La escuela en el verano

Well, I made it. I survived summer classes. “Survived” being the key word, of course. I wouldn’t say I did poorly, but I certainly wouldn’t say I flourished either. I did well in three of the four classes I took, and was able to live with the results of the last – the dreaded Spanish 310.

You see, I’m good at Spanish. Or at least, I thought I was. After seven weeks of participios, copulativos, y el subjuntivo, I’m not so sure anymore. A great time to discover this, especially after I just added a Spanish minor.

This advanced Spanish grammar class shook me deep down in my bones. I started to stumble through sentences I used to be able to form without thinking. I began to question basic rules like where the adjective goes in relation to the noun. Simple, simple things somehow turned into something nearly as complicated as calculus.

Like you’ll find in most humans, there is a direct correlation between the things I like and the things I am good at. Usually, one follows the other, whatever the order. The problem with this class was, because of my incessant questioning of those basic concepts, my grades began to drop. I made stupid mistakes, panicking as I watched the allotted time for the quizzes run down. I started to see less than stellar scores. I was used to scoring 2.0s and 2.5s in math classes, but never in Spanish. First, I was only confused. I thought I was just in a funk and that I would quickly adjust to the upper-level course. Then, I began to dread doing the homework, and would feel ill before I took every quiz or exam. As the semester drew to a close, I actually began to  hate the language and its nonsensical little rules and quirks.

Furthermore, because it was an online class, I wasn’t able to compare notes with classmates to see what on earth I was missing. Was it just me? Or was everyone else having similar problems? I also couldn’t seek out help from the teacher as easily as I normally would have been able to. Try as I might, Skype conversations were just not as effective as in-person communication.  I also found my professor’s grading scale to be confusing and rather inconsistent – a problem compounded by the fact that technical problems sometimes caused homework answers to be marked wrong when they were, in fact, correct!

So, you ask, what did I do? Well, reader, I did the only thing I could do. I cried, then I got mad, and then I decided I was going to beat this blasted class and move on with my life. I ended up earning a 3.0 (the lowest grade I’ve ever received in a class related to my degree program) but that was good enough for me. I knew I had tried my best.

I also knew from talking with friends who were also studying Spanish that this particular class was the most challenging of them all. Quite possibly, it’s also the least relevant, since most native speakers don’t even know the rules of grammar in this much depth. (I certainly know I don’t know these things in English!)

So, dear readers, as many of you are returning to school and starting a new semester, I leave you with a few tips about difficult classes.

1) Do not, do not, DO NOT give up!! Sure, you can drop the class and pick a new major. That’s one way to go about it, but it’s not the best way. You picked that area of study because it matters to you. If another one was important to you, you should have picked that one. Don’t be ready to give up on your dreams just yet. Sure, you can also just quit trying and plan to take the class again next year. But I caution against that, too. For one, if you have to take it again, you’ll do so much better the second time around if you’ve actually put forth all you have to give in the first place. Additionally, you might surprise yourself at how well you actually do. I had mentally prepared myself for an overall grade of a 2.0, and I ended up with a 3.0. Don’t throw in the towel so easily. College is supposed to be hard. That’s the point.

2) Talk to your professor. This goes for every class – no matter if it’s easy or hard, important for your major or not. You need to talk to your educators. Let them put a face to the name on the top of that exam paper. Let them see you as an individual with unique learning goals. Ask for help – that’s what they’re there for! They don’t bite. A lot of them even care about your education. Whoa. I know, crazy, right?

3) Utilize the tutoring on campus. Every school is a bit different, but here at MSU, they have free tutoring for just about everything. If your school doesn’t have tutoring 1) Where are you going to school anyway? And 2) I’m sure you can ask a classmate or your professor. Even if you have to hire a tutor, do it. Remember, you’re paying for the classes anyway. You might as well do well in them! If you don’t, you’ve lost out on a whole lot more than the $100 or so you might have to pay a tutor.

4) Know when to put it away. Surprisingly enough, I’m not going to tell you to study that one subject for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You have to give your brain a break. Take a walk, take a nap, eat something, watch a movie. You cannot work on the same subject all the time – especially if you’re struggling. The words start to jumble together and you get the ideas mixed up and it’s impossible to tell what’s what. You will do better after a break. Conversely, know when it really is time to study. Breaks are important, yes, but be sure not to go on a permanent break. That isn’t good for anybody.

