Phonetics to Friendship: What I’ve Learned From College

I’ve learned a lot in college so far. Some things I know I’ll use in the future, like the phases of stuttering or what progress to expect from a child’s speech and language development at various ages. Some things I most likely won’t, like the difference between a pirate and a maroon on 18th century Caribbean islands or the process of how Paramecium protozoa reproduce via conjugation. Some things I’m already applying, like how to use WordPress or how the term “nonwhite” to refer to people of color can be offensive.

High schoolers learn a lot about what college is supposed to be like from their parents, their friends, and various media (movies, TV shows, Asher Roth’s “I Love College”). I’m going to add to that occasionally overwhelming mass of information. High schoolers, listen up; here are some things I was never told about college that surprised me:

Sometimes, you’ll feel extraordinarily inferior to your peers. 

I placed into 300-level Spanish. I’m not sure how, considering that the placement test felt nearly impossible at times (I was asked to choose the best Spanish synonym–out of four words I’d never seen before–for an English word I didn’t know…I guess C looks good?). I entered class on the first day of second semester completely terrified, since I hadn’t used my Spanish for 8 months and my class is primarily sophomores and juniors. My professor, Maria, skipped doing introductions, so the only people who talked were a two students, one with a nearly native-sounding accent and actually used difficult tenses (hi imperfect subjunctive) casually in conversation and the other who avoided difficult words but could talk quickly and fluently enough that she sounded like she knew exactly what she was talking about. On top of that, I found myself struggling to conjugate verbs in the present tense. It’d been a while, that’s for sure, and my proverbial gears in my brain were cranking away trying to formulate any coherent sentence possible. I left class feeling defeated and dreading the entire semester ahead.

That being said, I think it ended up being the right level for me. If there are three levels of people in my Spanish class–the ones with impressive accents who don’t pause before every verb, the ones who can hold a conversation but maybe are a bit more hesitant, and the ones who look at Maria like she’s speaking Arabic rather than Spanish–I’m probably at the higher end of the middle group. Which is a nice place to be.

Sometimes, you’ll feel extraordinarily superior to your peers.

The only speech-language pathology class I’m taking this semester is Phonetics, in which we learn how to transcribe all the sounds of American English. We’re currently working on consonants, which isn’t too bad because the majority of the sounds look like their alphabetical letters (m, p, s, z, etc). One of the less intuitive things we’ve learned, though, is that the sound that we usually write as “er” (like in farmer) is technically considered a vowel in transcription. I was surprised by that the first time my professor mentioned it, and I immediately filed it in my brain as “REMEMBER THIS, DON’T LET IT TRICK YOU.” The next time the “er” came up, someone in my class wrote it on the board as a consonant sound. My professor pursed her lips a bit and pointed at her mistake, reminding us that it’s a vowel. Since that first reminder, she’s made the same expression and clarified that “er” is indeed, a vowel sound, probably at least ten times. And every time I shake my head and pray that my obviously far superior intelligence will show to employers, because I have to eventually compete for jobs with my fellow speech path majors who let themselves get tricked by transcribing “spider.”

Today you will imagine your best friends as your future bridesmaids, tomorrow you’ll question that they like you at all. 

The difference between high school friendships and college friendships is sheer proximity. While my friends in high school lived at home and spent most of their time there, suddenly in college everything is social. I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with my friends. I go to class and the library with my friends. My friends and I join clubs together, and some of my friend even work on-campus jobs together. If I’m not with my friends, I probably could tell you exactly where they are. All that social time is awesome because it’s easy get close to people very quickly, yet I also can have lots of different types of friends who fit into different contexts (my friends from class, my dorm, my club, and my job may never meet, but I love them all). I’ve talked with my best friend here about when we inevitably end up in each other’s weddings, and I don’t doubt that will happen.

Correction: most days I don’t doubt that will happen.

Being in a highly social environment is exciting, but living in such close proximity with other people makes me hyper-aware of everyone else’s relationships. Last semester I went through a period of about a week and a half where I would look around and feel incredibly distant and out of place as my friends made an inside joke that they developed while I was in class. I was a bit paranoid that they were all hanging out without me because they secretly hated me, when in actuality they assumed I was eating lunch with my other group of friends. 

The only way to prevent this paranoia from getting the best of me was by forcing myself to adopt a mantra of “it’s all in your head, your friends are actually your friends, don’t isolate yourself.” And guess what? The feeling passed. I can return to shopping for future bridesmaid dresses now.

Your college radio station is worth listening to. 

I rarely listen to music when I work. I find the additional stream of words from the lyrics distracting when I’m trying to write or do math or whatever else. A few days ago, though, I found myself thinking, “My school has a really good Television-Radio program, and yet I’ve never watched the shows they produce or listened to the radio station.” So I turned on the endlessly streaming VIC Radio.

And I worked more productively than I had in weeks.

Needless to say, listening to the college radio station is now one of my favorite things. Because I don’t already know a lot of the songs, I’m not distracted by familiar beats or lyrics that remind me of past experiences, so I can tune out the words and just work away happily. Also, unlike regular radio stations, the commercials are few and far between on college radio. No annoying ads for department store sales, thank you very much.

If you learn how to be productive in 45-minute pockets of time, you can conquer anything. 

I mean it. I used to look at those half-hour or hourlong chunks of my day as a waste, because I felt like it wasn’t long enough for me to get in the zone of whatever work needed to get done. Now I look at those pieces as excellent times to break up daunting tasks. Because was I really going to write my entire 6 page essay in one sitting anyway? (And if I was, how continuously productive would I REALLY be for the three hours that took me?) I wrote this blog post in three sittings: the 30 minutes I had between finishing lunch and going to my 1:00 class, the 30 minutes I had in between that class and my shift at the library, and 30 minutes after returning from work. Each time I had to leave my computer I wished I could’ve continued writing, but if I didn’t use that time in pieces, I wouldn’t have anything done. I could’ve frittered away those small pockets of time watching YouTube or Netflix, but instead by completing bigger tasks in shorter bursts, I have something longer finished without having to carve out hours in my hectic schedule.

Every now and then I feel like I’m in a college movie, but most of the time it’s more complex than that. Honestly that’s a good thing, considering that college students in movies spend ten minutes a day in class (maximum) and I’m paying way too much money to be here for that to be my reality. Instead, I’m always learning here, and enjoying every minute, existential crises and all.

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3 thoughts on “Phonetics to Friendship: What I’ve Learned From College

  1. Pingback: Six Months? | Victim to Charm

  2. Pingback: SHOWCASE — Victim to Charm | The Rattling Bones

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