Guest Blogs

Back to the Chaos of College

I’m going back to college, and slightly overwhelmed — this large university feels like a different planet.

The great ADHD challenge starts now. After closing the chapter in Asia, after making a bi-continental move, I am back on a college campus again. It has been two decades since I was a freshman and a decade ago since I’ve been a student and I might as well be on Mars. The atmosphere never felt so strange and overwhelming. I am in the sunset of my 30s and back in school.

The good news first: I’m on track to tackle the Ph.D. marathon (and I have been repeatedly told it is a marathon). The key is organization and focus, my friends who have suffered through the journey say. These are two areas that just happen to be my Achilles heel, despite my façade of being organized and focused.

The other hurdle is pure ego and the 180-degree shift of going from working professional to student. I am used to being in command of the classroom, of deciding the fate of others’ GPAs and class participations. But this Ph.D. means a lot to me. It is as if I need to prove to my ADHD self that I can do it.

So I am back to living with roommates, to student housing, to a landscape of libraries, student centers, frat houses, sororities and dining halls. My status has changed abruptly – the only difference is my vintage. I am almost a generation senior to many of these kids on campus, and by contrast they actually seem extremely sophisticated and wired to me. The roommate, a pretty girl with the peppiness of a cheerleader, has her life synched on an iPhone and iPad. She navigates the technology with the ease of a professional pilot. She is like an octopus on rollerskates. Admirable, and what a wonderful skill to have.

The university (or the Mars that I’ve landed on) is a monster with more than 30,000 inhabitants. The sheer size is a challenge since I feel like a kid at a candy store. There’s an office for almost every service available. There are also the full menu of courses that my fellow classmates and I are being forced to take and most certainly the mountain of readings and assignment that will come with each one. Other times I regard the Grand Canyon-sized age gap with a bit of embarrassment, as if I were being asked to repeat a grade. The orientation week is full of fun events, parties, socials, and movies, mostly if not completely attended by the kids.

On the other end of the spectrum I feel left out in the oddest way. My fellow classmates – the ones who are running the same marathon as me – are around my age, only they have mortgages, families, and kids, who have either moved with them to start this new adventure or are finding other ways to support their spouses’ endeavor. I am jealous because I am spouse-less and boyfriend-less. It gets to be depressing.

The father tells me I need to not be distracted and fixated on what I don’t have, but rather to focus on what I do have, otherwise that to will be lost. It is very Buddhist or Zen of him, so I’ve purchased myself a pretty poster of sayings from the Dalai Lama to encourage me on the journey to come.

The first one made me laugh because it seemed so appropriate to my here and now. “Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.”