*This blog is kind of long (Sorry not sorry). And yet, it still does not encompass all my experiences with seminary. Mostly what has been going through my mind in the past few days. I have so many more things I want to say– so stay tuned and I may upload more that better explain some of my experiences 🙂 And I apologize for the length of this one.
I know you have all been curious to know how my first semester (or, in my case, quarter) of seminary was. I have started, and nearly finished, like 4 posts at different times about various parts of my experience. But, I, in true Rebekah fashion, have finished and posted none of them. So, consider this an update and a summarization of what was in those other blogs—which I may or may not eventually post as an extension or elaboration on what you’re about to read.
For starters, my first semester was a lot of things. It was exciting, uneventful, exhilarating and exhausting. I learned a lot and yet feel like I learned nothing. I met so many new people and yet I feel like I don’t know anyone or have any friends. I flopped from feeling inadaquete, insecure, and undeserving of the blessings and opportunities I have been given to be here, to feeling over-prepared, confident, and like I had found the perfect place to thrive. It has been a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts.
I went into this adventure with few, if any, expectations. Because being here in seminary, in Seattle, is already more than I ever expected, and I did not want to set myself up for disappointment if I expected something I did not get or experience. So, I went in hopeful, expectant, and excited but with no expectations. But, if I had to summarize my experience this semester in one word, it would probably be dissatisfied.
The first few weeks before classes started were surreal. I was missing home, but I was excited for this new adventure. I explored this new home a little, worked on some of my pre-semester work, and looked forward to all this adventure had to offer. More than once, I called, FaceTimed, and/or texted friends and family just because I needed to hear their voices, see their faces, and know they were still thinking about me as much as I was thinking about them. But then, some of the restlessness wore off and I stopped calling and texting as much.
And, I went for my first class– a week-long intensive at a conference and retreat center on an island somewhere not too far from Seattle, but far enough to not be anywhere near Seattle. This experience was, as most of my experiences have been, one of mixed feelings and uncertainty. I spent a week meeting, building community with, and learning alongside the other first year seminary students. I began the week eager and ready to learn, meet new people, and have fun, but I ended the week feeling discouraged, inadaquete, and unprepared. If I am being honest, I do not think I learned a single thing all week. None of the lectures were stimulating, and only a select few of the personal conversations I had with other students left me with positive feelings. A lot of the out of class conversations were still theology based (and listen, I like to talk theology as much as the next seminarian, but surely we have something more exciting in our lives than theology?), and some of them were deeper than I had ever wanted to go or thought anyone would go during an introduction to seminary course. And if I am honest, a lot of them were either over my head in terms of content or just not interesting. By the end of the week, it looked like everyone had found their friends, built their connections, and had refreshed souls and engaged minds. And I felt like an outsider. I felt like no one wanted to talk to me, I had less excitement about this new adventure than I had before (in comparison to everyone else’s seeming increase in excitement), unstimulated intellectually, and like I dd not belong. I was experiencing the most intense feeling of Imposter Syndrome I have ever experienced (and I have not been fully able to shake that feeling, yet). Everyone in that room was older than me, wiser than me, smarter than me, deserved to be there more than me, was better than me (at anything– you pick it, everyone was probably better at it than me), and was more comfortable than me. “Surely,” I thought, “it was simply my Free Methodist background and affiliation that got me here. I must have been a quota fulfillment, because I certainly did not earn my spot here.”
This feeling lingered for the next few weeks as I finished up my assignment for that class and prepared for my first “real” week of classes and the “official” beginning of the semester. Day 1 came and went, and I felt mostly ignored by my fellow seminarians, and I was still feeling like I did not belong. Later that week, I met with my academic advisor and I told him about my plans for a future, my experiences in the past, and what brought me to Seattle. He was unbelievably encouraging and even seemed super excited that I had chosen to come to Seattle over any (3) other options I had. He seemed not only willing, but excited, to help me reach my goals– academically and vocationally– in any way he could, and helped me lay out some basic steps to ensure that I would get, and the seminary would give, me the education I both wanted and needed. With his assistance, I was even able to, after some formal proof that I was not just saying things, get out of the introductory Scripture courses in order to open myself up to take upper-level Scripture courses sooner. I almost cried because he was not only so willing to help me, even though that is part of his job, but he also seemed genuinely excited. “I want to do this for you,” he said.
I finally began feeling like, maybe, just maybe, I could thrive here. This, and some other really good things were happening. I was receiving reassurances large and small. And all the reasons I had for leaving Rochester were valid. Maybe Rochester really was too small, but maybe Seattle would be just big enough. But then, suddenly, it wasn’t. Suddenly Seattle seemed too big (or was it too small?) and Rochester seemed just big enough and too far away.