5) Set little, realistic goals. Don’t automatically expect to get a 4.0 in a “weeder” class (a “weeder” class is designed to include very difficult material in order to sort out the students who are truly serious about the major/minor. The idea is that students who love the major will stay, and those who are less enthusiastic will go elsewhere.) That doesn’t mean you can’t push yourself to get a high grade in the course, but don’t forget to take pride in se e in that 3.0 or even 2.5. There is nothing wrong with that. Celebrate those little accomplishments. More often than not, earning a 3.0 or a 3.5 on a bunch of small assignments will boost your grade more than earning a 4.0 on a big exam. Read the syllabus, check the grading scale – don’t let those small opportunities to boost your grade go unnoticed. Don’t be the kid who wakes up to go to class one day only to find they missed an assignment or, worse, an exam. A lot of the biggest problems students face are, in theory, preventable. Stay organized and work  hard.

6) Don’t worry. You’ve got this. You can do it. And, in the worst case scenario that you actually can’t, it isn’t the end of the world. This class doesn’t define you as a person. This semester is just a few, short weeks of your life. Yes, they are a very important few, short weeks, but they’re not your whole life. You will get through it. Just hold on till then and enjoy the process. Semester break is only 15 weeks away.  🙂

Apartment Life

It’s been a little more than a month since I’ve moved into my very first apartment, and I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve learned so far.

1) The neighbors will disturb you. The disturbances come in many varieties – there’s always something new and unexpected to shake up your day. Whether it’s a shouting match on your first night, a prolonged reunion between lovers, a group of bros tossing a football around outside, or the neighbors moving out noisily, you will not have quiet all the time. Now that you’re out of the dorms, you can’t even ask an RA to tell them to shush. Your best bet for a quiet living space is to adhere to the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. Don’t vacuum at 7 a.m. Don’t play loud music or video games. Just be a good person and do your best not to cause problems for other people. That way, if you ever do have a problem, you’ll at least have a good relationship with your neighbors and can (hopefully) work something out.

2) If the neighbors don’t disturb you, your roommates will. They might passive-aggressively wash dishes during your movie, they might come home at 10:30 and begin cooking dinner, they might leave hair in the shower drains, and their laptop and schoolbooks on your already too-small kitchen table. They might do all of these things in a span of twelve hours. The truth is, you’re going to get annoyed with them more than you did in the dorms because there are more worries than the are in the dorms. You now have an entire apartment that needs to be dusted, swept, mopped, scrubbed, and sanitized to be even close to fit for human habitation. You’re going to have to work out a system for chores – whether that means everyone pitches in, or if it means the least-busy person does all the housework. Something’s got to give. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it works for everyone involved.

3) The neighbors and your roommates might unknowingly band together and disturb you on the same day. This one gets its own point because it’s extra bad. As if being bothered by one group of people you can’t avoid isn’t enough. It’s further exacerbated because you can’t go to that quiet study room down the hall – there isn’t one. You have to learn to deal with your environment somehow – put in headphones, buy a sound machine, shut the door, avoid the problem until you’re ready to deal with it. Whatever it takes to make you comfortable and keep you sane.

4) Being on your own means seeking things out – your mailbox, the laundry room, the pools, the trash facilities, the internet company, the post office, the leasing office, maintenance, etc. Your internet doesn’t work? Call Spartan Net. You have ants in the kitchen? Call maintenance. Your bathroom is gross? Get to Meijer and buy some Scrubbing Bubbles, because, honey, nobody else is going to clean it for you. You’ve probably heard the song by Paramore that goes, “Ain’t it fun, living in the real world? Ain’t it fun, being on your own? Don’t go crying to your momma, ’cause you’re on your own in the real world…” It’s a cold, hard, truth: you don’t get to cry to anyone anymore. But you can be your own solution. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, take a minute to look at how awesome things actually are. You have the freedom to pursue your dreams. You can make your own decisions. You have the ability to completely transform a humdrum college apartment into a space that’s really your own, into a space that feels like you. Attack those problems with the same confidence you had when you decided to hang that One Direction poster by your bedside. It’s yours – your room, your apartment, your life – so own it.

