01 December, 2015

My Stressful Semester

Right now I should be doing homework, but I've been wrapped in so much homework-related stress the past few days that I need to get away from it. What better way to do that than to complain about it on my blog!

I once told someone, while reminiscing about my amazing college experience, that I was good at being at student. As a college student, I knew what kind of work was expected of me and when, I knew (more or less) how to manage my time, and I enjoyed the college learning process. At my alma mater Mount Holyoke, each semester followed a comforting pattern: I took four classes per semester, each of which met twice a week (with very few exceptions) for a total of 10 hours of class time per week. Outside of those 10 class hours, I could devote pretty much all of my remaining time which wasn't spent eating or sleeping to my homework. Sometimes (OK, very often) I complained about this, but in general I was capable of completing my work in the time I had.

Here in my Masters program in Germany, things are not falling into place the way they did at Mount Holyoke, and I'm beginning to question my studying skills and even my enjoyment of being a student. For comparison, the classes here only meet once a week instead of twice, but I have to take way more of them. The consistency of the workload I could depend on at Mount Holyoke doesn't exist here, evidenced by the fact that last semester I took seven classes and this semester I'm taking 13. (To make that contrast even more startling, if there hadn't been scheduling conflicts I would be taking 16 classes this semester.)  As a result, I spend between 15 to 20 hours per week in class, depending on the week (a few of my classes are every other week).

So not only am I spending up to twice as many hours per week in class, there's also something else that takes up more of my time than I anticipated: housework and feeding myself. When I was at Mount Holyoke the only housework I had to do was keeping my room relatively clean and doing laundry. Everything else, like cleaning of bathrooms and common spaces, cooking, and grocery shopping, was done by someone else. Here I live in my own one-room apartment and have to do all the work that goes along with that, which takes up way more time than I anticipated.

Once I'm finally home from hours of classes and I'm done with all my cooking and cleaning, it's time to sit down and do some homework. But here I'm faced with a further dilemma. How do I prioritize my work when there's something to do for almost every one of my 13 classes? Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of possibilities that I end up not doing anything. And once I do start something, I sometimes can't focus on it because I think I should be doing something else. It doesn't help that for most of the studying I should be doing there isn't a deadline or anything to hand in, so it's easy to tell myself I can just ignore it if I'm feeling too overwhelmed.

That's where things are at right now: I'm stressed and overwhelmed most of the time, and I'm putting things off more and more. When I list the assignments that I actually have to hand in, it doesn't seem like I have a lot to do, but the list of possible things I could be doing feels like a tidal wave blocking out the sun. It just gets bigger and bigger the longer I ignore it, and sooner or later it's going to break over my head. Even adding a seemingly small and inconsequential task to my to-do list, like going through the emails that have backed up in my inbox, can make that wave feel insurmountable.

I'm beginning to understand why many, if not most, German students take longer than the "normal" length of time to finish a degree. In my opinion the German system is set up in a way that makes it very hard to finish on time and actually learn anything in the process. If a student here at my university really wanted to learn everything in every class and fully absorb it, it would take much longer than two years to finish. An option for me would be to simply do that: take longer than two years to finish and not be so stressed out all the time. But I don't want to do that because, even after less than a year, I'm already extremely frustrated with being in a long-distance relationship again. The emotional toll that it takes on me every day is really not helping my stress levels or my happiness. I want to finish my degree as quickly as possible so that I can finally be with Maxim for real.

In general, I'm not enjoying the university experience here in Germany as much as I did at Mount Holyoke. I feel more comfortable socially than I did at this point in my first year at Mount Holyoke, but the academic side is falling short. I can't seem to keep up with all of the things I have to study, my grip on my insane number of classes is tenuous, and I don't even enjoy the subject matter of many of the classes I'm taking. I've even had moments where I question whether I want to finish this degree, even though logically I know that finishing is my best chance of making something of myself later on. I know I should stick it out, but it's not very motivating to feel like I'm not good at being a student anymore.

What I really need is Christmas vacation. Can we start that now, please?

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