No one likes to come off as stupid (or not smart enough) at a gathering, big or small.
Right now, you might be disagreeing with my statement and telling yourself or whoever is sitting beside you, “That’s not true! I don’t mind being ignorant because not everyone knows everything. At least, I get rid of my ignorance by being a good listener!” I used to tell myself that too. But if I was being really honest, I knew that whenever I heard a huge academic term like “heteronormative” or “historicize” and didn’t know what it meant in the given context, for a split second I would feel quite stupid. Now imagine the feeling when you start dating someone from the field of academia!
That feeling of stupidity increased exponentially whenever I was around my partner’s friends. They would talk about microagressions, cultural zeitgeist, postmodernism, cryptic eroticism, antiquity, etc., and I would nod along with a smile on my face, all the while trying to wrap my head around the concepts they were talking about. Yeah, I have been through many a Joey Tribbiani moment.
You know where it gets worse, though? When you work on a university magazine with intelligent and witty undergraduates who seem to be fluent in the same rhetoric. They could start a conversation on social issues that intersect across myriad identities with a panache that would put many members of the Congress to shame. It was not just awareness of the times they were living in; it was the eloquent way they could sum up their thoughts using the words that the situation warranted. It is as inspiring as it is intimidating.
And this is where I feel cheated with my undergraduate education. I had decided I wanted to be a journalist when I was in high school. I followed the straight and narrow path during my undergraduate degree to achieve that goal. And no one stopped me to help me realize that there were other things I could learn on the way. For my professional parents, law, medicine and engineering were the careers for winners. To get them to allow me to pursue journalism was hard enough: imagine telling them I wanted to take up gender studies as even a minor. Queer theory was OUT OF THE QUESTION!
Thankfully, though, having met a group of sharp-as-a-whip undergrads and dating a very intelligent academic opened up opportunities for me at graduate school. As a business student, I could not use my credits for classes at the Hall of Languages. After all, if I want to run a successful business in the future, I have to learn about analyzing financial statements and conducting effective market research. So, even with the limitations I faced, I realized I could sign out books about marginalized sexualities and genders from the library, talk to my personal academic about the hypersexualized representation of black men, and chat with my other academic friends about the chauvinistic depictions of women in the media. In hindsight, I realize that to understand myriad identities and their history will probably make me better at my craft.
To engage in these conversations and immerse myself in issues that interest me makes me happier—if not less stupid. I have a long way to go, though, before I can actually be even as smart as the undergrads I spoke about.
To move out of our comfort zone and learn something beyond our immediate curriculum is an important ingredient for our personal and professional growth. It helps broaden horizons and creates perspectives that we hadn’t encountered before. It creates a nuanced thinking process. And graduate school presents the perfect opportunity for all that. Thankfully.
Aishik Barua is a 2nd-year MBA student concentrating on media marketing. He is particularly in love with TV shows (from The Sopranos to The Flash), books (from The Little Prince to the Harry Clifton series) and a myriad number of modern era conspiracy theories. When he is not screwing his eyes at some website’s Google Analytics page, he could be found doodling with his sketch pencils, cooking a new dish or simply engaging in general goofiness.