Monday morning – I am once again at my desk and my fingers are tap dancing away over my keyboard as I look longingly at the hidden desk drawer which contains the ‘emergency’ supplies of snacks. Well, the name suggests aforementioned snacks are hardly ever touched, but frankly it feels as though every day has been rightfully deemed an emergency. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned – it has been one hour since my last nibble of dark chocolate.
Fall Break. The time when the average burnt-out student wishfully thinks of additional sleep and a few days free of early morning starts and multiple assignments due for multiple days (what do you mean, I had exercise E6 to do as well? And of course that test just simply had to clash with the date a paper was due for…) and perhaps spend some moments of all-too quickly lost time with family and friends. All this optimism is sadly misplaced. For we soon discover the terrible truth that college professors almost seem to panic at the idea of young people having two free days and so seek out a solution. This solution inevitably tends to result in a double dose of homework for each class. Thus order is restored once more; I wearily drag out a collection of textbooks, their cumulative size somewhat thicker than my own spinal cord and resume my casting of puppy dog eyes towards the desk drawer.
Typing this post has provided the opportunity for me to consider the situation I find myself in, as an international student here on campus. From what I have both witnessed and personally experienced (re: survived) over the past few months since undertaking a study abroad programme, I have already noticed stark differences in college life compared to what I am used to.
Back home, I attend university several times a week for lectures and tutorials. I use the library on a frequent basis, so frequently I fear I should request my own copy of keys to let myself in. Yet we do not have continuous assessment. Exams are those nightmarish beings which raise their gloomy heads at the end of each semester. They are the be all and end all, the sole means of assessing your mark for your modules. I also do not have daily homework; I have assignments for three weekly tutorials and set reading for lectures but that is that. Hence you can imagine my shock when I left my first day of classes in August with a bag of work and the overwhelming feeling that I had actually reverted back to my teenage years and was back in high school. And the means of assessment! Multiple choice questions? More like multiple means to continuously doubt your own mind and instinct. Response papers are akin to being the new-born lovechild of critical analysis essays and the couple of minutes you give your own opinion when called on in class. Now that I am used to them, I (whisper it) enjoy writing them, but at the start it was hard. I am used to typing 4000 word essays on case law analysis or suggestions for law reform, so limiting yourself to one or two pages when you A) are used to another educational system’s expectations and B) are already the girl who can talk/write for Ireland is quite the laborious adventure.
Yet I have noticed that for all the differences in education systems or means of assessment and examination, there is one sole topic that unifies all students into collective protests/sympathy/mourning: that of free time, or ‘me-time’.
Our days are determined by classes, we calculate hours in terms of homework time and whatever is left is crammed with societies, eating (the fact I have invested in a lunchbox for food on the go says a lot) and socialising. But what about time for us?
It may be argued that participating in organisations and student societies on campus is free time, a chance to unwind and allow yourself to be distant from classes. Ditto socialising and hanging out with friends. But surely we are all entitled to some time on our own to do as much or as little as our caffeine-fuelled little hearts’ desire.
I had believed this could be possible for my friends and I this Fall Break – we had chatted enthusiastically about the books we would start reading, the television programmes we may start to watch – but volunteering and homework have prevented this. We were/are/shall always be tired and seeking a way to recharge. But time passes too quickly when you are staring at accounting problems and marketing textbooks. And now, before I even knew it, an optimistic Monday morning has come and gone to be replaced by the more cynical afternoon. A pile of books to the left of me, folders and papers to the right and here I am, stuck in the middle and rather sleep deprived at that.
So as I give into temptation yet again and sneakily reach for a chocolate square, I have decided on a new revolutionary cry: ‘More time for Me Time!’ (Hey, I’m working on it. Just put it on the ever-increasing pile of things to do, because why ever not!)