Brave New…Semester

New Year's Eve in Ho Chi Minh City (Photo courtesy NamDao)

So 2011 has commenced. I am now onto the fourth week of my winter break here in Vietnam. Basically I am exhausted from all the travel, not to mention the tremendous amount of food I have tried to stuff myself for the last three weeks. I figured I better try to take all in, as fast as possible: the “home” food, the warmth, the rain, the exotic fruits, the incense-filled air, the unique feel of Tet holiday coming…because in exactly one week, I will be stepping on a plane that carries me back to the dry land of Santa Fe to start off my second semester at St. Johns’ College.

Actually, I am excited and a bit nervous thinking about this coming semester: excited because I miss the college and my friends, nervous because the periodic stress from first semester is still dawning on me. It is certainly not a good thought to enter the new semester with. Nevertheless, this is an opportune moment to look back at my fall semester in 2010 and review what I have done right and wrong.

Academically, it was a successful semester for me. I genuinely enjoyed all of my classes and got to learn so many things, some even has great impact on me as a person. My critical thinking, articulating, and writing skills have definitely improved from all the serious practice, both in class and on my own. At the end of the semester, I received excellent comments from all of my tutors (St. Johns’ term for professors). I am happy my hard work paid off, but I have to admit that this accomplishment does come at a high price.

First of all, my social life was anything but lively. As the semester set in, I soon stopped going to swing and blues dance classes, even though they take just a couple of hours each week, because I wanted to finish my seminar reading a day ahead. A large portion of my weekend was devoted to preparing for Monday and Tuesday classes – translating Greek or reviewing math propositions, etc. Sadly, I spent only a very small portion of my spare time with a few close friends. And that was the end of my social life.

There was an obvious problem: time. This ordinary thing suddenly became so rare, especially towards the end of the semester when paper assignments were stacking upon one another.

Wanting to turn in good papers, I often invested a lot of my time in planning and writing these papers. Sometimes the results do not live up to my expectation, either due to a lack of time leading to poor planning, or because the paper topic was very difficult, or simply because sometimes my brain just could not think. And disappointment sometimes would turn into frustration. I then found myself constantly being stressed out.

My efforts did accomplish good results but at the same time I was torturing my mental and physical health. It was a wrong strategy I picked up right at the beginning of the semester, namely that I needed to excel in everything. I realize now that I need to maintain a fine balance between academic life and social life. And this is exactly my new year’s resolution.

For this coming semester, I am going to worry less about school work because the stress is too detrimental to risk. I need an exhilarating mind to function in a long term, especially to get me through the busiest parts of the semester. Also, I am going to make time for extracurricular activities, something like taking a small role in the coming musical. I am going to try to sleep for at least 6 hours a day. I am going to…