somewhere only we know

“More than anything else,” confessed one soldier, “I want to learn how to read…to read letters from home…to know what’s going on in other places…to read the things other fellows do.” — Goldberg, Army Training of Illiterates 

It’s the end of the second week of my third year of college and I am already feeling burned out. I am dreading Monday on Saturday, exams 2 weeks before the first one. With all my complaining and stress the other day, someone gave me some stellar advice– to take a deep breath and enjoy. College is supposed to be fun. So why am I having all these mental breakdowns, and why are other people I know feeling as miserable as me? 

Because they, like me, are science majors. 

I was excited for college because high school made me love learning. The stressful and demanding honors seminar of the development of western thought, which I had to take freshman year of college taught me more than I ever expected to learn from it. I enjoyed Machiavelli and Rousseau and the crazy guy Hobbes. I even thought Borges was kind of cool, although his writings were 50 shades of crazy. 

I look back at it now and wonder why I spent more time stressing than sitting back and enjoying. Truth is, I spent quite a lot of time sitting back in my seat and enjoying the lecture. The biggest reason for this? Amazing professors. 

When the person teaching really loves and understands what they’re teaching, it makes you a little more passionate about it too, in my opinion. But here’s what’s KILLING all science students: exams.

You learn it in class, you do practice problems at home, and then you go and take the exam and you hate your life. Because you were so sure of the material before, but now, you don’t know if it’s a or c. You know it isn’t b and you aren’t sure about d, but it’s definitely A. You never considered the possibility of c—that it could be BOTH a and d. What if D was actually an answer but you just never thought about it? What if you’re required to think outside the box here and are missing the big picture? So you erase a, fill in c and voila, after all that self-doubt, you got one question wrong. Do that enough time on a 30 multiple choice question exam and you’re screwed. A 90 is an A-, anything below that is a B+ and below, so good luck, pal. 

Fuck, I got a B+. How the hell will medical schools think I’m capable of anything if I cannot for sure tell you how many degrees the Earth tilts at 3 minutes and 36.9 milliseconds after sunrise? (Yeah I have no clue of what I just asked, and this sounds a lot like a question in one of my ecology exams, that were impossible. Why do I have to take ecology anyway? Some of the required classes for bio majors–blegh.)

What’s worse is when you go to the professor and he/she is trying to figure out the answer themselves, and are confused. Or, they tell you how OTHERS got it right. Well, that person went on and taught themselves. I didn’t have time to teach myself. I figured, with all the tuition I’m paying, I could just attend every lecture and discussion and learn without actually having to read and take detailed notes from the textbook, the only real learning tool there is when professors aren’t effective.

College CAN be fun and learning CAN be great when the professors are good, too. And exams CAN be useful when the major point isn’t to weed out and trick students. You learn from your mistakes, I get it. But then it fucks up your GPA and good luck getting into grad school after that. And if you totally screw it up, have fun finding a job with that degree, in THIS economy. 

Hey, I’m not saying it’s always the professors. I’ve had some GREAT professors, who know what they’re talking about, even if the exams are difficult. And usually it IS me that’s not following the right study strategies. But perhaps our educational system needs a overhaul. Maybe we need not only better professors, but better teaching tools. More interesting subjects. Less crappy requirements. And a more holistic approach to education, that spans over a variety of subjects including political science and history. Because as boring as they can be sometimes, when taught right, you learn a lot about YOU and the world around you, and how all of this has shaped it. I think it’s almost key to becoming a better person, too.

I met a disabled woman in a wheelchair at my bus stop the other day, who was recently divorced and moved to my neighborhood. She never went to college because she has a reading and math learning disability. She has four children and she wishes she could help them with their homework. I told her about programs with services for students with disabilities and how it is never too late to go to college. But I couldn’t help but think–college is so stressful and expensive. You learn a lot, but sometimes the stress is too damn much. You forget why you decided to go in the first place, you wonder if it is really worth it. You start hating subjects you used to love. 

And the worst part? Yes, you will earn more as a college grad than you would with just a high school diploma. But currently, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a job after college, or an admission to the graduate school of your choice. It sucks to worry about that. 

I swear, I cannot help but to think that college is the worst kind of life crisis there is. I’ve labeled it ‘my quarter-life crisis.’