Undergrads: What I really learned at University

11 Mar

Homecoming does this to people

An unspeakable number of English assignments are about to swallow me whole, and all I can do is sit here, ass fused to futon, gnawing on mint chocolate candy and my fingertips. If there’s anything I’ve learned after four years of University, it’s this: if I’m not pursuing knowledge based on my own curiosity, my soul and brain will slowly turn to dust. And after 31 months of living in my head, sitting in a hunched typing position, and having all creativity focused on snappy essay titles… I am beyond ready to move on.

I admit I’m being a bit ungrateful and dramatic. After all, these past four years weren’t entirely spent writing essays about every genre and form of literature imaginable. I spent four years living on my own in London Ontario, a city I’ve secretly grown to love. Much of this time was spent nestled saftely within the ‘Western [University] Bubble’, on a gorgeous campus, surrounded by neogothic architecture, ivy, and Ugg boots, (not to mention loads of interesting, intelligent students and faculty. Some were Uggless). Here I learned that using words like ‘neo-gothic’ in a conversation will make you sound cool. I learned to think critically, to cook, to (usually) pay the bills on time, and to stay up for nearly three days straight without bursting into tears. I could get up in front of a crowd and talk for an hour about Apostrophe (this: !) without breaking a sweat or totally losing my audience, (I wrote about this proud day in my diary).

<img class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-454″ title=”<3″ src=”https://suburbqueen.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/post2.jpg” alt=”

I’ve learned to deal with all manner of social situation, from spontaneously hanging out with people I’ve never seen before, (before my freshman year, meeting new people gave me the fear), to coaxing a diaper-wearing frosh out of his roomate’s closet and into the safe confines of – PUT DOWN THAT FIRE EXTINGUISHER, (I was on Res staff too). I’ve danced my ass off on top of Elgin Hall at 3:00 am, while my Don wailed on the electric guitar. I’ve met some of my closest friends, who’ve stuck with me through thick and thin and won’t be getting rid of me any time soon. And most importantly, I can drink a rugby team under the table. Maybe.

It’s true that I was bored and unhappy in my pursuit of knowledge primarily useful to future teachers and researchers. Though I’d become a master of lit analysis, I pretty much wished to never do it again. Trapped inside my own head, I started to get intense urges to make things with my hands: cooking, painting and drawing, gardening, textiles, music, you name it. Sadly, these projects were always smothered by my assignments and classes. In the past, no matter what the external situation, I was always able to find joy in these little interests of mine, but going to school erased them all.

I felt pretty empty, and intense; kind of like a fifteen-year-old. Second adolescence aside, I learned that If you’re ever stuck in a situation like this, feeling completely paralyzed and unmotivated, it’s important to think very carefully and seriously about a few things. Identify why you’re unhappy and what you wish you could be doing instead. What would your life be like if you suddenly changed direction? Would you feel any regret if you did? It’s also possible that you don’t have to change direction at all. Perhaps you only need to reevaluate what you’re doing right now, and examine the motivation behind it.

In my case, a complete change in direction didn’t feel right for me. Though there were a lot of moments when I wanted to pack up and head for the hills, there were too many great things going on outside the classroom, (and I still saw some value in my degree, if only as a shiny stamp of approval on my resume). I realized there were so many things I could do to make my last years at University worthwhile. I had to stop beating myself up over taking a fourth year to finish a degree I wanted done in three. I indulged in a few drawing classes instead of knocking down another English requirement, and realized how important it is to feed my creative appetite.

Sometimes, in order to realize what’s important to you, you have to know how it feels to focus on the unimportant things for a little while. Just don’t stay fused to that spot for too long, and remember that those ‘important things’ I’ve mentioned are often right in front of you, bringing you apple slices and making you watch Mantracker.

