Go beyond textbooks and continue learning
VOICE OF REASON
Published: Sunday, May 20, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 19:05
Studying abroad can have a profound effect on people.
Trust me, I know this firsthand. While spending a semester abroad in Beijing, many of my views about my future plans, my religion and my education underwent profound evolutions.
If it’s not too bold for a lowly junior like me to offer a parting message to the graduating class, I’d like to share the following lesson I learned while abroad.
What I realized is that you don’t have to be in school to learn.
This should have been obvious to me but it was obscured by the educational system of which I had been, and continue to be, a part.
I entered Brandeis with a strong, if somewhat nerdy, thirst for knowledge. Looking in the course catalogue at all the different classes I could take was overwhelming in the best of ways. As I started college, I wanted to learn all that I could. Every time I sat down to do my work, I was excited to learn.
Yes, there were obviously times when homework and midterms got stressful or unpleasant, when lectures were boring and when I would have preferred to stay in bed rather than go to class. But I tried to remind myself that my education was a privilege and that I was happy to be in school.
During those first semesters of college, my biggest fear was graduation, I thought I wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn anymore after I left Brandeis.
Of course, with time, this enthusiasm began to wane. Like so many sophomores, I hit a slump of sorts, overwhelmed
by the workload I had, in my naive enthusiasm, taken on.
That “I love education” frame of mine just didn’t cut it anymore. I was perpetually stressed, overworked and unhappy.
I was tired of term papers and tests; I was tired of assigned reading and response papers; I was tired of sitting in class for hours every day as I feverishly scribbled down notes. I envied those seniors who would finally be taking a break from schooling. Honestly, I thought I didn’t want to learn anymore.
Then, I went abroad. Where I went and what I studied is not as important here as the fact that I was not studying anything related to my major and previous academic interests.
Instead, I began to educate myself about the things I used to love studying. I read books on my own time, I debated issues with friends over dinner and I even kept reading academic papers and journals.
I know, the message sounds a bit hackneyed. Okay, really hackneyed. But when I say that learning can take place outside of school, I don’t mean it in the sense that most people do.
I don’t mean to say that you will learn more on the job than in the classroom. Nor do I mean that the most useful skills are developed in the home or through extracurricular activities.
All of those things may be true. But what I mean is that traditional book-learning need not take place in college, graduate school or any other academic environment. Too often, high school and college students forget that a teacher doesn’t have to assign Homer, Dostoyevsky, Austen or Kant in order for us to pick up one of their books and read it. You need not be in a class in biology or public policy in order to read journals or newspaper articles that could teach you about these disciplines.
An essential part of growing into adulthood is learning how to become responsible for your own education and how to read and study without any coercion or grades. In fact, as one becomes responsible for one’s own learning, the pressure and stress that comes with coercion can begin to inhibit rather than promote educational success.
Leaving college is an opportunity to do a great many things. Careers, families and so much more await us out in the real world. But we ought not forget that among the challenges and opportunities that await is the opportunity to study, learn and grow on one’s own terms.