5) Having a car is both a blessing and a curse. Being able to scoot off to the grocery store or the mall at any hour of the day you please is great. And parking your car twenty feet from the doorstep of your building is even better. What sucks is driving into campus. Especially when they’re doing roadwork and you have to sit through four cycles of the stoplight to turn the corner. Keep your head up though. Because you’re so far from campus, rent is cheap. The gas that it takes to drive in to campus doesn’t nearly add up to what you’d spend if you’d live closer. Just budget a little extra time into your schedule – yes, even if it means getting up ten minutes earlier – and you can make it work. Besides, part of being an adult is getting up on time.  You might as well start training yourself now, when the consequences of being late to class are minimal, rather than wait till you have an actual boss at an actual job.

6) I’m going to eat a bit of my own previously shared “wisdom” here. Remember how I told you it might not be the best idea to room with friends? That still holds true, but it also depends on the person. I currently have two roommates: one’s a best friend and the other was an acquaintance before we moved in. Right now, things are going strong with my bestie, but they can also get a little rocky with the acquaintance. So, I’m going to amend my previous statement to this: use your judgment. It can be amazing to room with friends. It can also be a nightmare. Things can be just as great/horrible if you barely know the person or if you’ve known them forever. The truth is, there’s just no way of knowing for sure. If you think there’s even the slightest chance your personalities will clash, don’t do it. Or if you do (because such things are sometimes unavoidable), be prepared for the good as well as the bad. It won’t be easy 100% of the time no matter what you do, but you owe it to yourself to minimize potential problems before you let them upset your entire week, semester, or even year – however long you need to coexist with that person.

7) Having a kitchen is both a blessing and a curse. Just like travel, you need to budget time in your schedule to eat. Whether that means packing a lunch, coming home to eat, or eating out – your budget will likely decide which of these options you’ll do for you.  You can’t just run up to the cafeteria and grab a slice of pizza on your way to class. You’ve got to think about your meals. Watch yourself. Don’t just eat cereal and microwave mac n’ cheese for two weeks straight. It can be so easy to fall into that pre-made trap. But it will catch up to you soon enough. Not necessarily in terms of weight gain, but certainly in terms of energy levels. You have to put a decent amount of healthy food into your system just to function. Personally, I get sick if I don’t eat enough protein in a day. It’s up to me to give my body what it needs to keep working. (Side note: my favorite meme is currently a picture of a man saying, “Salad? That’s what my food eats!”) That being said, look out for your roommates as well. Because it’s a decent, human thing to do. Everyone handles stress differently, and that can appear in many different forms. You don’t have to cook for them all the time or nag them to eat their Brussels sprouts, but a casual, “Hey, when was the last time you ate/showered/slept?” can really go a long way. Now, they might take it the wrong way or look at you like you’re insane, but honestly, that’s what you’re hoping for. Forgetting (or purposely neglecting) to eat/bathe/sleep is, sadly, not as uncommon as you think in college. Stress does crazy things to people. Be aware and look out for the people you love.

8) Have fun. Enjoy yourself. Like I said before, it’s your space. While it might be unwise to run completely wild, take advantage of the kind of freedom you’ve never had before. Stay up past 10 on a school night. Sleep in till 7. Do what makes you happy – as long as it doesn’t interfere with your actual purpose in college, which is, you know, to learn things. Good luck.

Haiku Hike with the Poetry Center

Hi everyone! So, I went on a haiku hike around campus with the RCAH Center for Poetry today, and decided to publish a few of the haiku I wrote on here in honor of National Poetry Month. Enjoy, and write some of your own! If you want, send them to me and I’ll put them up here!!

The thawing ground pulls
hungrily at my sneakers.
Ready for warmth.

Water rushes steady,
Excited to finally be free,
Tossing itself downstream.

Waves crease and bend,
Dimpling before hurling
Over harsh rock cliffs.

Thin twigs litter the ground – 
Young growth snapped off too early
During the harsh winter.

