Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Schubert's Moment Musicals: A summer? A year?

(Standing in front of Tiananmen, New Year's Eve 2008).

I recently had a Google Chat conversation with a friend at Yale. For privacy reasons, I'll call him Dough. Dough studied Chinese as a Light Fellow this past summer, and was seriously considering going to China for a longer period of time. However, he asked me for advice on when and how long he should go. This summer? After I graduate? This summer and another academic year?
Dough loves all that is China, from the characters to its bicycles, from its natural wonders to its women. He is thrilled by the idea of fending for himself and carving a new identity in a foreign environment. He read my blog (yay!) and said, "I want to have the experiences you had." I am flattered.
However, Dough admitted that he participates in many extracurricular activities on campus and has friends across the classes and faculty. How could he leave everything just to study a language? He would be leaving behind friends, advisors and organizations that will need him.

Dough raised interesting concerns. He at once wanted to leave and remain in his network. Allow me highlight some of the savory bits of our discussion:

-- "I don't want to leave my friends, my campus job, my positions, etc."
Simply put, your friends and your commitments will be waiting for you when you get back. Your friends won't desert or forget about you. After talking with other alumni who had taken leaves of absences, and experiencing for myself, I found that organizations in which you were a member will want you back because you're know more globally aware and knowledgeable. However, you'll probably want to leave them and find new activities that suit your newfound tastes. Also, by being a part of society abroad, you can pursue much more interesting junior/senior research when you're back at Yale.

-- "I want to have the experiences you had."
Sorry, but you won't. I'm not saying this with any sort of pride - rather, I say it with jealousy. Your experiences will be more exciting and awesome, guaranteed. In countries as confusing, bizarre, exciting and insane as China, Japan and Korea, you can walk down a street, talk to ten different people the same question and hear widely different responses. East Asia is changing rapidly - my blog attempted to capture, in several hundred word bits, brief moments that I found amazing. I want to go back and continue being a part of the change. If I had the choice of either finishing my Yale degree or going back and submerging myself in any of those countries for another year, I'd choose the latter in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, Yale only allows leaves of absences with a maximum length of one year. I guess I'll just have to read your blog until I graduate.

-- "I had a lot of fun during summer, studying and partying."
The academic year experience can be very different. Many of your summer drinking buddies will probably go back home, and you'll have to find new ways to keep yourself occupied. You'll probably feel homesick, alone, depressed, annoyed. You'll probably complain often. (Complaining, though, is something we have to do anyways in order to learn languages.) But think of the good things: you'll experience the other three seasons. You can use your solitude to seriously reflect about your life - assuming we all will live until we're 100, you've already lived one-fifth. How will you live out the remaining four-fifths? You can build more intimate relationships with local friends. You can visit more exhibitions, participate in club events far more interesting than the ones at Yale, attend events you'd never go to - and in the process, you can begin understanding your own passions. At Yale, most people don't really allow themselves the peace and serenity necessary to find their interests.

-- "The idea of being a foreigner excites me."
Read this piece on being foreign by The Economist.

Dough, I hope you ultimately make the decision that you won't regret.

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1 Comment:

Kelly McLaughlin said...

Awesome post, Ricky! We should talk about advising via SAC along these lines...

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