On Being a Student When You Don't Really Want to Anymore
This title fit perfectly across the top line of my notebook's page, left to right, when writing the first draft of this piece. If only the content fit as snugly across the length of my mind. It's strange to no longer associate with the label that has identified you for almost your entire life but have no option but to see it through. I've never not been a student, but I'm beginning to tire of it.
Luckily, this feeling has only struck me around ten months before graduating from my degree—the final push! Ten months after a lifetime of education doesn't seem like all that much, but at the moment it feels like a mountain.
I'm not someone who is super passionate about their subject. Don't get me wrong, there are aspects that interest and excite me (friendship in medieval French lit, anyone?) but I can't help but feel that I'm still waiting to find out what I'm actually passionate about, what I want my life to be about.
I took a year abroad last year, and consequently left a large chunk of my heart on a funny little French farm with dusty blue shutters and cows straying close to the boundary line. I fell in love with dreaming, I learned that I'm brave and I'm capable of things, and I encountered people who helped me on a path of healing that I didn't know I needed. I met refugees in Calais and decided I'd rather spend the rest of my days playing board games with them than exploit my own painful privilege any longer. I discovered that there's more to life than my fear and I realized that I am offered fullness, that the creation and existence of me means the universe is longing for me to live wholly. To embrace messiness and awkwardness and vulnerability and to love as bravely as I can and to keep going even when the brave runs out. I learned that I like writing: after years of claiming “I'm not creative,” a part of me was unlocked that might be the most exciting part of myself I've ever seen. More valuable than even that, I learned that I have something to say. I have a voice, some thoughts and some wisdom, and it's worth sharing.
And now, coming back to my funny little university city has felt like a shock to the system, and it feels like this world doesn't suit me anymore. I'm too aware of how small this bubble really is;, the gossip and the language online meaningful to students here; the voices of privately-educated southerners grating in the ears of residents who have found their beautiful Northern town taken away from them. Forgive my snobbery (or reverse snobbery?): education is great, and important. I know. But I'm having to work hard within myself to remember the benefits of this time, and not just the loan and the constant availability of takeaways, but the opportunities—time to “invent” myself, or at least try and uncover a few layers of myself, the lessons and the growth available here, both academically and in preparation for life. These are valuable years. I know I should be appreciating that. But still, it's hard.
Maybe my time in France wasn't quite real life either; retrospectively, parts of it were just as much of a bubble as the one I feel trapped in now. But it was different. My outlook on life expanded and exploded and got a lot more colorful than before. Life became about people, about healing, about life, rather than about essay deadlines and cramming enough hours into the week.
There's little use in nostalgia (but I'm queen of it anyway). I'm back now in this little city with a golden cathedral on a hill, the place that stole my heart three years ago, and I feel... nothing. I'm aching to find the passion I think I should have for this time and this place, but it feels marred by expectations that I can't fit.
I got a tattoo the other day. My second one this year, actually. Two small marks on my body to commemorate my precious time away, serving as reminders sunk deep into my soul of what anchors me, of where my refuge is. Lots of people worry that tattoos bring regret: what if I wake up the next morning and hate it, or wake up in 50 years time, with sagging skin and a whole lifetime of further memories, and wonder why I decided on these things to ink permanently onto me?
But, #yolo. I threw that in at the end of my tattoo-announcement Instagram (you've gotta do it, haven't you?) but it's true: this is the life I have to design and create and unfold, and I think it's great that I get to choose what I make permanent: my values, my passions, my dreams, my memories, and my body. The things I'll carry with me through life.
I won't be a student forever. But I will carry these years with me in my memory for a long time, and they will continue to shape me probably for longer than I imagine. So I hope to use them well. I am still seeking wholeness. I am still seeking fullness of life. And right now, that means embracing my student life fully: learning as much as I can, loving as much as I can, and making the most of opportunities only offered in these years.
But it means embracing everything else around me too. It means being a good neighbour; it means looking out for the lonely people in my circles; it means honoring God with my studying and how I spend my time. I'm still searching for what I'm passionate about; I'm beginning to think it looks like healing. I am curious to know what my life will fill itself with once the conveyor-belt of student life is over, and I am equally curious what precious and valuable times this next and final year will offer and teach me.
Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” In this time of identity thrown at me and assumed over me, instead of kicking it away like a kid throwing a tantrum, I'm going to slow down. I'm going to allow this year to chisel away from me everything “student” holds that I don't claim for myself, grasp at the beauty of it and brush off what isn't needed. I will honour this time, honour my role in this place, and honour the process of craftsmanship, seeking to be shaped and sharpened, until I am nothing but the beauty that lives within me.
[Photo by Juliette Kibodeaux.]