Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why I Hate the Start of New Semesters: An Introspective Look

The new semester started for me on Monday, and it marks a few big things. Firstly, it kicks off my last semester in my Associate's program. Secondly, it beats my ass down into a rhythm and schedule that it's gotten used to not having over winter break. And thirdly, it opens that old can of worms that is, in a nutshell, all my phobias and paranoias at once.

You might think that last part sounds silly, but the start of a new semester brings me more stress than it does anything else. And I'm not talking about things like getting lost on campus (it's small) or not being able to get my books (because my aunt buys them online as long as I keep my grades up) or thinking my professor is going to be a dick (because they're all pretty decent people.) I'm talking about big, panic-inducing things like:

  • Obsessing over the male/female ratio of the class I signed up for.
    That might not seem like a big deal, the male/female ratio of a class of students, especially when I talk so casually about hanging out with friends and meeting people. But the first day of class presents me with more stress than anything else because being in a room with strangers makes me feel vulnerable to begin with. Being in a room full of strangers who are all men amplifies that tenfold, even though I've historically gotten along better with men than with women. I feel more comfortable when there's at least four to six other women in a classroom with me, even though chances are I won't talk to one of those women. As it stands, for the first two weeks of classes, I won't talk to anyone unless I absolutely have to, and that leads me to...
  • I hate having to make new connections and meet new people.
    This is where it starts getting sticky. When I go into a classroom full of other people, I go there to learn things and listen to what the professor has to say, and read my Facebook if he starts getting boring. I don't go into class to make friends. So, nine times out of ten, I'll be sitting in class minding my own business and someone starts talking to me and I'll freeze. I'm not exactly socially awkward, but talking and meeting new people has never been my greatest skill. So when someone does talk to me, I have to mentally reboot and think of something to say back while trying not to look like some kind of socially stunted community college kid. Half the time, the response I give out is prickly, short, or offhanded. That's not because I don't want to know you, per se, it's just because I'm dealing with so much stress that I don't know what to do with myself, let alone this person next to me who just asked what my major is.
  • Not knowing if there's anyone else I know in class.
    This is a good one. I work in my college's greenhouse, and one of the things I've heard my professor say before is, "You act differently in here with me than you do out in the hall or in class." When I asked him to clarify, he told me that outside of class, unless I'm with a friend, I'm more prone to flee from groups, avert my eyes from contact, and sit away from central locations and just be by myself. But when I'm with people I know (as well as when I'm in the greenhouse,) he pointed out, I'm more likely to be open, to tell jokes and meet new people. So his question was, why the change in personae? Because having people with me who already know my personality makes it easier for me to act like that in front of other people. My friends already know that I'm prone to sudden song and dance, that I like to tell jokes and tell anecdotes. They don't give me a whole lot of grief for who I am, because we're fairly like-minded people to begin with. So when I'm already with a group of people "like me" it's easier for me to apply that to group settings. It's easier for me to do the things that I do, because I won't be "that weird girl who bursts into song." Instead, I'll be "that weird girl who bursts into song with those other guys." So when I walk into a classroom and see people I know, that stress level goes down by a whole lot, and it makes it easier to adjust to a new setting.
  • I contemplate dropping a class depending on what the room looks like.
    And by "what the room looks like," I mean that whole male/female ratio thing and the friends in class thing, not "this room is yellow and it sucks, so I'm not taking this class." I'll stay in a class for a week before deciding if I'm going to stay or not. If the male/female ratio doesn't work itself out, or if there's no one in my class that I know, I'm more likely to drop that class than I am if there's a lot of women in the room, or if I have a friend I can sit next to.
My classes this semester are a really great example of this. I'm in three classes that I need to finish my degree: a lab science, a social science, and an English elective. Each one of these classes pretty neatly describe all the points that I noted above that make me really nervous.

In my lab science, the men far outweigh the women almost 2:1. But I know a woman in the class who was nice enough to sit next to me. She's not a friend in the strictest form of the word, but we've had a class together before and we got along well and I felt comfortable in her presence, so when I saw her walk into the room, it was a complete relief.

My social science, by comparison, is mostly women with just a few men. We outnumber them at a fairly high 3:1. I have no problems with those numbers, I sit beside a bunch of girls, and I've already started talking to a few of them. It's a more comfortable atmosphere than my lab, and I feel like I can cope better.

Lastly, my English class has two people that I not only know, but that I'm good friends with. And I know these two people well enough to know that they'd get along well together, to boot. So even though it's mostly men in the class, I have two people I'm really, really close to in class with me, and no one else matters. We can sit in a corner and chat before class, and then communicate through our series of eye rolls and grins during class. I wouldn't even consider switching out to another class, because this one is fun.

It doesn't seem like it'd be a big deal about who would be around you in a classroom, but those are the first things that I take note of every semester on the first week of classes. I become a week-long nervous wreck until I can calm down and start communicating with people like a normal human being. In a week, I'll be fine, but until then, I'll be a trainwreck.

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