English is not my first language. In fact, on my first day of kindergarten, the only English word I knew was “bathroom.” Fancy photographer Aaron often tells me that this fact makes my success in writing and my desire to pursue an English degree all the more impressive. I don’t know if I quite agree with that, as flattering as it is, but it does remind me how crucial the process of a formal education has been in my life.
After 12 years within the American education system among peers with deep local roots, peers who are first or second generation Americans, and peers like myself, born outside the country, I’ve come to one very distinct conclusion about how polarizing an education can be for an immigrant, a foreigner. Some come to consider school the ultimate priority, regarding it as a means of escape from being branded a foreigner, an outsider. Others come to consider it a hinderance to familial priorities that tend to be much stronger in other cultures. From the start of my schooling, I have fallen into the former category and only recently have I begun to question my blind faith in a formal education.
My emphasis on the importance of doing well in school came from my parents (my dad had this great slogan: “more school, less work, more money”). I grew to care about learning and I can honestly say I also enjoyed it because absolutely everything was new to me–every word I learned opened a new door. Later in life, a competitive atmosphere in magnet programs kept me on my toes. Learning did eventually become less enjoyable, but not in all aspects–the English language still fascinated me, but subjects like math and science fell to the wayside in my mind. Then the time to apply for college came and everyone around me was reaching for the prestigious universities and ivy’s, if not for the desire to actually attend such institutions, then for the bragging rights of receiving acceptance letters from these schools. Still to this day I sit around with friends, comparing schools and gossiping about who ended up where.
But stepping outside my little Montgomery County bubble has opened my eyes to the multiple meanings of an education. Emerson College isn’t a traditional school really, it’s more of a vocational school for the liberal arts and communications. Though there are some majors like my own that stress very “academic” classes, there are also majors that are at the opposite end of the spectrum.
I would often joke with my good friend and next door neighbor Andrea, an acting major, about her ridiculous movement class. She would tell me about her obscure assignments–being instructed to “feel the room” or personify an animal or perform improve dance for the entire length of a class–and I would always remark about how that wasn’t real school. Now I would consider myself an open-minded person, but at the time, I did have a very limited view of education. Her education wasn’t any less real, or any less demanding than mine, just different. And maybe she won’t ever have to write the perfect twenty page literary essay or or have an intimate knowledge of British literature, but she will have a deeper understanding of reading human emotion, channeling it and then provoking it. All because she pursued a different form of education.
This diversity in learning is actually something that I’ve come to appreciate and while I have no regrets in my own traditional schooling, I do think there are some things I will never be able to do because of the education path I chose. That may sound a little pessimistic, but I don’t mean it to be–no one can do everything or be good at everything. I’ve found my little niche in life and am thankful for the classes, teachers and peers that helped me through the journey. But I’m also appreciative of the fact that others have made vastly different choices in schooling.