Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I'm different...#3

I wasn't originally planning on writing about this yet, but today I realized that one of my "differences" is perhaps more significant than I had earlier thought.

I never finished university; I do not have a degree.

In fact, I barely studied much in university at all.

Now this is different than my first "difference", about not driving. Driving was something that I've always had a difficult time doing, it never seemed to click with me. But as far as learning in general goes, I like it very much and it comes naturally to me. But being a good learner and a good student are two different things.

As a kid, I almost always excelled in my studies. I did well on tests, didn't mind reading, etc. But homework was never my thing. When I put my mind to it I could do it well, but if I didn't pay attention, I could easily end up ignoring or postponing my assignments. I think there were two major issues - my perfectionism and my lack of efficient time management. I would take on big projects, too big, feel like I had to do them perfectly and when it wasn't working out (often due to bad time management - i.e. watching TV instead of doing my homework) I'd give up. The classic example of this for me was my first class of the morning of my first semester of high school - Public Speaking. I did pretty well in the speeches, but when it came to the big final speech, it got to be too much for me, and I started to cut class and go hang out in the park by the school. I failed that course - I'm still embarrassed about it too this day. The rest of my high school academic career went much better - peaking in a nearly 4.0 GPA in my junior year of high school.

But then I found "religion".

When I transferred out of the prestigious academic public school to go to the small Jewish school in my area, I felt like a burden had been taken off of my shoulders. Here was a place where people cared about things other than their transcripts and universities. And when I started yeshiva in Israel the following year, university study was the furthest thing from my mind. I could learn in yeshiva, progress at my own level, and I really enjoyed it. (Although even in yeshiva, I didn't get particularly proficient at skills like gemara learning, but I'll save that for another post.) While my staying in yeshiva for a second year wasn't unusual, by the third year most of my friends went back to the States to learn in Yeshiva University, while I stayed to join the army. (That is definitely material for another post.) I kept thinking - YU - no way! First of all, because I don't like New York, but mostly because if I was going back to the US, I'd give back as much as I could to the movement that got me to Israel - Bnei Akiva.

So after the army, my then fiancé and I moved to Boston. I enrolled at UMass Boston (where both of my parents had attended) and thought that I'd study and work. I signed up for some interesting classes in subjects like politics, history, philosophy. But I couldn't make myself do the work. It was too easy to not go to class, and to focus on the more important issues like my work for Bnei Akiva or whatever TV show happened to be on. At this point, I can't even remember how many courses I actually finished. Certainly not many.

But who cared? We were moving to Israel soon, to realize the dream of every "true" Bnei Akivanik - to move to kibbutz. Kibbutz was perfect in this regard, because they didn't care if you had a college degree, and would likely let me go back to school in the future. And so it went. But in the end the kibbutz didn't work out. And as I realized that, I started to get very scared. What had I done? Why had I wasted my opportunity to get a degree in America?

But again I got lucky. It was the peak (oh so brief) of Israel's hi-tech bubble. And I always had been pretty good at computers, so when we left the kibbutz, I was sent to a computer training course and found a job fairly quickly - without a degree. On my resume I wrote that I studied at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA. Which was certainly true. I found out later though that some Israelis had read the MA as a degree, not the state. Certainly no fault of my own. I've always told people about my lack of degree the same way I tell them about not having a license - sheepishly but honestly.

So now I've been working in hi-tech for a few years. But I'm thinking that I really would like to get my degree at some point. Perhaps by studying online, at home. I think I'm more mature now, I think I can handle it. However, it takes money and time, two things I don't have extra of right now.

Mark Twain said: "The first time a student realizes that a little learning is a dangerous thing is when he brings home a poor report card."

I guess I've done a little learning myself....