11 Responses to “Undergrads: What I really learned at University”

  1. Walk Slow March 11, 2009 at 5:16 pm #

    do you ever feel that you just repeat the same topics over and over in english, like you could write 4 master essays: gender roles in literature, the struggle for (personal) identity in literature, race issues in literature, and how (whatever technique) is used by this particular author. and then just fill in the blanks with whatever specific book(s) you are talking about?

    i know its not that simple, but its really really close.

    also, i love you… and your blog

    • suburbqueen March 11, 2009 at 6:45 pm #

      YES. We should write and sell essay Adlibs. By third year, it was to the point where I’d stopped answering any questions because the answer itself seemed so obvious. And it seemed like everyone around me felt the same way.

  2. tinyfailures March 11, 2009 at 6:44 pm #

    i haven’t felt fifteen since i was eight and by then it was too late.

    • suburbqueen March 11, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

      I wonder if that’s the mid-life crisis. Or is it the mid-mid-life crisis? Either way, I’m ahead of my time, and you’re an emotional savant.

  3. teachthemasses March 12, 2009 at 1:43 am #

    Keen insight. Most of my undergraduate life was a blur, from about 4 pm onwards when we hit the union. In hindsight, I wish it hadn’t been so, but if ifs and ands were pots and pans, there’d be no need for tinkers……………

    • suburbqueen March 12, 2009 at 10:53 am #

      I can sympathize with the blur-factor. Every year I’ve tried to tell myself ‘sit back and enjoy’, but it’s easy to forget all of this in a delicious frenzy of beer!

  4. paorta March 12, 2009 at 10:07 am #

    This was great. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I’d stayed in school! This post puts a kind of “dang, man”, in that side of the ledger. In a good way. This comment is confusing.

    • suburbqueen March 12, 2009 at 11:01 am #

      Thanks! And not at all confusing. I think a lot of the friends I know who didn’t do post-secondary understand themselves the best out of the lot, and are practically… five billion times more accomplished and productive. They learned the same lessons I did at uni by diving into everything that interested them and seeing what worked, (something I couldn’t have handled at 18).

      My driving instructor once said to me, ‘everyone has their own path, and everything happens at the time it was meant to. Now turn right.’

      • paorta March 13, 2009 at 11:35 am #

        hah- I love that driving instructor story. That’s a very good way of putting it. I think I miss university the same way I miss growing up in Africa, you know? Except there was a much greater chance of my finishing university.

  5. Sarah (Your 18th Century Group Member!) March 13, 2009 at 5:09 pm #

    Hey Candice,
    I see myself in you.
    I originally wanted to graduate after three years but I stuck it out till the third and somehow I found myself applying to grad school this year without any idea why. I’m so scared of trying something new because my head has been stuck inbetween books for four years now and I don’t know anything else. I used to act and sing but that all seems so far away now. I have three weeks left to make a decision about grad school and I hope I do it for the right reason.

    But I’m grabbing hold of my moment here and now. School is so much more than essay deadlines and oral presentations (yay 87!). I too have realized that there are so many things I could do to make my last few months here worthwhile. Grad school or no grad school, I’ve learned, in the most crunching of times to lift your head up once and while, because you might just find what you’re really looking for.

    Another ass fused to a futon.

    • suburbqueen March 15, 2009 at 7:23 pm #

      Sarah, I loved reading your comment! I think the spontaneity you’re describing in applying to grad school says a lot – I find quick decisions often correlate with what I really want to do in some way. If I have to choose between a few different options, I usually make a quick choice, pause for a while to over-think everything, and finally conclude that the original quick-choice was exactly what I wanted.

      A lot of my friends in grad school right now describe it as more laid-back feeling than undergrad, (believe it or not!) Maybe this is because you have a little more direction and focus at that point? They seem more tightly knit with their fellow students too, in whatever program they’re in. In that kind of atmosphere, I bet you could get back in touch with your singing, or see what kind of theatre auditions are going on in the community. I think it will all be a good type of new!

      Also: Yeah 87%! In your face, 18th century literature!!

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