K.Arch

Being a student, it comes with its own set of extreme stress.

1. Student loans are scary. They're not so scary in your first or second year, because the prospect of repayment is still years away. They get particularly scary in your final year once the 'Are you finishing your education? ...Time to start thinking about loan repayment!' letters arrive and the 'Grace period: what does this mean?' emails start piling up.

Now I've had some pretty good experiences talking with people at student loans... but of course, my loans are disbursed from Alberta, where the call-center wages are probably the highest in the country. I find it particularly frustrating, though, when I have to wait an average of 23 minutes to get someone on the line... all to be told that they can tell me nothing about the elusive 'Loan Forgiveness.'

Call center operator: Oh we don't know how they calculate it. All I know is that once you're done school, they add up all the money you owe and apply a formula to it, and that's how much of your loan is forgiven.

Me: So based on previous experience, you can't give me even a percentage estimate? You don't have some precedents available to refer to?

Call center operator: ...Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Loan forgiveness. That's so nice! I've heard rumors of loans being reduced by 30% once one has finished one's education. But you know, it sure would be nice if there was some pre-existing, official information on this. This was (and is) my quest: since we know the exact amount of money I owe, and that amount will not be changing between now and July of next year, couldn't we just TELL ME how much loan forgiveness I'm getting, so that I can budget my repayment schedule now?

I'm a planner. I hate not knowing. I don't like the concept that this is some secret formula that only special non-call-center people get to know.

2. I had a dream last night that mom was doubling me on a bike in Edmonton, but the road we were on was blocked off due to an accident... so we had to walk up a hill. While riding down the other side, I self narrated my dream and said: "and at that point, I was 18% of the way to liking school again."

It felt weird to wake up to that, because I'm me! The school-loving prodigy child! The little girl who runs up the hill to school singing 'Charge of the Light Brigade' while her sister drags her feet in abject dread.

And yet... after the past semester of chair-related horror, I do feel deflated and discouraged. It's usually about this time of year where I start gearing up for the new semester with excitement and wonder, anticipating all the fun things I'll be learning and missing my school routine.

But that feeling isn't here this year. And that scares the crap outta me, more than student loans.

NO MORE MICHEL FOUCAULT! NO MORE ATMOSPHERE OF AESTHETICS! CHAIRS?! OH GOD THE HORROR!

You see, I take bad grades... personally.

I can count on one hand the number of non-A grades I've ever gotten, and the resulting emotional breakdowns that occurred with each and every one.

The first and most poignant bad grade was when I transferred high schools in grade 9... I had been one term in a school where math was a full-year course and transferred to a school where math was a more intense half-year course. The first week at my new school, there was a math exam on everything learned in the previous 3 months. I got a 51 and was inconsolable for weeks.

Then there was the time I got a 69% on a grade 12 physics midterm. I begged my sister to pick me up from school, where no amount of iced-caps and finger dancing could cheer me... I had to work that night, I was a hostess at a restaurant, and I ran into the staff room crying more times than the girl who was pregnant with the crack-dealer's baby. I had to leave early. I sent a long-winded overly personal email to my instructor begging her to let me take the test again or do extra labs to make up my mark.

Aside from that: even at my most bitter periods of hatred of Dalhousie, I never dipped below my own personally acceptable standard.

Then last semester happened. People should not have to have semesters like that in their Master's degree. It makes you question your existence and purpose. It makes you wonder if the last 5 years have been a waste. In my mind, you should be doing your worst in first year, and gradually work your way up to being awesome.

Did you know, I got the equivalent of a 'D' grade on a research proposal last semester? Have I stagnated? Did my written skills attain a bachelor degree level of proficiency and then falter? What was once considered good writing in 2009 is no longer acceptable in 2010? It wasn't even a paper, it was a proposal for research... 2 pages. How can you fail that? All I had to do was ask questions of a subject. Make a plan to research something. And I failed. The worst part is that no one is supposed to fail in Denmark. I heard it was impossible to fail here. But hey, I'm living evidence that it IS possible.

Maybe they did it to spite me since I'm a foreigner. It's a very tempting train of thought.

See, bad grades and me: they don't mix. It has nothing to do with not being able to take criticism: I CAN TAKE CRITICISM! I love criticism! But criticism and feedback needs to be timely so that I can act on it and NOT FAIL. The problem here is that the professors go along all happily, telling you what a nice job you're doing, even at the last moment: the critique. They make it sound as if you've done a plum job, nothing critical to say, very impressive. And then 2 weeks later, BAM, you fail. What?

Tell me if I'm wrong here, but if you are an instructor, and you are aware that a student is on the wrong path, or is not working towards the proper goal, or is otherwise going to FAIL, don't you think it is your job as their instructor to have a conversation with them at one of your bi-weekly meetings and warn them of this?

Now I feel like I was in a delusion... a delusion which makes me think my whole working method and semester goals were misplaced.

And since I thought I had a pretty good working method, now I'm all confused and worried and feeling the opposite of confident for my final year of formal education. Great. Just the place I wanted to be in. Thesis, here I come!

As you probably know, my capacity for babbling is infinite, so I'm just going to stop here. Nat, I found your birth zen and sent it back... can you find my school zen and wrap it all purdy and send it back to me? I need it more than ever...