Sometimes, in college, we talk about slumps. Everyone’s favorite is the sophomore slump, since it has some nice alliteration going for it, but as a current junior, I’ve unfortunately aged out of that. Still, the past few weeks, as we approached fall break and as we reluctantly came back from it, I’ve been looking for similar ways to describe what I’ve been feeling. To me, the semester has gone by incredibly fast, with each week being more or less a blur of running, school work, regular work, in which I would just try to make it to the weekend when I could catch my breath. I haven’t felt as engaged in all my classes as I would like to be, despite being more stressed out about them than I should be. And as I dug into my (metaphorical) cache of fun things that have happened to me, in the effort to come up with an interesting and exciting SwatStories post for you, I found it to be (metaphorically) pretty empty.
And so, as I frequently do with this blog, I am writing this piece as much for myself as I am for you. Through talking to my friends and family, I think I realize that the college slump, whether it’s related to stress, weather, burn out, or some lurking, indeterminate cause, is more or less an inevitable thing. Consequently, I have prepared myself a toolkit for rediscovering Swarthmore, and I hope it will help us re-energize in the time of the semester we need it the most.
GET OFF CAMPUS
My most recent post was one about my experiences tutoring with Dare2Soar in Chester, PA. While it means a lot to me to be able to interact with children in the community and to have the potential to influence how they view school and learning, I would be lying if I said my motivation wasn’t also a little selfish. Leaving campus once a week, as simple as the 15-minute van ride may be, has been really important to my perspective on Swarthmore; it’s help me realize that there is a lot more to Delco than studying, exams, and the Swat routine that I often limit myself to.
REACH OUT TO NEW PEOPLE
Yesterday, at Chester Boys and Girls Club, I spent a third of my time tutoring, a third of my time discussing Halloween costumes with the kids, and a third of my time playing pool with my fellow tutors and the middle-schooler who schooled us all. It was the most fun I’ve had at my job in a long time, and maybe ever, and when I got back to my room that evening, I realized it was my favorite part of the day as well. I laughed at all of our poor attempts at “trick shots,” and even though I didn’t exactly prove myself, one of the other tutors invited me to continue the game with him back at Swarthmore. You should understand, this was a big deal for me, as I often say half-jokingly (but in all seriousness) that I’m bad at making friends. Yet the fact that an off-handed invite meant that much to me shows that it’s something I definitely can (and should) work on.
SUPPORT EXISTING FRIENDS
My cross-country team locker room, as overly sentimental as this may sound, has become such a welcoming and optimistic space over the course of the semester. I’ve witnessed our compliment board grow a little bit each day, until every girl had at least one special shout-out. This week, in preparation for Conferences, we each drew a “secret buddy,” whose locker we showered with handwritten notes, obscure memes, and coffee bar snacks. In college, the time I spend at practice, as well as just hanging out with my teammates, has given me a crucial break from academics that to me is more than worth the time it takes away from school work. And it has also brought me close to a wonderful group of men and women who encourage each other even when things are stressful for everyone.
REDISCOVER YOUR MAJOR
Last semester, I took a Cognitive Neuroscience seminar in which we read and discussed a variety of scientific papers about attention, memory, language, and other topics, and it became potentially my favorite class I’ve ever taken at Swarthmore. The course helped me to (semi) confidently declare a Neuroscience major, despite two years ago having absolutely no idea what I was interested in. While I’m in another Neuro course this semester, I still feel as though I’m not connecting with the material the way I’d like. I find myself getting excited when I can bring up psych phenomenons in everyday conversations, or when, during my job in the EEG lab, I show a participant their brain waves for the first time. I think fending off the slump involves prioritizing the latter academic pursuits as much as the former, and I know I can do a better job of accomplishing that in the future.
PRESENT YOURSELF IN A WAY THAT MAKES YOU FEEL CONFIDENT
One thing people tend to be surprised to learn about me is that I really enjoy doing makeup. While I admit it started in high school as a defense mechanism against my problematic skin and the people I feared would judge me for it, it has since evolved into the primary way in which I prepare for my day. Wearing a cool new makeup look affords me a fair amount of confidence, and I like to think of those 15 minutes I spend in front of my mirror, listening to Spotify and working on my face as a bit of a self-care routine. I have so many friends who would never dream of wearing makeup, or who present themselves in a manner completely different from me, and I think that diversity of preferences is a really cool thing. I think that everyone should get to leave their dorm in the morning feeling beautiful, regardless of what that presentation actually amounts to.
Okay, so as a semi-anxious introvert, I am not the best at participating in any discussion class, with the exception of maybe the Cog Neuro seminar. I’m even worse when the conversation is not in my native language (Hi Spanish Lit), or when I feel like I’m way over my head with the material (Looking at you Organic Chemistry). And in a different sense, when I get overwhelmed, I have a tendency to isolate rather than engage in the cool little snack breaks or fun lectures that Swarthmore offers. (Side note: we just wrapped up Culture and Identity Appreciation Week here, along with the Kitao Gallery Fall Arts Festival, which has meant music and study breaks by the numerous identity groups on campus, crafts workshops, and a bonfire, among many other cool things). But even now, I recognize that I do my best learning, and tend to be the happiest, when I involve myself in both my classes and campus life.
DRINK LESS COFFEE
I apologize, but this one is solely for me. Kenzie, you know coffee gives you anxiety, yet you continue to drink 3+ cups a day, and it makes you miserable. There is an easy solution to this.
A few weeks ago, I failed a Organic Chemistry midterm. Not high-school-overachiever failed, but actually failed. Like significantly-below-the-class-mean failed. Lest you think, like I often do, that I don’t belong at one of the top liberal arts schools in the country, I will say that this is not a frequent occurrence for me. Still, holding that piece of paper in my hands, I felt my personal slump to its highest extent (and I may have shed more than a few tears, but we won’t dwell on that).
I think the lesson to be learned here, if I’m going to make it to the end of the semester, is something along the lines of a Southern football coach’s “Dust yourself off kid, and get back in the game.” But to all the people who have reminded me that I still have time to improve, or that it won’t preclude me from getting into medical school, or that grades don’t formulate my identity, I appreciate that as well. It may not have helped in the moment, but I reluctantly acknowledge that it’s the truth.
And now we have arrived at the point where I tell you, perhaps as a result of the way I’ve been feeling recently, I decided to study abroad in Granada, Spain next semester. Without ruining any potential for a future blog post (I anticipate something along the lines of “My [incredibly challenging and a little surprising] decision to study abroad”), I will say that it has a lot to do with my aforementioned desire for a new learning experience, if only for a short period of time. But at the end of the day, it was Swarthmore that gave me the ability and the confidence to live outside my comfort zone, whether in Pennsylvania or another country, and I have no doubt, that like all things, the slump too shall pass.