Sometimes I’m hesitant to write on lifeatuoft about where my personal life intersects my student life. It becomes easy, after a while, to sort of assume that my free-pizza-loving, in-the-library-napping, bibliophile, super-involved, kinda nerdy but obviously quite invincible student self is all of the parts of me. Sometimes it takes a few things in our lives crashing down before we’re willing to admit and integrate our off-campus lives with our on-campus ones.
In the last few weeks, I finally left my rundown apartment after the cockroaches took over and my landlord stopped answering his phone. I moved back to my hometown, and now commute 3 hours each way to and from school. I had to drop a course that I needed to graduate because there isn’t public transit as early in the morning as I’d need to be in class. My relationship to my health, in Facebook terms, would be “it’s complicated.” And I’ve realized I cannot really afford my graduate program of choice. By “can’t really afford” I basically mean “there are not enough student loans on earth to facilitate this.” C’est la vie. These are not uncommon challenges, but I feel like when we don’t talk about them, we tend to forget that we’re all in this together.
I happened to bump into an acquaintance from my first-year residence on the subway last night. We got to talking and she seemed so relieved and overjoyed when I admitted that I hated living in on-campus residence, and I had a distaste for first year in general, and that it took a few valiant attempts before I found my place at U of T. I’ve been thinking a lot about the diversity of challenges students face. Almost every single one of us struggles with something, be it language and cultural barriers, mental or physical health issues, disabilities, financial difficulties, adjustment to campus life, or something else entirely.
When we choose to remember this and look at each other with compassion, we can quite radically change the fabric of our campus community. I’ve been in courses where no one dare volunteer their lecture notes, despite pleas from the professor, to students whose accessibility needs require other students to share their notes. In contrast, I’m in a course right now where we have active Facebook groups and blogs where we plan study sessions, ask questions, share interesting links, post lecture recordings (with the approval of our instructor), and share the trials and victories of late-night-essay-writing or post-midterm-self-doubt.
I mean, we’re all in this together. When we create a community that’s more about learning and less about grades, we’re more likely to help the person next to us in a lab understand the principles of an experiment, and less likely to worry about whether this one act of human decency will somehow give them that necessary critical edge over us for 0.000001% of the medical school application process.
At this point for me, it’s about doing the types of things that, five years from now, I will be proud to have done. This might mean handling failure with grace, sharing my notes, giving away textbooks that I no longer need, or talking to students who seem down on their luck. Some of the people I’ve met along the way have changed my life in ways immeasurably greater than simple acts of kindness. Seemingly little things like choosing to make conversation with strangers or to befriend a new student or to attend an optional lecture have helped me forge a radical new grad-school path, find kindred spirits, travel the world, and realize that regardless of what parameter I choose to examine, I’m not alone. We all have things to offer one another. We all have things to offer our societies.
I’m overcome with gratitude, perseverance, and open-heartedness, lately. The best way to know someone’s character is to see how they behave in the light of a missed flight, tangled Christmas-tree-lights, or a first year math course bell curve. If we deliberately and honestly do what we know we care about the most, I find it hard – in spite of the terrible job market and unprecedentedly high level of education of our peers – to see how we won’t end up exactly where we belong, even if it is a place quite unexpected.
[BLOGGER EDIT, April 30 2012: in case you’ve noticed, my keen reader – the descriptive adjective about my apartment in paragraph 2 has been changed. hopefully this makes everyone more comfortable with my post, and prevents any detraction from the real message i was trying to get across! cheers! -J]