As I am nearing the midpoint of my college career, I find myself at a crossroads in life – ambitious and driven, yet oftentimes feeling lost and confused. As a college sophomore, I will officially be declared as a Cognitive Science and Psychology double major and Chinese minor by the end of this semester. I hold an officer position for a service organization that I am deeply passionate about, and I am in my second semester of being part of the boxing club, which continues to push me physically and mentally. I am lucky to be able to have these opportunities and to have met so many inspiring people through them. I am also eternally grateful for the support my family gives me. But I’m confused.
I am confused about my college experience. In my first semester, I took classes in Philosophy, Psychology, History, English and Neuroscience, Astronomy – and I either loved or learned a lot from all of them; if I was lucky, I got both. I was challenged in the fields that I am naturally inclined to, and it felt like I was in control. Come second year, and I am confronted with two classes that have made me question my academic ability more than ever: Computer Science last semester, and Discrete Math this semester.
CS was a struggle, and I lagged behind as the weeks went by. I passed the class nonetheless, but I passed knowing that all that I learned would soon be forgotten. My attempts to wrap my mind around the concepts and apply them to the lab, homework and projects were ultimately futile, because I had little interest in them. But more discouraging was the fact that I was not able to even keep up with the class soon after it had started. I could watch the lecture webcasts and sit in discussion section, and leave not getting much out of them. I wasn’t being challenged in the way that my Philosophy or Neuroscience classes did; in my mind, I was threatened by this class that neither posed an interest in me nor gave me the opportunity to catch up to it in the first place. With this CS class, I learned that if I ever do learn CS, it wouldn’t be in a classroom setting.
Currently, Math is an ongoing struggle. I have always somewhat excelled in math in high school and got near-perfect scores in the standardized tests, but college is just a whole different thing. Not to mention that before this semester, I have not done Math for nearly 3 years. I enjoy the Discrete Math class I’m taking, and can see how applicable it is to my major, but I am also so far behind class that I often skip lecture to catch up on the textbook readings. One time not long ago, I broke down on a phone call with my dad, asking him what the purpose of me being in college is if I wasn’t even getting everything I could out of it. He explained that not all the classes are going to be as fulfilling as I think they will be, that it wasn’t about how much I “remembered” from these classes, but rather it was the skills that I got out of them. Most importantly, he put things into perspective for me. Talking to my dad made me see that my struggling right now is not the end of the world (duh), and that I shouldn’t base my self-worth on my academic performance as much as I’ve been doing.
Making peace with the fact that there are subjects that I don’t like and simply can’t excel in has been hard. Especially because the subjects that I’m a failure in are STEM – which my university is very prominent in. My parents used to be way stricter with my performance in school, and for most of my life, school has been the thing that I was good at. Or tried to be. It was the only way that I knew how to learn, the only way that I knew how to “succeed in life”. But that is so not the case now. After going through my gap year before college, getting involved in so many activities and experiences outside school, if there’s one thing I have learned it’s that learning occurs everywhere, anywhere. With this in mind, I have also realized that the only way I can make the most out of my college experience is to study the subjects that I truly, wholeheartedly enjoy. Not only because this is what we’re supposed to do, but because I will be doing a disservice to everyone if I forced myself to study a subject like CS simply because I think it’ll make myself look marketable. Even if that earns me the “skills” that I need to secure future employment opportunities, my dispassion for this career would not benefit anyone, and it simply wouldn’t inspire me to excel.
On the contrary, pursuing a career that I can passionately delve into will better equip me to serve the world in that field. It will enable me to wholly delve into my classes and actually remember what I was taught. And even if I forget most of what I learned during college, the person that I become because of it will continue to thrive. It will allow me to see the world in my terms, and to find solutions to problems that I am willing to take on.
With that being said, I’m glad I took that CS class. It exposed me to CS for the first time, and while I have no intent in pursuing it further in college, I might change my mind about the subject in the future – and who knows what could happen then? The reason I’m double majoring in Cognitive Science is precisely because this subject demands me to dabble in several disciplines, including (but not limited to) Psychology, Philosophy, Linguistics, Neuroscience, Education, and Computer Science. It challenges me to think in different dimensions, whether I like them or not.
All in all, I think I have gotten a lot out of college thus far. I have been challenged to think differently within my classes, about my classes, and outside my classes, and I might not remember most of what I learned 10 years from now, but the person that I am now has forever been shaped by these experiences. I attend a pretty huge university, and such environment has definitely made me realize what a tiny, average person I am amidst so many talented people. It has grounded me, humbled me, and ultimately inspired me to continue trying to be a better me.