Justine Houyaux

Research on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

5 Things That Students in Languages and Literature Should Be Told

1 — You are privileged. You may not realise it right now, but you are. Firstly, being a student at university means that you are not one of the 771 million people across the world aged above 15 who live without basic literacy skills. Secondly, it means that you can afford the tuition fees. Thirdly, it means that you are confident enough in your intellectual capacities to give it a go. It also means that you were born in the right place at the right time. So stop complaining. Yes, you have a lot of work. Yes, sometimes the grades that you will get will be discouraging, and yes, society will see you as a spoiled brat. On the other hand, during your time at university, you will party twice as much as in the rest of your life, you will meet lifelong friends and it is likely that you will meet your significant other. Bonus: you will get an education and a degree. And probably a job afterwards. Because you are privileged, it is your duty to work your arse off.

Yeah, I know the quote was originally attributed to Voltaire, but come on! Spider-Man.

2 — University is difficult. Most professors I know would rather be caught dead than admit it, but a good 30% of your work consists in adapting to your lecturer’s expectations, and chances are that they are different from one another. Some classes will be boring. Some professors will be as nutty as fruitcakes. Some of them will be mean. Some will not even be good at their job. Some of the stuff that you will spend hours studying will be seem useless. Some of your classmates will be unnecessarily competitive. You will have to put up with a lot of work and many insane deadlines. University is unfair? Wait until you see the real world. No one will care that you spent hours on a report if there are no results. No one will care that you’re suffering from a hangover right now. Competition on the job market will make your classmates look like clawless kittens, because whatever you do, someone else will do it better, in a shorter time, or for cheaper. But university is fulfilling. You will learn more than you ever expected to if you give it a chance — if you are willing to escape your usual patterns. Be an active part of your life. Don’t wait for things to happen. Be creative. Be original. Be adventurous. Love it. Push your own intellectual limits.

3 — Humanities are not a bucket of crap. People in sciences will make you feel as if your studies were worthless because you don’t monkey around with test tubes or dissect cadavers before lunch. You don’t master the ins and outs of quantum physics. You don’t even the get the basics of macroeconomics. Oh man! Why are you even alive? How dare you breathe? Because you know about ellipses, and anacolutha, and stream of consciousness, and Brontë, and Postmodernism, and Jung, and unreliable narrators. Because you know about history, and poetry, and spelling, and grammar, and novels, and linguistics, and that they all boil down to human creation — and, ultimately, to human psyche. For Pete’s sake, you even know how to pronounce “psyche.” You have ideas that are based on what you have learnt, and ideas that are your own. You know how to write a text that makes sense, based upon arguments that forsee your oponent’s counter-arguments. You know how to work hard, and how to work a lot. You know how to talk to people. Chances are that you even enjoy it. You master languages besides your own. So you might not be perceived as useful at an economical level, but you will always find a job, and you will always know how to make the most of it. And you will live. You will not just exist.

4 — Go for the good stuff. Don’t lose too much time over poor books, even if you need a break. You will find more love and more difficulties to it in Jane Eyre than in Twilight, and the style in which it is written will amaze you more than any other. You will learn more about sex and domination (and its shades, for that matter) in Albert Cohen’s Belle du Seigneur than in any volume of Fifty Shades of Grey. You will find twice as much adventure with Tolkien, Conan Doyle or Homer as in any Dan Brown. Read Joyce. Read Keats. Read Woolf. Read Hugo. Read McEwan. Read Fowles. Read Austen. Read Dickens. Read fucking Shakespeare. Read Fitzgerald. Read Toibin. Read Kerouac. But read literature. Read every day. Read until you know your likes and dislikes. Read until you have opinions. Read until you find that book that will rearrange your perception of the world; read until you find that book that will change your life — then go on reading.

5 — Enjoy your studies. Find your fun in them. Be passionate. Be curious. Who knows, you might discover that you are not just waiting to get a degree and a job. You might discover that you happen to like doing what you do.


This post was first published on my previous blog, Confessions of a Random Reader (now offline).

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This entry was posted on 15/09/2014 by in Blog, I'm a teacher and tagged , , , .
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