What I’ve been up to…

Hey everyone! Just thought I’d re-blog a few of the things I’ve been up to in this month (see below – unless you got an email about them already, in which case I’m sorry to clog up your inbox; I’m honestly not entirely sure how the whole “follow this blog” thing works…)

Anyway, I’ve been privileged enough to have the chance to sit down with some really amazing writers from all over the country as part of my internship at the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities Center for Poetry. The articles below are the results of those conversations. Enjoy! 

P.S. For more information about the RCAH Center for poetry, head on over to our blog (*cough cough* which I manage *cough cough*) or check out our website.

The Sophomore Slump

It’s been a rough week. No, scratch that – it’s been a rough month. Apparently, I’m in the midst of the infamous “sophomore slump,” a time filled with homework, stress and confusion about where my life is heading. Or at least that’s what my roommate tells me. I won’t argue, partly because that gives me an excuse to keep eating chocolate and watching animated Disney movies on Netflix, but mostly because she’s probably right.

In the month that I’ve been away from home, I’ve survived my midterm exams, started my new job as a tutor, conducted countless interviews with people around campus for my journalism class, and tackled a whole lot of other mundane, school-related stuff.

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I absolutely love MSU (go green!). I truly believe it is the best possible place for me to be, and unless Hogwarts suddenly becomes real, I honestly do not want to go to school anywhere else.

Still, it certainly isn’t as easy as I’d anticipated. I remember a number of people assuring me how great college was, how much I’d love it, how cool all the clubs were. But here’s the thing: everyone conveniently left out that college can be really hard.

Nobody told me that your weekends aren’t really for relaxing as much as they’re for catching up on homework. Nobody mentioned that what really might get the best of you is not a catastrophic disaster, but the combination of a bunch of little things, like when the brakes on your bike stop working from the cold and your professor randomly assigns two extra chapters of reading, due next class.

I mean, I guess I knew that it would be difficult. They say nothing worth having ever comes easily. But when you spend six out of seven nights a week in tears, you can’t help but think that something’s just got to give. Right?

And give it did.

What ended up halting my self-pity party was a letter from my older sister. In it was a delightful note that reminded me of exactly why I’m doing all these crazy things – like working two jobs and volunteering while taking two writing-intensive majors – and why, someday, it’s going to be worth it.

But until that fabulous day when all is right in my world, I’ll do my best to try to keep things in perspective. I’ll spend time with my family, eat delicious food and joyfully neglect my email over Thanksgiving Break. I’ll count the days till the end of this semester, take a bit of time to listen to One Direction, and just stop worrying, because, really, it all is going to be OK.

Triumphs and Trials

Oh the joys of adjusting back to college life. For your entertainment, I have decided to share some of my triumphs, follies, and just plain bizarre moments.

Well the first day back was pretty standard. I moved in my stuff, attended to some banking, had lunch, and kissed my mom and dad goodbye. Then I unpacked, organized, and rearranged to make things actually fit in this shoebox, although it is, thankfully, much bigger than my room from last year.

On the second day back, I prepped for classes, organized my books, and went to a two-hour long orientation for my job, for which I am immensely excited as well as nervous. I’m truly honored to be working as a tutor, but I just hope I’m good enough. Honestly, whenever I’ve got some down time, ugly ideas seem to rudely intrude into my mind – ideas like, what if I get too stressed out with an internship, a tutoring position, and my own schoolwork? Or what happens when I have to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped? Or, even worse, someone who desperately wants to be helped but I don’t have the ability?

Anyway, after tutor orientation, I was pushed and shoved around the Breslin center during that famed “good time” that is Sparticipation. In short, I disliked it. Now, the event isn’t so bad when it’s outside, but due to rain it was moved to the Breslin center, where thousands of kids were milling around like sheep while myriad different club members clambered for attention.

And Wednesday the real fun began. It was the first day of classes, and of course, when I got up to shower, the bathroom was closed. Okay. That I can deal with. So I went up two flights of stairs to get to the next women’s bathroom only to find I had forgotten my shampoo and soap, which really is the whole point of a shower. So I went back downstairs and tried not to wake up my roommate as I scrambled around in the dark in search of my things. By that time, I was nearly running late (or, at least, my definition of late, which isn’t really late, but hey).

