Two years ago on this day, I sat at the desk I’m now sitting at, typing away on my old computer in a different mood and with a different purpose. I’d been drafting my application letter to study abroad in Spain, wondering when I’d stop feeling trapped in my own life and hoping it’d be soon.
Since high school, October and November haven’t been about Halloween and Thanksgiving. Instead, they’ve given me horrible cases of mid-semester blues. It’s during this time that all of the pent-up frustration and confusion that I’ve accumulated since the beginning of the school year just sort of reaches its breaking point. Well, every year except this year, but I feel I should start from the beginning.
During my freshman year, I saw high school as a contract that forced me to sign away my life. I wasn’t ready to compromise my own priorities to make such an imposing commitment, but it became my life anyways. Before I could object, I was no longer a teenager first; I was a student first, and there was no balance or enjoyment in any of it.
I still remember my days as a freshman. I did my homework on the weekdays, and I slept from 12 AM to 12 PM on the weekends. Even though I hated routines, my life was perfectly systematic: wake up, go to school, change for tennis, come home, do homework, have dinner, do more homework, watch TV until 2 AM (as a sign of protest), and then repeat. If I’d been a robot or a workaholic, I probably would’ve loved my life, but I was neither. I asked myself if I could live like this for the next four years, and my answer was no. By October, I’d experienced two months of sleep deprivation and going through the motions; I began to feel like another dead leaf blowing aimlessly in the wind.
Most people couldn't see where I was coming from because my grades indicated that school was a piece of cake, and surely I was too young to feel that my life was lacking meaning. I mean, what did I know about meaning? Not enough, of course, but I knew enough to know that I could’ve been happier. Most people appreciate having stability and predictability in their lives, but I felt I had too much. I hated the feeling of being so safely tucked away in my books and my reading that I was lost to the world. I wanted to struggle, to be out and about, to see more than just the four walls of eight different classrooms.
I knew that it was my priority to learn as a student, but I didn’t sign up to learn to remember. I thought high school would allow me to apply my knowledge so that it could be in the service of something more, but that “more” only ever came in the form of more homework. While I appreciated the liberal knowledge, I also craved for something more practical. We were always taught what to learn but were rarely taught how to, and that was no longer enough for me.
School merely simulated reality and even then, it did a lousy job. Maybe I should’ve been more grateful for that, but I had focused all my efforts on trying not to lose it. Every day, I heard people complain about pressure and expectations, saw the silent workings of stress, and was under the impression that whether I was learning or not mattered little because a piece of paper and a couple letters--no matter how misleading--would determine my life. I rolled my eyes so many times at hearing these words spoken, I was sure I’d need new eyeballs if I did it again.
Slowly, school backed me into a corner, and I felt the need to break free. I longed for freedom and purpose. I wanted to believe that there was more to my life than just school: more to feel, more to discover, more to care about. As the months passed by, I saw more clearly that my school-centric life was a prison for my brain and a cage of perpetual insignificance. Though I knew learning could be a meaningful experience, I felt the need to redefine that meaning for myself. I also concluded that I was due for a little bit of soul-searching and self-discovery. After all, if I was looking for meaning, I’d have to start with myself and my own life. So I did. Soon, I was on a plane headed for the other side of the world.
That was freshman year. Sophomore year was slightly different. I actually felt a worse bout of mid-semester blues than I did before I’d left for Spain, though not for the same reasons. This time, I was devastated that I’d found what I’d been looking for in Spain only to discover that it wasn’t compatible with my life back home; I longed to go back. Spain had renewed my spirits and shown me a lifestyle that people here could only dream of. There, I’d felt no pressure, no stress, and no need to worry. I loved my life and feared that coming back would mean losing all of the progress I’d made. I couldn’t accept that my adventure was really over, and I experienced new dimensions of feeling lost and slightly miserable. I don’t think I would’ve believed I could feel so strongly until I’d experienced it for myself, but now I can say that it had been brutal.
That was sophomore year. This year, I’m the best version of myself that I’ve been in a while. I’m back to celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving, and I’m finally living my life on my own terms. Although I've heard that junior year is supposed to be the worst, I’m actually having the time of my life. Thanks to my wonderful counselor, we've successfully created a schedule that balances my in-school education with a variety of learning experience elsewhere. Instead of being in school for the entire school day, I begin an hour earlier and leave halfway throughout the day to take part in internships and apprenticeships of my choosing in the city. My learning is no longer confined to the classroom, and it has been infinitely more meaningful. Through my newfound interactions, experiences, and opportunities, I now have an unlimited amount of chances to learn and apply my learning.
Better yet, I think I’ve finally shaken off my mid-semester blues.