Friday, December 5, 2014

Autumn Quarter Recap: the Experience

Here we are, at the end of week ten. I just got out of my last class of the quarter at 1100. I think I miss it--I think I'll miss all of my classes. It has been strange, today and yesterday, walking out of classes and knowing that it was the last time. In high school, classes are year-long; saying goodbye to a class after only ten weeks feels premature.

At the same time, I think that I have learned as much in each class I have had this quarter as I would have in a full year of high school. That's the point of college, I know, but the density of knowledge still is startling.

I'm going to do a post next week examining what, in fact, I have learned, because throughout the quarter I've felt a surprisingly high level of interconnection in my classes. What does institutional evil have to do with multivariable calculus, or archaeology to do with climate change policy? A lot, as it happens.

Today, though, I want to reflect a bit on my experience of my first quarter from a more personal perspective, because even though the life of the mind is primary here, other kinds of life go on.

First, in a complete shock to no one at all, I have not become a party person. I have not partaken in illegal substances. Nor do I plan ever to drink alcohol or do drugs. I will not condemn consenting adults who do choose to use them, but I won't. I know myself well enough to know that my abstinence is a reflection, not a repression, of my identity.

Second, I love my hall. We have commented upon how well-suited we are: we are relatively introverted, geek out about our areas of greatest interest, and have broad areas of lesser-but-still-considerable interest. Every night we pile into the hall to "do homework" and talk, and even though it is a horribly unproductive environment, I love it. We will not say straight up to one another how we feel, because heartfelt emotion is awkward to express to other college students, but honestly: we are a family. Major, major props to the people who made housing assignments.

Third, I feel like a freak a lot of the time. This is completely compatible with what I just said about my hall being a family. We are as close as a group of siblings would be if all the siblings were the same age, but we still have not known one another for very long and the group dynamics aren't perfectly comfortable yet.

But aside from that, I have struggled a bit more to find a place in other contexts. In high school I was "the smart kid." Here everyone is smart and I've run up against the fact that I am damned ignorant and often have nothing interesting to say and that there are people in my classes who can contribute substantially more to the intellectual tenor than I can. And that makes me uncomfortable, because I have gotten too used to feeling essential. To "being someone."

This applies to my awkwardness in groups like band as well: I am stunningly incompetent compared to section veterans, which makes sense and makes me distressed. I was band staff and section leader for two years in high school and I loved being in a position of authority. In an Aristotelian sense, I was acting out my own nature and so I was happy. Here I am not even an above average frosh, and given how much less time I have to dedicate to band than I did in high school, I will probably remain marginal.

Fourth, I have had a lot more mood swings than I would have expected. I talk to a professor of CEE about infrastructure and feel ready to save the world! I get rejected from an internship that two sophomore friends (one from Stanford, the other from my high school) did after their freshman years and I will never ever be hired and no construction company will ever want me and I will be a disappointment.

Fifth, job anxiety is real. I have a tutoring job but what I really want is to intern for a construction company this summer. And I have never been hired for a real job and all the amazing things to which I have been accepted (the most obvious of which is the university) have been by written applications. What does that say about me?

Sixth, I am beginning to question my racial identity. I don't know how to characterize my relationship to being Asian. When I'm at Asian restaurants with non-Asians I am proud of how well I can navigate the menu and chopsticks. When random people on the street talk at me in Mandarin or Cantonese under the assumption that I can't speak English, I repress the desire to tell them to go to hell.

Most of the time, I ignore it. But then I read Why Asian Americans Might Not Talk About Ferguson, by Liz Lin (thanks to the sister for posting it, by the way) and it rattled me.

I never went to a single Asian Club meeting in high school, and I laughed about what they might do there even though one of my good friends was the president. I give no notice to the mailings from the Asian American Activities Center and laughed at the idea of signing up for their big sibling program at the beginning of the year. When I ranked housing options, I put Okada after all frosh dorms.

Why?

I think that part of it is that I don't want to be associated with the stereotypes of being Asian. This is, I know, ironic given that I am going into engineering and I love science and math. But I want that to be me, not my race. Also, there is the perception that Asians aren't good leaders, and I know that if I am going to be happy in life I will need to be in a position of high autonomy and authority.

Seventh, I simultaneously buy into and want to criticize a lot of the Silicon Valley tech bro mindset. I want to change the world and technology provides one of the longest levers for that; meritocracy is the way; everything should be improved; I have more important things to worry about than what I wear; Paul Graham is my idol (after Augustus). At the same time, a lot of the "disruptive" business models are just trying to sneak out from under regulatory umbrellas by being new and having a slick app. (Hello, Uber.) Where is the real ambition to make the world better? What is the point?

Eighth, I have a long way to go. I am still ignorant, still naive, still unconfident, still undisciplined, still lazy, still in many ways a child. I don't manage my sleep as well as I could if I exercised my willpower more. I sulk when things don't go my way. I say thoughtless things. Most of the time I feel like a stupid freak.

But I belong here. I am incredibly lucky to go to a school--well, first of all, a school that means my parents arent ashamed of me, but also a school with a glut of opportunities, an embarrassment of riches, and an inbuilt arrogance (as I discussed previously) that I can invoke whenever I feel like I will never be able to accomplish anything with my life.

I am a Stanford student. Great things are expected of me. (Remember: arrogance can be useful.) And yes, I feel stupid and I fail and I get rejected, but that would happen anywhere.

I know exactly who I am and who I want to be (thank you, Marina and the Diamonds). Well, maybe not exactly, not yet. But I know they're not the same and I know some of what I can do to get from the former to the latter.

One quarter almost down. I still need to write some final papers, take a final exam, and then it will be over. A few weeks of break; and then the whole thing starts again. Good luck.

1 comment:

  1. You sound very much like me, six years ago. The only comment i can make on this is this: keep doing what you are doing, keep true to yourself. If you can be better, be better. You have so much potential, so if you fail or get rejected just pick yourself up and keep moving. I hope you'll love the other quarters as much as you've loved this one. I hope you'll get the internship you want, but till then i'm sure you'll be great at tutoring. Oh, and i am so happy that you have found your college family right away.
    Good luck girl!

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