Up until this past semester, I’ve been a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to homework and studying. I work best by myself so I can spend time tackling problems quietly and looking through notes and books when I need to understand something better. I have spent countless hours at my favorite coffee shop working through problem sets and searching for help online. This has always worked really well for me and I enjoy it. I learn well by reading and reviewing examples and then working through problems on my own, building up different tips and tricks in my head as I make mistakes and then correct them. It’s a solitary process, perfect for my highly analytical, introverted self.
I’ve been asked to be part of study or homework groups on several occasions and have always said no, in part because traditional students tend to study during times when I am at work or otherwise occupied and in part because I just really prefer to work through homework on my own. I’m not very good at verbalizing my thought processes or explaining things even when I understand them, which makes studying with other people somewhat challenging.
This semester started out much the same. I headed down to the coffee shop one Friday night, my first electrical engineering assignment in my backpack, ready to plow through it and free up the rest of my weekend. Three hours later and on the verge of tears, I left the coffee shop without any problems completed. The homework made no sense. The lecture notes didn’t help. The book was useless. All the strategies that usually worked for me had failed. I muddled through the next few days in varying levels of panic. I found some information online that helped me stumble through a few problems, the Help Room helped a bit more. I eventually turned in the assignment believing that it was mostly correct, but feeling very rattled.
At that point in the semester I’d begun sitting next to a couple of guys in my class that seemed nice. We commiserated about the homework and they again suggested we work on it together next time (they had, like so many others, asked me to do homework with them previously, and I’d declined). After my rather humbling week, I decided a new strategy might be a good idea. I agreed to get together to work on the next assignment.
I wish I could say that the assignments got easier and all it took was a little teamwork, but I can’t. The assignments were horrible, and continued to get more horrible all semester. We spent hours around a table, scribbling stuff on the white board, trying to figure out what exactly we were supposed to be learning. We joked that the class was like a game where the rules change every week but no one actually tells the players.
So no, the homework never got any better. We never really felt like we were learning anything. But we learned to play the game and, most importantly, we mostly had fun doing it. We ranted about the errors in the notes, we joked about how incredibly useless the book was, we drew funny cartoons on the white board, ate cookies and took disc golf breaks when we couldn’t take it any longer. The homework may have sucked, but going through something terrible with other people who understand the pain is priceless.
Though I don’t really believe in this type of thing, I nonetheless think I sat down next to these guys for a reason. If I’d tried to stumble through this semester by myself, I’m certain I would have gone off the deep end. Even beyond my study friends, I met so many wonderful people in this class through help sessions, the class Facebook group and just commiserating in the hallway before class. I may be a lone wolf, but sometimes you just need the camaraderie that comes from sharing difficult experiences.
I said in this post that I often feel “different” and a little left out of the college experience because of my age. After this semester, I don’t feel that way anymore. After both my electrical engineering class and the stress of working through a series of group projects, I’m finally feeling like these are my people. After 3 1/2 years of being a part-time student and having my classmates surge ahead of me, I’m finally part of what will be my graduating class. They’re some pretty cool people and I’m glad to be in the trenches with them.