By the time I reached my 8 a.m., the classroom was nearly full – even though I was a solid 20 minutes early. I was shocked – usually early classes are ridiculously subdued and empty.  Then, the professor was having some major difficulties in working with technology, and he was going over the material quickly and disjointedly. Great. Just what I need for a math class.

After statistics, I rushed to Spanish where the instructor spoke Spanish – only Spanish.  Now, I expected this to an extent, but not on the first day (especially when it’s been two years since I’ve had a Spanish class). Feeling slightly overwhelmed and very disgruntled (I discovered I had purchased the wrong book), I left class and headed back to my room in the sweltering heat without air conditioning.

That afternoon, I trotted off to Berkey Hall with my purse in my bookbag so that I could buy the correct $158 Spanish text afterward. Then, nervous about the codes needed for the online portion of the class that were supposed to be enclosed in said text, I freaked out and randomly went to another bookstore when they hung up on me after placing me on hold for four minutes and 48 seconds. I appreciated that.

Friday was a pretty standard school day. Class till 10, then a two hour long meeting, then homework, then some free time that involved me nearly sweating to death in my room and my friends and I playing Heads Up in the air conditioning.

Now, this morning is where things get just plain odd – I seem to have the ability to attract strangely confused men.

Really, I don’t know where this came from, but between meeting the drunken guy in the lobby last year and a half-naked guy in the hall this morning, it seems fair to say that I must have acquired this bizarre – would you call it a gift? – at some point.  

Anyway, on my way to breakfast this morning, I encountered a shirtless man outside my door. He asked to borrow my shaving cream. Feeling bad for him, I consented (he had mumbled something indistinct about his boss). With a warning that it might smell very fruity and feminine, I gave it to him and he said he’d bring it back when he’d finished. I munched my French toast sticks in the cafeteria and once again headed back to my basement dorm room. A few minutes later he returned asking for a razor – his broke.

“Well, your choices are green and pink,” I said, showing him the package.

“Gimme the pink one!” he said.

Okay then.

Yet again, he returned after a few moments, razor and shaving cream in hand. I declined his offer to pay for the razor, and he left a dollar bill on my dresser.

Now, many questions come to mind at the random presence of this seemingly confused young man on an all girls’ floor, but I chose to just ignore these and continue with my day.

So, all in all, the first week back was not horrible, but it wasn’t perfect either. It had some low moments of self-doubt and homesickness, as well as some moments of happiness and humor. My hopes are high and my faith is in the Lord to see how this year will continue.

Home

When I was in high school, I always said that once I was in college, I’d never go home. I had convinced myself that the Thumb of Michigan was a terrible place, and that there was nothing there for me. However, I will openly admit that I was wrong – very wrong. My family is what is there for me, and they are the most important thing in my life.

Growing up, I spent practically all of my time with my family. We lived together, ate together, and worked together. Most of the other kids never had that – their parents go away to work somewhere, all day, every day (however I will admit that trying to find somebody in a maze of barns when I needed them was indeed a challenge at times). Before I came to college, I never really stopped to think about how important having them so near was to me. In fact, sometimes I found it to be a downright annoyance. But now, my view has definitely changed. I value family time much more, because I don’t get it as often. When I come home, I simply want to just be at home. Over spring break, I would have been perfectly content to stay at home every single day and not leave (I didn’t, of course – grocery shopping, dinners with friends, and other obligations took up some family time, but that’s okay because I knew I was going home every night).

I guess I’m saying that it’s true that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. So much has changed in my life in the last year that I find myself clinging onto the things I have left, my family being the most important one. I don’t mind change, but sometimes it’s nice when things simply stay the same. 🙂

Listen

On Tuesday, in my RCAH 202 class called “The Presence of the Past”, we analyzed the song “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay. Unbeknownst to me, the song is actually about empires (and therefore entirely relevant to the class. We are in fact studying empires). Lo and behold, when I looked up the album after class, I found that there is a famous painting of the French Revolution on the cover.

