My psychiatry 101 teacher would appreciate the analogy: I feel like I’m stepping into the world without any clothes on. I started my second college go-round at the beginning of this month, and it looks like I’ve survived for now. Still though, its definitely been a very odd adjustment. My body – which is ordinarily one of those perfect wake-up bodies – has been violently rejecting the 5 AM wake-up times on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so I often find just the right amount of time for a little bit more shut eye on the bus and subway. My textbooks have been slow in the coming and inexcusably expensive. I’ve lost a little bit of step in my normal exercise routines because the University of Buffalo has its own definition of exercise, which is called “Traversing Campus from One Side to the Other.” I’ve been accosted by more Christians than I can wave a copy Percy Shelley’s The Necessity of Atheism at.
In the meantime, my body and brain are both giving me the constant message: Hey, you wanted this, big boy, you’ve fucking got it! Welcome to late teenage hell in a 32-year-old body. Welcome to big league university life.
I like to believe I wasn’t walking into this unprepared. After all, I have a college degree already. That was from a community college, though, and as I stepped up to my first day at UB, I wondered how much different this could possibly be. I believe the popular expression is famous last words. As I stumbled into my first-ever chemistry class, my first reaction was to gape at the massive size of the stadium-seating theater which was going to be doubling as my classroom for some reason. My first thought was dear god, how the hell is anyone able to ask questions in here? As I listened to lecture, it became clear that I wasn’t supposed to ask anything; my duty in chemistry was to sit down, shut up, and write until my wrist snapped off again. My first psychiatry class, I entered through the front of the room completely by accident and stood there blinded like a deer in a headlight, carefully scanning for any open seats. The professor spotted me and told me to just get in the room and sit somewhere. I quickly ran up the stairs, and learned there were more people than seats in the room when I saw at least a dozen other students sitting in the aisle at the top of the stairs. It wasn’t my shining moment, but I put it behind me. The professor apologized for putting me on the spot when I spoke to her after class, and psychiatry 101 actually went on to be my favorite class.
My nutrition class also takes place in a lecture hall, but at least it’s a lecture hall small enough for the professor to hear me if I try to ask a question. Only my math class takes place in a real classroom.
It’s not that I’m not enjoying my classes. Actually, I like all of them. (Even math!) But I wasn’t prepared to deal with the change in college size on a scale like this. The lecture halls at ECC were made to hold only about 150 people, in contrast to the nearly 500 people I share chemistry and psychiatry with. The lecture halls at ECC also managed to be a bit more intimate, and it wasn’t unusual for the professors there to engage in active, back and forth dialogues with the students.
Of course, that could also be because of the subject material I decided to shoulder this time. My degree from ECC is in Communication and Media Arts. Now, I did well at ECC, but that major wasn’t a great challenge to a brainpan which everyone realizes is capable of doing a lot more. Communications dealt with a lot of abstract ideas; basically, stuff which students could – and were in fact encouraged to – endlessly bicker over. Philosophies were on my plate, and I learned about a whole slew of literary genres as electives. Exercise Science, my major at UB, deals with hard data and stuff which is established fact about the human body. After all of a month of classes, well, I can say I’m a little overwhelmed by how impressive these weird vessels we’re stuck living in really are.
Also overwhelming is getting the sense of just how much I’ve changed along the road. I actually want to learn math now. Yes, getting it down is difficult, but damn if you don’t feel like a god once you master it. I know I have a circuit somewhere in my head’s machine which is fully capable of learning it rather easily if the teacher presses the right buttons. Its happened before. When I went to summer school for ninth grade algebra, my teacher found it, and I passed her course with a final grade in the high 80’s. My favorite math teacher ever was in ECC. She hit every right note, and I liked her class so much that I was an active participant in it, regularly trying to give out answers. Every time I missed something, it was always on the tip of the tongue.
Furthermore, who are all these weird creatures who are going to school with me? Did I land on a different planet? Was I sucked through some kind of interdimensional warp? My age and life experiences are causing a rather askew viewpoint, and I’m constantly surprised at the generational gaps. One day, as I sat on the shuttle to North Campus, the radio station was playing the old hit “Freak Like Me” by Adina Howard. I looked around the bus, and realized that if the others there were even alive when that song was being played out, they certainly weren’t old enough to remember it. A couple of weeks later, my psychiatry teacher brought up the Leftorium episode of The Simpsons, and I thought it odd that she had to reference that it was “a show called The Simpsons.” 20 years, ago, it was merely The Simpsons; no qualifier was necessary, because everyone would have known what it was. I like to joke frequently about how I’m old enough to remember when The Simpsons was good, but now it was a little scary to realize that the show – and not just the show, but the very episode she was referring to, which I caught the first time it ever aired – was older than the other students. In the latest class, she made a reference to 9/11 in talking about flashpoint memory and had to ask if the class remembered it.
This is going to be a huge learning experience in every possible way.