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You can only be a good student if you also feel well, writes Mathilde Winsløv, after getting through a period of depression.
What is a good student? Is it someone with good grades? That is probably what a lot of people think. The amount of time a person spends studying or gaining work experience by having a student job or internship is also a factor that people consider in this context. But is it not true that a good student is also someone who feels well? Unfortunately, that is no longer a truism.
Most people thrive in communities where they are accepted for who they are. As a student you can quickly feel like you are not part of the group if you cannot or will not follow the conventional path. I have experienced it firsthand.
A year ago, I was hit with a bout of depression. My progress was a slow and difficult process. As expected, returning to my studies proved to be quite a challenge. However, what I did not expect was how fragmented and lonely life as a student could feel.
I had to follow another class than the one that I had originally been part of and I did not feel like being part of any of the student organizations. I felt wrong, because I did not live up to the ideal (perhaps my own) of the good student: I could not manage to combine, studying fulltime, working a student job, being active in student organizations, working out, while also finding time for family and friends.
»Today I wish my tutors and fellow students had taught me that the good student is also someone that enjoys the present.«
I found myself on the periphery of student life with only my nearest and dearest to turn to for support. It was frustrating that there probably were others like me, but that we did not have the strength to recognize and reach out to each other.
I have gotten better in the past few months. But even though I might now be able to work towards living up to the ideal of what constitutes a good student, I do not know if I actually want to. I do not think that my previous life as a student had the right balance.
When I started university, I was consumed by the countless possibilities that life as a student had to offer.
Retrospectively, I realize that during my first semester I was oversaturated with commitments and duties while neglecting closeness and comfort. Back then I felt part of student life and part of the student community at the university. What does that tell you? Today I wish my tutors and fellow students had taught me that the good student is also someone that enjoys the present.
In my experience my fellow students spend a lot of time and energy trying to live up to their own and other people’s expectations and trying to secure their future. They grit their teeth in an attempt to get the right grades and the perfect CV. We are told that we have to be able to create value when we enter the labor market.
»I have worried about how my long period of illness will look on my CV.«
Of course we have to be good consultants and diligent officials (or insert any other appropriate title or position from your own field). But is it not just as important that we learn to take care of ourselves and each other?
It worries me that a large part of the future labor force (and perhaps especially our future leaders!) only know of a work environment that is characterized by harsh performance requirements and stress. An environment where you do not speak about what you find difficult.
I have worried about how my long period of illness will look on my CV. I often experience anxiety when I think about the fact that I do not know where I will end up working after I finish my studies. But in a broader perspective my CV is not that important.
Despite my efforts I will never be able to shape my life exactly the way I want to. On the other hand, what we can change is how we presently live our lives.
Personally, I wish to spend time with the people that I care for. I also want to be able to get a good night’s sleep. I will choose to cut back on student jobs and internships when my studies fill up too much of my work-week. I want the student environment to be a place where we are able to enjoy the day. Like the Danish post-punk band, The Minds of 99, would say: We should not only focus on becoming something – we also have to be someone, right now.
»I have been part of the Bookend (Bogstøtten) since the summer. It is a reading facility for students experiencing psychological challenges in Copenhagen.«
There is no indication that the politicians will step in and try to create a more nuanced understanding of what a good student is. The past few years of cuts to education and reforms have only made it more difficult for those of us who cannot or will not follow the conventional path. That is why I hope that tutors and councils will openly discuss unfair and unrealistic expectations and the things that people find difficult.
I have been part of the Bookend (Bogstøtten) since the summer. It is a reading facility for students experiencing psychological challenges in Copenhagen. There are always people here who will greet you and to say goodbye to you. Here it is normal to not follow the conventional path. Here there is room to have a bad day and still be welcomed as part of the community.
I think that all students would benefit from being part of an environment like the Bookend. And we could easily create such a student environment in several places.
So dear fellow students and all other interested parties: Remember that the good student should also feel good. We do not only need productive super students. We also need super students who prioritize their family life, care about others and express solidarity to their community.
I hope that my post can inspire others to openly talk about the values that they hold dear and share their worries. By doing so we can move towards a more diverse and inclusive society.