The idea that I had listened to this song so many times and never really heard the words is disturbing to me. If someone had come up to me and asked, “Have you ever heard the song Viva la Vida by Coldplay?” I would probably have replied in the affirmative. However, if they had asked, “What is it about?” I would, until recently, have been at a loss to tell them.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but it got me thinking. How many other things – songs, radio advertisements, or actual conversations – have I heard and failed to realize the significance of? Sure, a song or an advertisement may not contain earth-shattering news, but a conversation may very well contain information that is important, serious, or even life-changing.

After looking up the album, I listened to the song once more. It’s been stuck in my head ever since – perhaps as a kind of revenge for never listening properly in the first place.

At the risk of my blog turning into a lecture series, I’ll finish up this post with a simple plea: take the time to stop and really listen to the world around you. You never know – you might be missing something big.

Bizarre

I can officially say the last two weeks of my life have been the most bizarre time of my life. Difficult classes, friend issues, roommate drama, plus random conversations with other college students up at 8:00 in the morning on a Saturday (albeit, for a very different reason than I had myself) all add up to a whirlwind of an experience.

In my RCAH (for those of you who don’t know, RCAH stands for Residential College in the Arts and Humanities) classes, culture is a big theme. We’re constantly discussing culture – what is it, where is it, how is it important, how does it affect our lives? Now, I don’t claim to have an answer to these questions, but I do certainly agree with the idea that there are a myriad of cultures – and I’m almost positive I’ve been exposed to many more than I ever thought existed since I’ve been at college.

Growing up in a town so small that most people wouldn’t even consider it a town, I have been used to people thinking, acting, and talking like I do – people who share the same culture. However, at a university of tens of thousands of students, that is most certainly not the case. I go to sleep early while some kids seem to hardly sleep at all; I speak English while some students speak Chinese or French; I grew up on a farm while some people don’t know where the food that stocks grocery stores shelves comes from.

These last two weeks have been a challenge for me, and have further emphasized the differences between myself and other students that I felt the first week. However, despite our incredibly differing home cultures, we all share a kind of college culture. We all talk about professors and classes and cafeteria food. We all are having new experiences and meeting new people.

Somehow, we all fit under the titles of Spartan, student, and human. Bizarre.

In the Library…

I love libraries.  The peaceful order of the library is something marvelous – everything has a place.  The rows and rows of books hold so much potential – so much can be learned through books.

In high school, I knew my way around the library. Granted, it wasn’t very large, but it got the job done, and if you needed a book, there was, generally, a good chance I could find it for you, or at least point you in the right direction. I would check out the maximum number of books and devour them as quickly as I could, always eager to read more.  It was not uncommon to see me walking down the hallways with a teetering stack of books.

At home I would oftentimes sit outside under a tree in my yard and read for hours, enjoying the turning of the page and the fresh air and sunlight. My favorite genres are probably historical fiction and biographies, but I like almost anything.  In fact, I am determined to build up my own library, and already have a fair start, if I do say so myself.

One of the things that I was really anticipating throughout high school whenever I thought about my time at Michigan State was the immense library. Four floors, two wings – this library is absolutely huge.  The possibilities are endless.  Any book I could ever want to read, the library has (or at least has a way to get). Naturally I was very excited at this prospect.

However, when, for the first time, I set about the task of actually finding a specific book in the MSU main library, I quickly became overwhelmed.  Where on Earth should I start? There are so many books!

Feeling helpless, I went to the main reference desk and they graciously pointed me in the right direction. I took the elevator up to the third floor of the east wing, and used the floor map to find my way around. Walking among the shelves, I encountered something unusual – there were often several shelves pushed right up against each other, making it impossible to access the books.  Unsure, I looked down – finding buttons on the shelves! Cautiously, I pushed one and the entire shelf moved!

Now, this may not sound like much to most people, but I certainly had never encountered a library with moving shelves before.  To me, this was quite an anomaly, and certainly worth remarking.

So, once I got over the astonishment, I retrieved my book and left the library, ready to study to my heart’s content.

Now, I don’t get as excited about moving shelves anymore whenever I enter the library. However, I do still marvel at the vast amount of resources available at my fingertips, and feel very thankful for the opportunity to study at Michigan State University. It truly is an amazing opportunity, and I am very thankful that my family is supportive of my dreams of a higher education.