Most of my readers know that the last four semester I have been in graduate school. I am graduating with my masters degree next month, and so I have been reflecting on the experience lately. Grad school has been surprisingly positive for me. To understand why, we should zoom back ten years ago.
In Fall 2005, I started college at the university that awarded me my honours BA. The experience was overall more negative than positive, so much so that I regretted that I attended college even after I finished my degree with highest honors.
I think there were several reasons undergrad did not resonate well with my spirit.
First, I literally was not prepared to handle relationships. I did not understand that it is okay if I do not get along with some people, so I tried to force people to be my friends. I had almost never in my entire life been alone with any one friend at a time, and I do not mean alone with a guy. I mean alone with anyone. As a kid, we always hanged in small groups of sibling friends. In addition, I dressed weird. I had never had sex education, so did not know basic, basic sex terms and could not follow conversations in the cafeteria. I was using google every, single night to catch up on what was going on. Further, I had been taught that homosexuality was deeply sinful, and that people who had premarital sex were wicked. When I met people who were gay or who had sex, I had no idea how to react.
For the first two years of college, I lived in a fog, with no idea how to integrate myself or handle relationships of any kind.
Things did change, relationship wise, but that change brought a whole new world for me to sort. At some point in college, I decided that I was over the purity culture and courtship culture. But no matter how much I tried, I could never put it past me. I felt guilty for every romance movie my roommate and I watched. Literally, I was on my guilt bed for watching My Fat Greek Wedding because the couple had sex, probably, and because the dresses were so immodest. Also, I felt guilty for watching movies period because basically I never watched any movies as a kid other than Sound of Music and Anne of Green Gables. Further, I felt that I had to hide relationships because only courtship was allowed. By the time I graduated, I was an emotional wreck because I did not know what I believed anymore, and was guilty that I had had a life. I actually went through a period where I would cry myself to sleep because I thought I was wicked, all the while I was cursing courtship and I kissed-kissing-goodbye under my breath. I lived a contradictory life, and it wore down my soul.
Speaking of not knowing what I believed, I spent most of undergrad closed minded and could not listen to what my professors were seeking to show me. It started my freshman year when I took freshman literature and New Testament. We read “A Rose for Emily.” When I mentioned this to my mother, she told another homeschool mom, who then told mom to tell me that I was compromising my faith by reading this literature. At that time, I was a music major, like all good homeschool girls, and I went through weeks being torn asunder because I wanted to change my major to literature but everything in me knew that I would be exposed to so many evil stories (my family did not read literature other than Jane Austin, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien). New Testament was worse. My professor told us that the Bible has errors, he did not believe Moses crossed the red sea, and told me that Job was not a real man.
Looking back, I did not understand that even professors disagree with each other, and that disagreements are okay. One of my professors was a socialist and had us read Marxist philosophy for an entire month of our critical theory course. I complained and was annoyed because I saw her as seeking to make us socialists when in reality she was exposing us to different opinions. Back to the New Testament professor, I was not just closed minded to the idea that the Bible has errors.
I thought that everyone had to agree with me.
There was also a significant amount of deconstructing that occurred throughout my undergrad as slowly the more progressive ideas began to sink in, which again always left me torn. I have mentioned before that one of my professors, who I had nearly every semester for a literature class, quit his tenure job the year that his wife finished her PhD and got her a professorship at a state university in another state. I was unbelievably impressed. My Greek professor, who I had for four semesters of Koine and Ancient Greek, fully embraced egalitarianism and disagreed with the complementarian interpretations of the Bible. He walked us through several of the chapters in the Bible that are used to hurt women and showed us why they have been misinterpreted or why the manuscripts are unclear and missing words. Further, my undergrad thesis supervisor, who worked closely with me for four semesters as I wrote my thesis, was married to a man who stayed home with their small children while she focused on her career. These kind of encounters may seem minor in the scope of things, but this is what my undergrad was like, being constantly pulled from that little sheltered world of homeschooling and being oriented to a world completely different.
Yet in all this, I did not appreciate college because it was thoroughly ingrained in me that college is stupid, dumbed-down, and a waste of time. A week before I graduated, I told my thesis supervisor that I had learned nothing — and I was in tears over this. Even recently when I was complaining about my undergrad to my grad mate, my friend stopped me and said, “geez, you must have learned something.” When I graduated, I did not want to walk the stage– I only walked because I was getting a special award for my honors thesis and it would be disrespectful to my examiners. And when I graduated, I wanted to burn the thesis because I was ashamed that I had written a liberal paper. (When I presented my paper in front of interested faculty and students, I even had a disclaimer in there about the content– my professor must have been cringing.)
I should have graduated a feminist and progressive, but I just could not. The guilt overcame whatever freedom I had gained, and my academic knowledge felt such in vain, that the progressive ideas went to the wayside. To be sure, I know that it did my heart good, that it stretched me, and helped me later become who I am today. Still, I could have received it much better.
I say all this because homeschoolers frequently point to public schoolers and say, “See, public schoolers do not want to learn.” I think that statement should be challenged, but even if it were true, I, a homeschool grad, did not want to learn, either. I may have produced the grades, but it was motion for me. I could not receive what I was learning. I did not respect the professors’s knowledge — I was always thinking, “he is a liberal, don’t listen to him.” It took moving overseas and having my entire worldview uprooted before I was ever able to listen and receive contrary ideas.
I see the world differently now, as I will explain in my next post about grad school.