To be honest…I’m embracing the hand to hold.
“How is it being back?”
I’ve gotten this question almost every day since I’ve returned to William Jewell College after nine months of studying abroad at Oxford. The readjustment process is often difficult for Oxbridge students, going from an independent, driven learning environment in which students are challenged daily to chew on difficult material back to a U.S. system chalk-full of hoop-jumping, learning objectives and lectures, an atmosphere in which students are largely recipients of information that has already been chewed. Many Oxbridgers come back and are frustrated by the way Jewell holds the hands of its students through CTI class discussions, annoyed by the all-seeing eye of Student Life and irritated by mandated extraneous courses such as the ever-relevant disk golf.
So I think it surprises students and faculty when I reply, “It’s great to be back.”
And it is. I found my voice at Oxford. I learned how to synthesize arguments and enter century-old debates without having them first broken down into power-points. But I also came to terms with what Mikayla Roller can accomplish on her own.
My preferred learning style has always been reading and writing. I need to sit and read about ideas myself in order to understand them fully. So I grew weary during my sophomore year at Jewell of professors’ tangents and homework assignments and blasted group projects that failed to address larger debates and applications. I felt that my time was being wasted. “I can do it myself; I can do it myself.” From serving in sand volleyball intramural tournaments to serving coffee at @theBeak, to all my other clubs and commitments, I continually felt stretched thin. I loved all of these activities, but I saw them as mutually exclusive to the schoolwork I was pursuing. While enjoyable, I always saw them as detracting from my individual aim for knowledge. The hand-holding inside and outside the classroom at Jewell was stressful; it was stifling.
I miss fish and chip Fridays at Mansfield—yes, that was a thing—, Oxford’s libraries and easily accessible food trucks on my route home from Oxford’s libraries. Yet, I don’t miss Oxford’s style of learning like I thought I would. In England, I came face-to-face with my own limitations. Diminishing returns set in as I tried to teach myself the mechanisms behind international finance. Meeting with an unfamiliar tutor once a week often failed to inspire me. Ideas that I processed did not have the transformative power that they once had at Jewell. I think this is because there was no community turning these ideas into reality and making them a part of daily existence. Concepts were largely kept in the confines of books and libraries and essays. The sheer number of ideas I could individually explore was no longer motivating. It was terrifying. “I can’t do this myself; I can’t do this myself.”
Since I’ve been back on the Hill, I’ve realized that tutoring and homecoming activities and sorority meetings serve as mental-health breaks that actually aid me in my pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. During econometrics lectures that seem disjointed and CTI capstone discussions that get off-topic, I remind myself that these seminars are being given by individuals who are experts in their fields of study. Class discussions provide opportunities for me to articulate ideas and hear diverging viewpoints that often carry over into caf-debates and PLC porch chats. I focus on the nuggets I can accrue from each class session and recognize how lectures and discussions shape and inspire my own theories. The hand that I once found somewhat suffocating has become elevating. Working with professors who I know and who know me is freeing. The sisters I live with may not understand all of me or all of the experiences I’ve had over the last year, but they love me. This caring community is what facilitates learning. And I could not create that environment on my own.
Maybe I’m seeing everything through rose-colored glasses because the faces on the Hill and the unexplored places in Kansas City seem new, inviting and exciting. I may miss being only a face in a sea of students when I’m unable to hide from my professors during finals week, professors who see that I’m putting paper-writing on hold to engage in Operation bouncy-castle on the quad (should we start petitioning Student Senate for its return now or later?).
The glow emitting from this place of learning may fade in my eyes.
But maybe it won’t.