So, as I might have mentioned in previous posts, I am currently taking a gap year to try and figure out what I’d like to study at university. This summer, I was lucky enough to spend eight weeks at Stanford doing one of their programmes. While it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows the whole time (because hey what is ? Apart from Disney world …), it was an incredible experience. I learnt so much this summer, from inside my different lectures to the experiences I had outside the classroom and today, I would like to share that experience with all of you. Now I know this isn’t like my other blog posts, as I usually stick to giving advice, but I thought it would still be fun to chat about. Life is all about learning from experience, and that is what happened to me. So, I thought perhaps you could all still get some advice through reading about my experiences. Maybe it will inspire you to try out a short course, or reflect on a learning experience you had. Or, perhaps this post will just read like a (hopefully) good diary entry where you laugh at all of my experiences. Either way, I hope that you enjoy this blog post and can get something good out of it, even if it isn’t my typical advice-filled blog.
Out of my comfort zone
One thing you should know about me is, as friendly and open as I seem, I am actually an introvert and find it hard to make friends. This is because meeting new people makes me nervous. I also don’t do great when I don’t know what is going on, not control-freak level but enough that it can get me anxious. So, with these fun facts now out in the open, this summer definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. Unlike when I went to Oxford, my family didn’t come with me to see me off. I was on my own as soon as I arrived at the airport in Johannesburg to start my summer abroad. Now while this doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, it did make me nervous because things are always a lot easier, especially new things, when you have people around you. I was out of my comfort zone because I had to learn to be okay with trying this on my own. Once I got there though and realised that everyone was friendly and happy to help, I knew that I didn’t need to be nervous. Nerves aren’t a bad thing, because they show you care. But, this taught me that I shouldn’t let my nerves scare me off from trying things because, at the end of the day, it wasn’t as bad as my anxiety was making me imagine it to be.
The other way in which my comfort zone was stretched was in the meeting people department. From the moment I stepped onto campus, I could see that being a shut-in would not be the right way to go. There were so many people arriving for this program, we were staying in dorms with roommates, and lots of activities were arranged to ‘force’ us to interact with each other. In general, I would be engaging with people from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep. Being a shut-in would only isolate me, and I didn’t want to spend my summer being lonely and friendless while everyone else made memories. (If you need advice for how to deal with loneliness, feel free to check out my blog post about this). So, I forced myself out of my comfort zone by being as friendly and cheerful as possible, introducing myself to everyone and leaving my dorm door open. While it terrified me at first, I am so glad that I did it. I made lots of friends, both in my dorm and in my classes, and I hardly ever felt isolated or lonely. I was much happier because I felt involved and a part of the experience. Being out of your comfort zone may have felt scary, but I couldn’t be more thrilled that I did it.
One of the classes I took was a philosophy class – the topic of the class was environmental ethics. I know it sounds strange and boring, but it was actually a very interesting class. Now when I labelled this part of the blog’ environmental awareness’, I do not mean that I suddenly became aware that we’re facing lots of problems in our environment. No – I knew this before I got to the class, but my knowledge of environmental awareness was stretched differently. By looking at environmental issues through a philosophical lens, I got to challenge my opinions regarding a lot of various topics. Through reading different texts from different philosophers about different environmental issues and philosophy, I also realised that there are so many more approaches to environmental problems. This class challenged me in that it exposed me to so many different thoughts and methods regarding the environment, and through this, I think I have a lot more environmental awareness. Why, because I got shown the bigger picture, from different angles and this not only challenged my opinions but helped me reform them in a more educated way. I think that is one of the best things one can learn in a class – how to see the bigger picture or see something from a new angle, and have your opinion challenged in a way that improves it, not shut it down.
