They say you need space from an event in order to properly look back on it, to understand the forces that were at work, swirling around you like a personal tornado. But I’m willing to bet that no amount of hindsight will make the last semester understandable. Because last semester, I took eight courses -- 23 credits.
Yes, that's right. When you attend a school with a dual curriculum, everyone's overstretched all the time. But there comes one semester where the word “exhaustion” is totally redefined. Because for one semester, the dual curriculum prerequisites align in the perfect storm of awfulness, necessitating any student caught in the crosshairs to enroll in a walloping eight courses.
So what did I learn this semester? The stages of phagocytosis, which is not as interesting as the name suggests: that Howard’s End is a novel with ultimately zero payoff and a frustrating central couple: that ancient Jewish law classes can get mired in tangential discussions for at least half of the allocated lecture time.
I also learned that you can get more bang for your buck in the coffee department if your buy one cup of just ice and one cup of just coffee and a little carton of milk: voila! Two cups of coffee for the price of one. I learned that yes, professors will respond to panicky two AM emails about research papers, albeit with some confusion and at a more appropriate hour. I learned that no matter how much research and planning you do, no matter how many post-it notes cover the wall of your dorm room, you will still write your entire final research paper on Virginia Woolf and androgyny in two, increasingly frantic days and pull an all-nighter that finishes with the actual sunrise and falling asleep fully clothed. I learned that you can spend a whole afternoon on JSTOR -- which also makes starring guest appearances in my nightmares -- searching for that article your professor told you to include in your paper and march into their office waving it triumphantly, only to be told that it's the wrong one.
This semester, I read six novels, seven memoirs, six essays and a play. I wrote six feature articles, a memoir portfolio, and the aforementioned research paper. I looked at slides of epithelial tissue until my eyes hurt, translated bylaws and debates between commentaries from ancient tomes of Jewish law, and learned the founding ideology and principles of a small group of kabbalistic Jews.
Mostly, I learned that eight courses is way too much for any sane person to attempt: and that's before extracurriculars. A semester like this last one taught me that sleep deprivation feels like carrying a backpack full of rocks and makes you feel slow and stupid, usually leading to a tightrope walk between hyperactivity and misery. I also came to the somewhat obvious conclusion that the areas of study you are least inclined toward will suffer the most. Sorry Biology for non-majors: I still don't know where bile is stored.
Mostly, I learned that if you must enslave yourself for a semester, it helps to have a friend chain themselves up along with you. Fortunately, I wasn't alone, and slogged my way through eight courses, all nighters, mini breakdowns, and venting sessions with a close friend. It was helpful to know that, as I sat in my 8:30 AM Biology lab listening to my professor talk about the digestive tract and make bad puns, I could turn to my left and exchange significant looks with a pal. If you must cross over the River Styx and into the Hades of undergraduate academics, it helps to have a friend in the boat with you.
In the end, I made it through the semester with the knowledge that I'll never have to overwork myself to that extent again. Yes, next semester I'm living the life of Riley: only six classes...