things i learned in college

Among all of the other things that come with graduating college and moving to a brand new city far away – a diploma, the real world (already??), having to cook my own dinner every night of the week, a paycheck (yes!), rent/other “real world” expenses that require most of that paycheck – there is one thing that comes in spades. And it’s this lovely thing called retrospection.

Retrospection is a sometimes useful, sometimes dangerous, and extremely time-consuming activity. But it’s also very enlightening. They say hindsight is 20/20, and in looking back on the last several years, I’ve figured out a lot about myself and about life. Here are the highlights of those discoveries in bulleted form.

Things I Learned in College
  • Who my real friends are.
  • How lucky I am to have those people in my life.
  • How much I actually love ridiculous 80’s music.
  • Not everyone lives by the saying “if you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late” like I do.
  • Finding time to read for leisure is critical.
  • “I don’t have time for xyz” is another way of saying “I don’t feel like making time for xyz so I’m going to pretend I have way more going on than I do and will instead spend 3 hours surfing the Internet.”
  • Coffee is arguably the greatest beverage ever created.
  • Coffee is expensive and I cannot/should not spend my entire stipend on it.
  • Following sports is not only fun, it gives you something to small talk about other than the weather (which is important when you don’t keep up with current events).
  • As an adult, people assume you do keep up with current events.
  • You save a lot of money by taking a bagged lunch to school/work.
  • Downtime is actually important.
  • Dressing up gets old quick when you have to wear business clothes to work every day. And no one actually cares if you get coffee / run errands wearing a faded college sweatshirt.
  • Actually, some people think you look prettier that way.
  • I’ve turned into a huge cynic.
  • I need to stop being such a cynic. The few people that make me want to completely give up on mankind are, in fact, a very small percentage of the population. It’s a big world.
  • It’s a small world. And it’s connected.
  • When in doubt, go with your gut.
  • Your best friends aren’t necessarily the people you talk to 24/7 or eat lunch with every day. They might even be asleep when you call them at 2 am. But they’re the ones that call you back the next day and listen to you for hours, even if they’re tired of the subject or don’t agree with how you handled it. They distract you and make you laugh. They bring you coffee and king-sized Reese’s cups when they meet up with you to talk about your relationship troubles because they know chocolate fixes everything for awhile. They’re there for you when it really counts.
  • Sometimes you’ll be surprised by who will do that for you.
  • Sale-shopping is the way to live.
  • To-do lists and calendars are the key to successful time management.
  • If it’s been several months or years and that guy still hasn’t made up his mind, he probably won’t do it soon. So it won’t hurt to go out with that other guy who actually knows he wants you.
  • In fact, it would be a good idea to do so.
  • Mom was right about thank you notes. They never go unnoticed nor unappreciated.
  • Life goes on.

vivent les études de langues

A recent New York Times article announced that many state colleges are delivering a coup d’état to their language programs in response to budget cuts. Reading this actually frustrated me.

Languages are extremely important. To assume English fluency is sufficient is “anglocentric,” as Dr. Rosemary Feal put it. It’s also, to be quite frank, arrogant. Yes, we speak English here in the U.S., but what about the rest of the world? By limiting the opportunities to study foreign languages, we are hindering our potential on the international stage. What about the ability to communicate with international business partners? And what about having competent translators? I understand that some universities are only cutting certain languages (like French and Italian) but some of our college students are burgeoning diplomats and will need the European languages as well.

Dr. Hamilton, executive vice chancellor from Louisiana State University, is quoted in the NYT article and sums it up well:

“We should be adding languages and urging more students to take them… I’m being asked to prepare students for the global economy, but this is almost like asking them to use the abacus instead of computers.”

Many graduate programs (even in engineering and the sciences) require competency in a second language. Making cuts to language programs impedes the already difficult task of fitting language courses into an engineering/science schedule. These program cuts – some of which even include graduate programs – are also costing tenured university professors their jobs.

Even as a scientist, I believe at least four semesters of a language should be a requirement for graduation. Actually, I think we should be teaching foreign languages in elementary schools, when students are the best age to learn a second (or third) language, but that’s a whole new blog post. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but I honestly believe programs like philosophy and women’s studies should be cut first. Foreign languages are just too critical.