It has been a while since I last posted here. I was going to stop posting entirely, but I realised that 1) that would have left things on quite the cliff-hanger, and 2) I owe it to any poor, terribly nervous person who has found these posts before their year abroad to provide them with some kind of continuous narrative, to allow them to get lost in the stories of others before they take the plunge themselves.
The last time I posted, I believe we had just found me at the inception of what I’ve been calling a ‘degree meltdown’. A degree meltdown is more of less self-explanatory: it’s when you have a meltdown about whether you’re doing the right thing by doing your degree. These can vary in severity, from: Should I be doing a degree at all? to Should I be doing this degree? All, however, need to be taken equally seriously. Mine was of the latter sort and the following is the tale of how that unfurled.
Having noticed that I’m not particularly impassioned in an academic sense* by the Italian language or the fruits of the country’s culture, I decided it was time to send a few emails to try the set the matter straight, to undo a mistake. For the pure sake of practicality, let me advise you on the most important people to email perchance this happens to you: your school’s student support office, the undergraduate officer of the school you want to transfer into, and (if it comes to it) the assistant Dean of the college. Let me also tell you that if you haven’t had your degree meltdown in the impossibly impractical time of 2 weeks into Edinburgh’s term (no matter when the term of your foreign university starts), then all those emails will be fruitless. They won’t let you. Not this year. You will have to apply for a degree transfer for the following year, so: 1) if you’re granted the transfer, you will have to do one more year of education (if you’re unlucky enough to be from the UK and not be Scottish in 2014, this means another £9k), and 2) you’re not even certain to be granted the transfer anyway. So you will be left in limbo for quite a while, for the whole academic year in fact. This is the position I am currently in. So my advice is: try not to have a degree meltdown (for many reasons other than this one, which will soon be elucidated). But at the same time, you and I both know you have to do your best to live life on your own terms and try your darnedest to be doing something you enjoy, so if it comes to it, face the prospect of hopeless bureaucracy just as a soldier faces the prospect of a hopeless war.
So what happens after multiple frantic, frustrated emails and the growing prospect that you have to live with your expensive mistake whether you like it or not? Well, your degree meltdown turns into a personal meltdown. You develop a strange hate/fear complex towards the language that surrounds you and is imprisoning you in a country you have convinced yourself you don’t want to be in; consequently, you effectively play truant for the great majority of your lectures and you begin to hate the idea of going outside, or leaving your room even (your poor, delightful flatmates bear the mark of that unfortunate language); any relationships you cultivated early on wither and die and you convince yourself that everybody has moved on without you and that it would be useless to show your face ever again. Aye, the situation is dire.
But there’s hope in it yet. Fortunately for you, you have this one friend from Norway who–completely oblivious to the personal hell you’re putting yourself through (because why would you advertise the fact that you’re a whiny asshole who can’t cope with life?)–doesn’t give up on you. You get the occasional text from him asking if you want to meet up for lunch and–fortunately for him–he doesn’t bear the mark of that unfortunate language, so you feel okay doing it. Besides, you’ve experienced enough isolation in your past to understand that “companionship is where you find it, and you take what you can get”. So you manage to maintain some semblance of a social life, despite having ruined everything for yourself, because of this one kind soul, who might even be reading this now which hopefully won’t make things weird.
I’m going to drop the tactical second-person pronoun now and return to talking about myself. So I put myself through some shit and now I have to deal with the carnage of all that. 1) I’m probably terribly behind in my potential abilities with the Italian language. 2) I’m definitely terribly behind in terms of the work I need to do to produce anything even a quarter decent in the oral exams I have in January. 3) Maybe I just fail this year anyway and live the next ten years of my life as a terrible failure, until some deus ex machina style redemption happens in my early 30s.
I don’t know. Everything is hard. Life is hard. But paradoxically, I am feeling rather optimistic about 2015. For one, there’s not much lower I can go in terms of personal meltdowns, and I think I have learnt from my mistakes. I’m equipped with a renewed understanding of the value of personal suffering (I’m not going to expand on that here because ‘life philosophy’ stuff is always embarrassing to talk about in front of intellectual eyes, and, reader, you probably have those very eyes) and I’m somewhat over the complex I developed towards the language. I know somewhere in me that, even if I don’t want it in my degree title, I do think the Italian language is beautiful and there is an almost inherent beauty in the human ability to speak and learn different tongues.
So although I still want to change degrees, I think I’ll try a little harder next semester, try to get back on track, if it isn’t all too late. After all, being kept ‘prisoner’ in Italy of all places isn’t so bad.
P.S. I apologise, dear nervous soon-to-be-Erasmus-student, if 1) this was a bit of a horror story, and 2) that I’m not just posting pretty pictures of my fun times. But, if you’re anything like me, you’re looking through way more than just this one blog, so there are pretty pictures of fun times to be found in many many other places. I’ll try, eventually, to get around to the pictures though. I have a few nice ones.
*By impassioned in an ‘academic sense’, I just mean the kind of passion that makes you want to sit in libraries for ages and study the reasoning and structures behind the thing in question
That’s a nice post. I think it shows very well to other potential Erasmus students that it’s not all traveling and partying with friends and your post encourages people who might be feeling down in their exchange to overcome themselves and not give up on their dreams. I hope you have a great a semester!