I’m terrified of my phone
Another class I took was a communication class called audience 2.0 and let me just say that it was as fun as it was informative. We learnt so many things in terms of audiences, but one of the big things that I took away from it is that technology is terrifying. Now I am very aware that all our search histories get used to create personalised ads and make the online experience better, smoother and more relative. I didn’t realise how far the use of our data goes. We spent two weeks studying audiences as commodities, how companies use our data to make things more relative for us and more profitable for them (by analysing our data, they can make predictions that help them further customise our experience and make money). Our data gets used everywhere and for anything – from what we search on google to the posts we like on Instagram. I understand that the world is changing fast, and companies need to adapt with the times, but the terrifying thing is that everything I do online is free work for companies so that they can improve and make more money. There are also many more ways, other than just collecting our search history, that they can gather our data, and that is the scary part. Now I don’t want to scare you or sound like a crazy person, but I will just say be aware of everything you do online. You never know where that data will go or what it will be used for. (cue scary music)
Great new friends
One of the great things that happened this summer is that I got to make a lot of great friends, both in my classes and in my dorm. For some reason, I didn’t get a roommate for the summer and had a single room, so I didn’t get to form a best-friend bond with my new living partner. However, I did get to make a great friend in a girl living one room down from me. We became fast friends very quickly, geeking out about the different things we like, watching movies all night and eating junk food while laughing loudly and singing Disney songs. I didn’t make any other friends who I bonded with this strongly, but I did make a lot of general friends, and that was an excellent experience. Because I haven’t been at university like most of my South African friends, I haven’t been able to branch out to make new friends and felt quite lonely a lot of the time. Well, these eight weeks fixed that – I got to make so many friends and have a much more enriching experience. We went fountain hopping, spent late nights studying and singing in the lounge and made lots of other fun memories through the programme activities. Doing these kinds of experiences is a great idea – especially if you want to make lots of new, different friends who don’t all come from the same place. I’m glad I had this because I got new friends.
Fear the tree
If you are familiar with Stanford, they are well-known for their tree mascot and catchphrase “Fear the tree”. Now I know that this phrase would be more used in interschool competitions because of competitiveness or to make excellent college merchandise, but for me, it has a different meaning. You should fear the tree because trees are actually dangerous and I know this because I walked into one. It wasn’t an injury-inducing collision, but it happened in the second week while my new friend Lily and I were walking back from dinner. We were chatting, and I had no other thoughts in my mind until I walked smack into this large frond. It became one of the central jokes between Lily and me, and since then, I have been a lot more wary of nearby trees and their respective hanging branches. How fitting that I should come to ‘fear the tree’ at Stanford right? So, in honour of this incident, Lily and I bought matching ‘Fear the Tree’ shirts – to symbolise our fun summer together and my interesting ordeal with a rather large frond branch.
I might possibly be incredibly clumsy
This story is more just a fun memory and an opportunity for you to laugh at my clumsiness. I have always been more on the clumsy side, falling downstairs and tripping over my own feet, but this takes clumsy to a whole new level. There was this little café halfway between my dorm and my classes, and I quite quickly became addicted to the chai flavoured bubble tea (milk tea with tapioca balls, boba, whatever you call it). One morning, Lily and I stopped to buy ourselves one on our way to class. My drink was in my hands for less than thirty seconds. I hadn’t even taken a sip when either by my clumsiness or some evil thing had possessed my drink, my cup collapsed and crumpled up (because it was plastic), and I spilt this drink all over myself. It was cold and sticky, and I had tapioca balls in my shoes and to make things worse, I didn’t have time to go back and change before class started. Lily almost fell over laughing, and in hindsight, I laugh at it myself, but at least I got given a free new one. I guess the barista felt sorry for me. The lesson to learn from my sticky experience – be wary when it comes to drinks in takeaway cups. You never know when they might decide to empty themselves all over you when you don’t have a backup plan.
Learn from bad experiences
I mentioned that the experience wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and I am not going to hide that. As fun as the session was and in spite of all the great lessons I learnt and friends I made, it still had its negative moments. What I am thankful for is that I got to experience these negatives in this environment. The course was only eight weeks, and I wouldn’t have to deal with everyone for longer than that, but there were also lots of people around to help us, which is not true for the rest of life. For all the people I did like and make friends with, there were also some that I didn’t get along with and I got to learn how to deal with these varying negative people. The other negative experience that I learnt how to deal with was workload and assignments. I’m not going to lie, there was quite a bit more work than I anticipated and while I was a bit annoyed at the beginning that I had so much homework to do, I am glad that I did in the end. I’m happy because I got to relearn what it was like to have a heavy workload, where you have to make decisions about when to do what things, in a different way from working in high school. The other negative was assignments in that they were a lot more open-ended, without specific rubrics, and this frustrated me because I am so used to having precise guidelines. The reason I’m kind of glad I had this ‘negative’ experience was that I figured out how to cope with open-ended assignments before university in a place where, if I didn’t do as well as I wanted, it isn’t a huge issue. Negative experiences aren’t great, and we are allowed to feel upset or angry about them, but the way to regain control over those experiences is to learn from them.
