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College Made Me Less Independent, Actually

You know, it’s interesting.

We are brought up with the idea that the college classroom will punish us for all our high school sins. After all, if we were late to class, always asked permission to go pee, and didn’t raise our hands to answer questions now — surely we must brace ourselves for a whole ‘nother beast.

Well, news flash, none of that was a big deal. Showing up late with an iced coffee in hand wasn’t the thing that anyone was losing sleep about. 

Maybe it’s because high schools think a bunch of teenagers are still irresponsible, but not that irresponsible where they can’t take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans, right? 

What a reality.

My mindset heading into college was not one of fear. But it wasn’t exactly an enthusiastic one, either. I graduated high school pretty jaded and not expecting much (if you don’t know why, click here). Also, I took a more “unconventional” route. I spent the first three semesters at a community college before finishing the rest at a university.

Needless to say, I was going to college because I was told it was the thing to do. At the same time, I was forgoing the experience that was touted to make it the best four years of my life. 

Because we stop having a life after our early twenties, apparently. 

Thing is, I didn’t mind doing it that way because I actually enjoy learning. But it needs to be interesting. The conversation needs to make me feel alive and not zone out. (Okay, maybe I’ll zone out regardless – but it wouldn’t be on purpose, I promise.) I yearned for lessons that would resuscitate the passion that had been long purged out of me.

And at first, it sure as hell felt like I was getting there.

How It Began

Community college was cool.

I liked my time at community college because it felt less like high school. The conversations and overall vibe were a refreshing pace from what I was used to. When immersed in a space that fosters a presence of people from communities outside your neighborhood, or country for that matter – you realize how important it is to have variety in perspective.

Because I was around more people who weren’t told the exact same things, brought up the same way, or at a similar life stage – there was more intrigue to learn about what a classmate had to say. I had no sub-conscious pressure to compare or compete since we had different things to offer. This dynamic allows you to better see the necessity of building bridges with others from different walks of life, especially in a society fighting like a wounded animal to keep us hostile to one group of people and complacent with another’s behavior.

I would also add that being around people from preceding generations – the ones where your conversations are amicable (Not the ones that embody your drunk uncle at the family function) – brought me a sense of comfort. I liked hearing from a perspective that did not mirror the shared anxieties and stressors of being a young adult. There seemed to be less judgment and more understanding. Granted, it had to be with people who didn’t think or speak like a Facebook comment section. 

Again, no drunk uncle.

In this environment, I found it a bit easier to speak up. Yes, I was still self-conscious about how I translated my jumbled ideas to verbal speech, and my nerves were frayed as I spoke — but I didn’t feel the same pressure as I did in high school.

And at the time, I didn’t think to dig into why that was. I didn’t really have a reason to. I brushed it off, believing that this was my new reality and I would never feel the way that I used to again.

Déjà Vu at My Nearby U

When I transferred to a local university to pursue my bachelor’s, I forgot what it felt like to be a kid in the public school system.

…Until I found myself pushing my desk to work in small groups.

Huddled together in the same model of desks found at my high school, I was reintroduced to the flawed system known as student group work.

Why is group work flawed, you ask? Well, other than the infamous scenario of the one person who does the entire assignment themselves, I don’t believe many of us (In the U.S., at least) have been taught how to truly work together.

I mean… c’mon, didn’t they tell us we’re the nation of rugged individualism? 

This practice focuses so much on finding the correct answer and thinking the same way that we are afraid of being wrong in front of our peers. It assumes everyone in the group is all buddy-buddy with each other and that we’ll have the group chemistry to complete something great.

In reality, we’re all just strangers unaware of each other’s strengths. The strengths that could have made the ordeal more of a team effort. 

It also doesn’t help if you were already on the outskirts away from campus life.

The university I attended resembled high school too much. It had the same classroom sizes I was accustomed to. Most students were my age and were raised in the same state. One professor even used the same wheel of death to determine who would answer the following question. (Think of the Wheel of WOW from Webkinz but with student names)

I didn’t need to relive 11th grade, Susan. (Her name wasn’t Susan.)

Ultimately though, this learning environment made me feel like my socially anxious teen self again. And I did find myself regressing. I started to censor my ideas and mold them in a way that was more socially acceptable and didn’t push too many boundaries. The minuscule confidence I had to raise my hand during the previous few years was wiped. 

I pulled out and dusted off the invisibility cloak I had packed away.

Who’s To Blame?

While writing this post, I did genuinely wonder if I hid myself due to previous struggles with relating to my age group. After all, the neurospicy among us are all too familiar with masking our traits and ensuring we don’t reveal our true selves to peers. We spent years putting on a performance that we yearned to get “right.”

But, of course, it went beyond that.

Western culture takes that of an individualistic nature but wants us all to conform to the status quo. At this point, you really don’t need a sociologist deep in academia to tell you that — you’ve heard it increasingly echoed across TikTok or YouTube multiple times.

When you are all too familiar with a societal structure, you learn how to play the game. Depending on who you are and where you live, sometimes you have to out of necessity for your well-being.

Because my university experience felt like it picked up where high school left off — in terms of how lessons were run as well as the people in it — I sensed an inherent need to fall in line with the system I was familiar with.

When we experience something such as educational trauma, it’s so easy to point fingers at other people for not understanding us. It is so easy to throw our passions away because we were not properly taught how to give or grow from constructive feedback.

However, there are people who want and will listen to what you have to share. Maybe you won’t get the whole classroom — but you might inspire the quiet kid who urgently stuck to the background just like you.

Institutions won’t be much help in fostering growth. But the humans you meet inside and out of it can.


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