Daigaku Z: Crash Burn

Daigaku Z:

Daigaku Z is a weekly column about what it’s really like to study the Japanese language and culture at a major university. Z is enrolled as a student at the University of Pittsburgh East Asian Language and Literature department after an over ten-year career in the information technology industry, and is pursuing a second degree with the aims of being a translator. This is the story of that degree.

I missed last week, which I’m sure you noticed. This past week was Spring Break, as well, and I was very tempted to say that there wasn’t going to be anything worth talking about this week, either. But the convergence of the two led me to pass on a cautionary tale, and the timeliness of the coincidence, as it turns out, was a pretty good motivator to tell it. Let me say this, though: as much as I want to say that missing a column “wasn’t my fault”, and as much as I hope the following tale will back me up on that assertion, it simply isn’t true. As I’m sure you’re about to see.

So on Thursday I had a major mid-term exam for Japanese Culture and Civilization, and of course I hadn’t prepared much. The column two weeks ago, on Oda Nobunaga, was as much studying as I’d done prior to that point. So I spent Wednesday evening on my couch, scribbling through a test prep worksheet and trawling through the books trying to find the answers. I am not great at focused studying. It sounds a little too audacious to say this, but up until I was in college I never really needed it; high school was fairly easy, and only once I was in some of the less-directly-related-to-my-major general education requirements at Gannon did I really need to sit down and hit the books heavily. Studying, like pretty much everything, is a skill, and students need to both learn it and stay in practice. I hadn’t. I fully expect I’m going to pay a heavy price for not doing either of those.

That would have been fine, if not for the fact that on Friday I had the first draft of a major research paper due as well, for Pragmatics of Japanese. The professor was, of course, very lenient– the deadline was midnight on Friday– but it was still a bit moe pressure than I had initially anticipated, considering I had been under the impression it wouldn’t be due until after Spring Break. I was, as you can tell, wrong, and I had that stress pushing against me in the back of my mind. I was able to get the paper done, of course, and I think I did fairly well. 

But at the same time, the stress of getting it done was wearing me down much faster than normally, and by the end of the day on Friday I was a shivering, painful mess. I ached, I felt like I was going to throw up, my blood sugar was spiked through the roof, I had a horrible fever, and I could barely stay upright waiting for the bus home. When I finally did get home, I collapsed into bed, where I would fail to sleep for more than two consecutive hours. I didn’t fully recover until late Monday morning.

Believe it or not, this was not the first time I’d had a metaphorical total system crash due to classwork. The first time around, in junior year, there was an end-of-term project that seriously threatened my sanity and health. I had tried to be more proactive about that one, locking up my video game consoles until it was done, but by the end of the project I was feverish and sleepless. It was so bad that I had a full-on “lost weekend”– I literally do not remember the two-day span between turning in the project and waking up at home. That was fifteen years ago, long before I ever touched a drop of alcohol, and it scared the hell out of me.

In case you think I’m telling you this story to garner sympathy, I freely admit that 99% of what happened was the result of extremely poor time management on my part. I have time each day where I can do class reading, or where I can listen to Japanese-language tutorials to keep in practice. But instead my bus commute is usually filled with me playing games on my phone or just idly surfing. There’s a ton of things I could have done better, and a ton of things which I’m going to have to do better. After this weekend I really don’t want a repeat of this situation.

But I’m telling you this story because, quite frankly, stress can kill you. If you’re overstressed, your immune system loses its effectiveness. Stress can impair your judgment in much the same way alcohol can. If you are too overstressed, something’s gotta give, and unfortunately whatever snaps in you is highly unlikely to be something you can do without. You might get a cold. You might lose some hair. You might have a depressive episode. Whatever happens, it’s not going to be pretty, and it’s not going to be easy or quick to fix.

Fortunately, there’s ways to manage yourself so that you don’t ever have to encounter these do-or-die situations. Give yourself plenty of time to work on assignments; work ahead if you can. Take frequent breaks, but keep them short and controlled. Don’t wreck your sleep schedule. Reward yourself when you make progress. Work with a friend to collaborate and ease the load. Go somewhere new to work if you feel distracted at home or in your usual spot. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for more time if you honestly feel overwhelmed. Talk to your professors and teachers, explain your situation, and accept their input. 

College is fun. I honestly love being here again. But don’t let a few easy classes early on fool you into thinking it’s a walk in the park. This is the most difficult work you’ll do in your educational career, and for good reason: if it’s hard now, facing it out there in the real world will be nothing you haven’t overcome already. But you can’t take it on if you’re still sick from the last battle. Take care of yourself, and I’ll catch you next week. I promise.