My obsessions were fuelled
For those who don’t know, I am an avid fan of many things. I am a Disney nerd, a Potterhead, a huge marvel fan and overall a sucker for books or stories that have a happy ending. Now I wasn’t expecting a rigorously academic place like Stanford to fuel these obsessions, but somehow they did. Apart from making a good friend who loved these same things, I somehow got lucky enough to have classes that fuelled these obsessions too. For different projects in my classes, we were allowed to choose our own subject for the assignments assuming they related back to the main topic of the class. You might not think that Disney or Harry Potter can be used as the foundation for academic assignments, but you would actually be surprised how much is embedded in what most people would call children’s entertainment. I got to write a 15page research paper on Disney and a 7 page paper on Harry Potter. Disney has so many elements to discuss that are beyond the child-friendly plots. Harry Potter has so many aspects and nuances, particularly in its audience, that it is almost too easy to find source information. My point is, I got to pursue subjects that I am really passionate about in academic classes, and I think everyone should try to take opportunities like that. I found out that many universities allow students to choose their own topics for specific projects so long as it relates, and that is amazing. We should all be able to mix work and the things we love, and even better if they are the same thing.
It’s essential to stay connected
Even though I made lots of new friends and spent a lot of time doing various things from studying to trying fun activities, I was still far from home and somewhat disconnected from everyone there. While being away this year, I have learnt how important it is to stay connected and appreciate your family, partners and close friends because whether you are having a good time or a bad time, they will always be there for you. However, being on the other side of the world does make ‘being there’ a little trickier, so it is essential to stay connected. It is also crucial to stay connected because nothing is quite as comforting as getting advice from your parents or complaining about your day to your partner and you might not realise how much you are missing them until you talk to them. Just because you are far from home, that doesn’t mean you can’t still chat. Your family, friends and partner should always be there for you and will always support you, plus they might really appreciate hearing from you while you are away from home. So, keep the communication lines open – you’ll be thankful for it.
I’ve always considered myself to be relatively independent, but this course took independence up a notch from what I’ve experienced in the past. I got the chance to live as most college students do – independent and free to make your own choices about things. I’m always nervous about doing laundry in a new place because I am scared that, with the new machine I am not familiar with, I might end up shrinking all of my clothes. Thankfully, I didn’t shrink anything. We were also given independence in the form of classwork. I know quite a few people who didn’t come to class because they preferred to sleep in or people who didn’t do the reading for class because it was too much effort. We were independent to make our own choices regarding how we lived and how we approached class – a good test of independence because with the freedom to make a choice, comes the responsibility to make the right choice. In all honesty, I’m glad we got to be independent because it genuinely tests how capable you are and whether or not you are responsible enough to make the right choice. Adulting is tough, so getting to test out your ability to do so in small doses, like in this eight-week course, is always great. If you’d like more information about adulting tips, I suggest you check out my adulting 101 blog post.
I am not a robot
Throughout this summer, I learnt many things about myself through some of the above-experiences I have mentioned. One big thing that I had to come to terms with, in a new way was that I am not a robot. I wanted to be the person who did all of my work well-ahead of when it was due so that I would never be caught off-guard, and while I did do most of my work in advance, the work was challenging and after two weeks of only focusing on work, I soon found myself very tired and needing a break. I learnt through this course that while it is great to get things done ahead of time, it is also useful and vital to take a break and not work too hard, because we are not robots. Lily was particular in making sure I took breaks. The lesson to be learnt is to allow yourself to relax occasionally because it makes working in the long-term more effective. When I started sleeping in a little later, not studying until late at night and taking part of the weekend off to relax, watch movies and just kick back, I found working that much easier and that I was a lot more productive. Learn from my mistakes – don’t overwork yourself.
And there you have it. I know that this blog post is particularly long – I’m sorry about that. But apart from this blog being longer than usual and not my standard advice-giving, I hope that you still enjoyed reading it. I hope that if you didn’t take any fun lessons away from my different experiences, that it was at least an interesting read and it gave you a nice break in your day. Thank you all so much for reading this blog post – if you enjoyed it, please don’t forget to hit the like button at the bottom of this post and subscribe, so you don’t miss future posts. Lastly, if you have any comments you’d like to share or questions you want to ask, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section. I love hearing from you and chatting so, please don’t feel shy to comment! Apart from these long stories, that is all I have for you guys today. I hope you all have fantastic weeks!
Lots of Love
Blondey on a Mission xxx