Wait, I’m Smart Over Here, Right?

by shewastheyoungamerican

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In all honesty folks being in grad school in LONDON makes me feel like a bumbling buffoon at times. It doesn’t have to do with the fact that to most Muricans anyone with an English accent sounds infinitely smarter. Though living over here, I have quickly debunked that notion. HOWEVER, I will say there is a prejudice over here that Americans are, well, dumb. I take offense to that, I really do. Not just as an American (or MURICAN), but as an intellectual. There, I said it. I’m an intellectual. And yet, I more often than not ask myself, “Am I doing this right?” This whole, y’know…Masters thing.

But I suppose that means I’m doing it right, right? I’ve never questioned my academic abilities quite like this before. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the American grading system. If I studied hard enough or wrote a good enough paper, I would get an ‘A’ and boom! I’m considered a smarty-pants. Though we all know high marks does not a smart person make. I was in the “gifted” program in high school and I guarantee you at least half of those people still don’t look both ways when they cross the street…or know how to carry on an interesting, engaging conversation. Hello text book Robot!

The thing about grad school is you have to accept yourself into a new level of intellectual elitism. Because that’s what you are now, you are an elitist in a way. You’re being exposed to things only a small number of people who were chosen into your very specific field will also know. You’re going to start writing things in your papers like “hegemonic gender binaries.” You’re going to listen to lectures about subjects like phenomenology and actually get it. Just y’know…don’t be a dick about it. Try to pay it forward and do some good with your new level of smartypantsedness.

I suppose where this is all coming from is the fact that throughout my entire life, I’ve been the smart kid. Always at the top of my class, always with the highest marks, always well-liked by teachers, always an active participant in classroom discussion.  Essentially I am this:

My dear friends back home, CHERISH YOUR PROFESSORS. Not that the professors over here aren’t wonderful and incredibly skilled…they just don’t do the same level of hand-holding in the states. They’re not going to tell you your work is great. They are going to tear it apart to make you do better. They want you to prove them wrong. What a concept!

Feeling utterly defeated after my one-on-one critique of the first draft of a major essay…I took some time to let it go a bit. To step away and accept that I really hadn’t done my best. I can in fact do better. It’s rare that anything we create will ever be wholly perfect. In terms of intellectual pursuits (and in life), we should as Beckett tells us, “Learn how to fail better.” (I refuse to include an in-text citation for that quote. REFUSE!) Slowly but surely, I think grad school is doing that for me. It’s knocking me off of my high horse, it’s telling me I don’t know everything, I’m not at the top of my field…yet. I just have to keep wanting more. I have to want to do and be better. It’s pushing me. At the end of the day, I’m human and I can only be pushed so far. So I nudge my books to the other side of the bed and sleep. That’s right, these days…I’m sleeping with Michel Foucault, Augusto Boal and Judith Butler. Sassy!

For now, this is essentially my reality:

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