All Other Variables Held Constant
January 21, 2013 § 2 Comments
I’ve wanted to wait for a while before talking about what it’s been like for me to go back to school, just in case things aren’t as nice as they seem at the outset (but to follow that logic, I should hold off at least until the first round of midterms!). Here’s my initial impression:
It feels like I’m in the first weeks of a study abroad program–I find myself itching to explore new parts of campus, chase down new experiences, and take full advantage of all that the university has to offer.
Which is pretty weird, right? Considering that I a) was born and b) grew up in Chapel Hill, then c) spent four years here as an undergraduate and d) the better part of a fifth as a post-baccalaureate in Classics. Exact same town, exact same university, exact same small constellation of friends and family, ceteris paribus–it’s been less than two years!–and yet my experience of the university is drastically different.
I’m older, of course, and changed. I’m in entry-level science lectures instead of graduate-level humanities seminars. I’m paying to go to school (with the ample, but finite, amount my parents saved for me) instead of getting to go for free.
But mainly, I have a clarity of vision and steadfastness of purpose that I’ve never felt before, and I’m thankful for it. All through university, I bore the low-grade anxiety of looking around at all that was offered and possible, worrying that I was missing out, that I’d chosen the wrong things to do, and helplessly faced the fact that I wouldn’t be able to do it all, have it all–that’s the dark side of “you can do anything!”. Now, older, I’m calmer: I know what I want, and I have, in hand, some syllabi that tell me exactly what to do in order to get there. I’m bowled over with gratitude and delight to rediscover whole buildings and departments worth of professors, lecturers, teaching assistants, learning assistants, labs, online homework, instructional videos, tutorial centers, and office hours–there’s so much pedagogical apparatus built up in the sciences, and it exists for one purpose: to teach! Me! Let’s not even start talking about the university more broadly–all the libraries, the events, the research facilities. I don’t think there is a more noble project.
I’m lucky that this return has been possible at all–by living in Virginia, I’d lost my North Carolina residency, which put the cost of school far out of reach. Reapplying for residency was by no means a sure bet–it would have been a long and miserable wait if I’d been rejected.
Something that goes hand-in-hand with this new self-assuredness, I think, is a sense of anonymity. I’m able to be more comfortable with this radical redefinition in part because I’m in classes with 250 freshmen. I stay in the science buildings, and, as a result, no-one I know sees me–and, while this identity as a scientist, a pre-med student is still fresh and un-crystallized, I’m glad to not be recognized, defined, or pinned down.
It’s so different, this second time around, and I’m glad that it is. Here’s to reawakened possibilities.