unless I use the Speed Student version of my four year plan I cooked up in the margins of my physics notebook. Oh, did I mention there's an entire physics class around time? I might as well enjoy those four years while I have them.
Last month, my cousin Melissa, who is graduated, married, and the mother of two children, invited me down for dinner and a girls' night. While we were trying to decide what to do, she suggested going to a lecture at her city's art museum. I was surprised and a little weirded out. Go to a lecture? For fun? I'd been going to lectures all day. That's when it really hit me how valuable learning is to someone who's no longer in that stage of life.
To all my teen reader friends who are considering going to college, do it. If it is at all possible with your financial situations and compatible with your life circumstances, go. You won't regret it.
Yes, I have hard days, but I could have hard days anywhere. Different types of hard days, but hard days still. I chose to have them here.
So I'm going to enjoy school while I have the chance. 

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