Orientation and Class Preparation

1st, September 2019

We had orientation on the 29th and 30th. Orientation was surprisingly lacking in information. I still have no idea how to access my class schedule, where to find my class web pages, where to find textbook information, where my classes are located, or if there are any other fees (lab fees, excursion fees, equipment fees) associated with my classes. Classes start tomorrow. I’m going to have to arrive on campus, first thing in the morning, just to ask. At least this is a problem which I know will be rectified with just a few inquiries.

“Aren’t you excited?!” This is the question people have been asking me for months. I look at them with a bit of a worried expression and flatly say, “yes.” I admit my response is a bit of a half-truth. This isn’t an “I’m on vacation” excitement or a “I’m getting a new puppy” excitement. This is a different kind of excitement. These classes are going to be academically and intellectually challenging. Many of them are meant for Master’s Students. I’m here to accomplish something. I am here to work and learn. Being an adult student is already very challenging but the last 2 days, surrounded by traditional students from all over the world, have shown me that life will be even more difficult here, alone, in Sweden. I am not a young, hip, attractive traditional student. Traditional students don’t freely gravitate towards me like they do for one another. Is there a biochem or particle physics equation that helps explain this phenomenon? Probably biochem.

Nonetheless, there has already been some adversity caused by the duration of time I have spent orbiting the sun. There’s the way traditional students turn away from me when asked to converse with their peers or form groups. There’s the way the Student Union and the Student Nations seem tailored for younger people who live on social media, attend frat parties, and go on pub crawls. There’s the way, when sitting at a table in a group, and asking each other about their background, other students just skip over me.

For a generation that is so about “celebrating diversity” they don’t seem to care at all about diversity of age or life experience. Comments/Actions directed at me, after only a few days here, include:

[Incredulously, from a male student] “You’re a student? At your age!? OK, man. Whatever you want.”

[Woman at a cafe] “What do you teach at the university?” [Now no longer interested in chatting] “Oh, you’re a student. …OK, good luck. Bye.”

[Man on the bus] “Why are you in Sweden?” [After telling him I am a student] “No shit!?” [Stops responding]

I don’t think I ever claimed to be a smart man, but I don’t think I deserve to be treated as if I’m completely stupid or backwards.

If you know me well enough, you know my aversion to social media and networking. I have, however, given it a chance since arriving because, despite my independence, it would still be nice to occasionally have someone with which to have a conversation or go on walk in the woods. Still, people on social networking/media apps/sites usually disappear when they find out I’m a student. One woman who was honest enough to say, “It is strange to see adult students. I shudder when I think of my own attitudes to ‘older’ students.”

I’m a ghost here.

Look… I get it. I really do. I might have done the same when I was that age. None of this is a complaint or feeling sorry for myself. I’m not asking for sympathy, or a pat on the back, or pity-friends, or an insincere display of social politeness. I say this to demonstrate that, if you think college is tough for traditional students, it is even more challenging for adults in just about every way. This is taking as much resolve as I can muster.

I know I will be fine. I will entertain myself as needed. Time, finances, and studies permitting, I will hike through the woods, catch frogs in the streams, continue my exercise regimen, sit in cafes and read or doodle, and tour the city. Again, time, finances, and studies permitting. The point of all this is so that when people ask me “Aren’t you excited,” they understand that excitement may not be the right word. The kind of excitement I feel is the laborious, long-term goal “excitement” of getting through this intact, maintaining my integrity, overcoming a challenge, and completing advanced classes. It is the exhausting “excitement” of intense focus, discipline, and learning something very difficult. I’ll get through these challenges and I also know that things will get better. A couple weeks from now I might be elated at my experiences and how much things have changed in my favor. For now, however, I’m excited to survive and conquer this challenge. I’ll update everyone with just how much things change over the next few weeks and, hopefully, how wrong I am about how difficult this is going to be.