Graphic by Lucas Olscamp/The Gazelle
Whether it's trouble with a long distance relationship, choosing your major or feeling like NYUAD is not the right place for you, A Word of Advice is here to listen. Your calls for advice will be answered by a peer, with help from the Health and Wellness Center and your RAs, no matter if you are on Saadiyat campus, studying abroad or at home. Some responses will be published in a column in The Gazelle. All submissions will remain completely anonymous. Remember, advice is just an opinion and if you need a health care professional, please visit the Health and Wellness Center.
Dear Johanna, I want to overload next semester but I have no idea where to find the form. Please help.
You can find most of the forms you need on the student portal. The overload request form is under Academics — Registrar — Forms, but you can also click on the link here
Overloading is a lot to put on your plate and means sacrificing the time to work on your own projects, hang out with friends and even sleep. It can be a bit easier if you overload with a seven-week class, because the end of the intense academic period is easier to see and work towards than it is with a full semester ahead of you.
Of course, there are some majors that practically require overloading, especially if you want to take plenty of electives. Overloading is very doable and often very rewarding, but if you can, try to balance your schedule with less demanding classes to give yourself the room to get the most out of all the classes you plan to take.
Dear Johanna, Every time I'm back on campus, I get into the habit of constantly comparing myself to other students. We are always comparing classes, grades, internships, extracurriculars, even how close we are to professors.
I think it's a toxic habit and easily leads to low self-esteem. Comparison also makes students aim for goals not for their own reasons, but just to 'beat' others — or at least, I know it affects me this way. How do I get out of that mindset?
I believe we all have a tendency to be competitive on campus. At home and in high school and secondary school, we were the tops of our classes. We led clubs. We traveled. Many of us arrived here published and having taken college level classes. So we arrive at college all used to being the best. The simple fact of the matter is that we cannot all stay the best. No matter how good we were or now are, we may no longer be at the top of the class. And that is alright.
But competition did leave me feeling a bit inadequate when I arrived on campus. We arrived asking majors, comparing high schools. It seemed like everyone on our little campus went to an international school, arrived with an associate degree already behind them or went to IB school.
Here was I, coming from a normal public school. Instead of an associate degree, I had just finished a semester where I did nothing but arrange photos in a music school's yearbook and enter data into a spreadsheet for my next door neighbor. You better believe I know how to make those things sound impressive in an essay or a CV or when I'm trying to convince my classmates about how interesting I am.
Yet after a while, you realize everyone is just as insecure. Everyone has their own things to deal with. Of course you know this. You know all of this already. What we are left with, at this point, is a campus filled with insecure people who are used to being the best but might not be anymore, looking at each other and seeing how some are taking harder classes, but still getting better grades. Others have returned from the summer with impressive internships under their belt. And they do all this while leading four SIGs, training with the dragon boat team and publishing features in The Gazelle, short stories in The Sun and papers in fancy journals.
I put too much on my plate. I take too many classes. I work on too many SIGs. I promise my friends too many things and burn out trying to get everything done and please everyone. But I'm also invested in self improvement.
So this semester, I've been trying to do a bit less. It is hard and it's a challenge. And it needs to be, because this still lets me be competitive. It's a bit silly and a bit petty, but my goal is to be better than anyone else at doing things for myself. My goal is to be the best at creating a balance. Be better than others at not doing homework until three in the morning! Be better than others at saying, "I don't have time to put another thing on my plate!"
This turns your toxic mindset into something that might help you. In the long run, of course, it would be better to get rid of the toxic aspects of this mindset completely, but taking pride in your priorities and building up self-esteem takes practice and constant effort. Looking at things through the competitive self-oriented lens is a good start though. It lets you recognize what you are doing to look good for others and what you are doing because it is good for you and because you really enjoy it.
What is for yourself? Out of the classes you are taking and the SIGs you are involved in, which do you enjoy most? This is something you can talk to a counselor about. The toxic environment and the competitive mindset are clearly things that weigh on you, and counselors can really help adjust the way you think about things over the long term.
I hope this helps you personally, but it still does not address this problem on a campus-wide scale. On the one hand, competition is good. It drives us to be better than we would be otherwise. It motivates us.
On the other hand, it is toxic and leads to lower self-esteem if we don't live up to our expectations of ourselves. Even before we arrive on campus, we are told during Candidate Weekend that we are future world leaders. Props to those of us who end up running our countries or becoming the top of our field.
But also props to those of us who want to work in a bakery and those who finish or leave college early and return home to take care of an ailing relative. I think we need to get rid of some value judgements. Internships are great, but so is working at home and saving money for the next semester or earning some money to help support one's parents. Passing Foundations of Science is impressive, but I can stay up just as late working on an art project and in both cases, I could probably use some more sleep. If we each individually take pride in what we are good at and what we love instead of feeling ashamed for how much better others are at doing something we don't even care about, perhaps we as a campus could be a little bit less hard on ourselves.
Just some thoughts,
Graphic by Lucas Olscamp/The Gazelle