On May 11, I was moving out the last couple of boxes from my dorm room to the public storage unit I rented with my friends. Being a freshman with no cars, I had to use Uber to move around. That day, I met Alexander.
He is a chatty man in his mid-fifties. He was wearing a baseball cap and had a full beard around his chin. Contrast to his large and stout body, he has a gentle and friendly voice. I was never one of those chatty Uber customers, but Alexander was very enthusiastic so I started talking to him about college and WashU. We discussed a lot of things, from broken pipes in the storage units to income inequality . But there is one little thing he said about his daughter that stuck with me.
As any other proud parent, Alexander was telling me about his daughter’s college career and was applying for different internships and that she has already taken a semesters off as a gap before college. He asked his daughter why she didn’t just take the whole year off as a gap year, and she replied that she doesn’t what to do with her time if she doesn’t go to school. My first reaction in my head was: “yeah, definitely. I wouldn’t know what to do either. I just wanted to go to college.”
Alexander then said: “But here is what I think: the more you don’t know what to do with your time, the less you should go to school. From my understanding, you know, after high school, you don’t have to follow the same trajectory as everybody else any more. There is no telling what you should do next. If you don’t know what to do with your time, that means you haven’t figure out what you want yet. And just going to college doesn’t help you figure that out, you know. You shouldn’t go to college because it’s the easy way out. “
That was refreshing to me partly because it was my first time hearing someone saying college is the “easy way out”, partly because of my unfamiliarity with “not going to college.” I don’t know why I was surprise to hear that college is the easy way out, because it somehow is. Most of us just go to classes, finish our homework, maybe go to a couple of club activities and such, and of course the degree of difficulties varies, but at least we don’t have to deal with any racist boss, mortgages, bills, or medical insurance yet. Other than that, coming from China, going to college is the ONLY way out.
Of course I know of people who have taken a gap year or are taking a gap year right now. But the idea of gap year is really a novelty to me. There is always this stigma in China that if a high school kid doesn’t end up going to a traditional college at the end of his high school career, he is either dumb or financially incapable. Something about the tough competition or the resource scarcity, a college diploma is as essential as the paper you use when you walk into that interview.
Moreover, I think it’s really hard to not go to school without knowing what you like. I have never thought about not going to college. Really, what AM I going to do with my time? “The more you don’t know what to do with your time, the less you should go to school?” It definitely makes some sense but that sounds so difficult. It just got me thinking that what would I be doing if going to college is the last thing I wanted to do? Seriously, what would I be doing? Am I really just following the trajectory? Alexander might be pushing it a little, but I was caught off guard.
Seriously, what would I be doing?