I went through probably 10 identity crises within the first few weeks of classes. I went from feeling intelligent (and actually admitting it may be true!) and confident and like I could thrive, to feeling inadaquete, dissatisfied, and like maybe I had made the wrong choice. I was frustrated because I was putting in probably 80% effort and I was reading, generously, probably 10% of the assigned readings for the weekly classes. I wanted to do more, but my ADHD, lack of excitement, and overall feelings of uncertainty was making everything so much more difficult than I had hoped. I couldn’t focus, didn’t care, and wasn’t learning. So, I was frustrated with myself for not being able to be better or do better or try better. But then, I was frustrated because I was only doing 10% of the reading, but really, I was frustrated because I only had to do 10% of the reading to succeed. I was following along, understanding the discussions, and was confident enough to write a 21 page exam in less than 10 hours, having read very little of the material, turning it in with below the page requirement (but all of the content requirement) and was still able to pull an A-. And the points I lost were not from the content of the readings. I felt like, if this was seminary, I should have been having to try harder, work harder, and think harder in order to succeed. And I wasn’t. So then, I became frustrated with myself again because I thought that maybe I was just missing something. Maybe if I actually read I would find something interesting or engaging or feel more satisfied or like what I was doing had a purpose. I was dissatisfied because I felt like all the information being presented to me I already knew (whether that was actually true or not– regardless, I barely learned anything, or anything I could put my finger on). Then, I grew more frustrated with myself because I felt that I had become that student– the one that professors and students alike hate. The student who thought they were better and smarter than everyone else in the room– professor included– and who thought the work was beneath them. The student who felt they had nothing to learn from but who was actually the least knowledgeable and the most arrogant. I was frustrated because I felt like that was the perception I was giving people (whether they knew I did the reading or not), and any and everyone who knows me (I hope) knows that is the opposite of me. They know I am the person who wants to learn, who loves learning. I never walk into a room thinking I am the smartest person in that room– in fact, usually I assume I am the dumbest person in that room– and I always look for opportunities to learn something. My life philosophy is: if you are the smartest person in the room, find another room. (and also, you are never the smartest person in the room). So, I became frustrated with myself because I never want anyone to think that I think I’m smarter than them. Because I promise, I’m not. And even if I were objectively, I will always have something to learn from everyone– there is not a single person in the world that does not have something to teach me (or everyone else). I was dissatisfied because I felt like seminary was not living up to the hope of challenge and engagement. And I felt like it was my fault. I tried to find a line between confidence and arrogance (a line I have always struggled to find—so usually I lean toward lack of confidence to avoid the arrogance line.) and I had somehow found neither. The “what if’s” began to cross my mind.
While all these feelings were rumbling around in my mind, there were also feelings of loneliness, isolation, and unhappiness brewing. I was finding it a lot harder than I had thought or hoped to find friends. And maybe I define friendship differently than others, or maybe I am holding everyone to too high a standard (I mean, my friends are literally the most incredible, supportive, amazing people on this planet. And maybe not everyone is like that or is seeking friendships that are like that). But this was more than just a feeling of lack of true, genuine, deep friendship (those take longer than a few weeks to build, after all). This was the feeling of not only being alone but being invisible and completely not cared about.
For a long time in my life, I have operated under the assumption that people hate me unless they prove otherwise. And I recognize that this is unhealthy and inaccurate. But I am also a keen observer who needs evidence to believe things, and more often than not, my observations, and the supporting evidence, seem to point to the idea that people hate me. (Part of that evidence is me sometimes projecting my thoughts, insecurities, or assumptions on to others. And sometimes, because of my love language being primarily words of encouragement and quality time, I need verbal reassurance backed up by action in order for the evidence to be persuasive enough, but people do not always blatantly say “I don’t hate you.”). However, when I came to seminary, I decided to stop making that my default. Instead, I wanted to assume that people think neutrally about me, and I will gather evidence from there. But man, some of the evidence I have been gathering has not been super convincing to my argument against my default.
Being an introvert, there is only so much I can handle physically, mentally, and emotionally in terms of conversation and interaction before I get exhausted or burnt-out and consequently give up trying. So yes, being in a room of 20 people while there are at least that many conversations happening is exhausting, and I definitely will retreat to a corner and just observe without participating as I try to not freak out and leave. So, being ignored in that situation is okay (unless you are willing to step away from the action and just talk to me individually). But, when there are 3 people in a room, and I am sitting directly between them, and they are talking over me, ignoring me, and then acting stand-offish and like they don’t actually care about me or what I have to say whenever I do chime in (even if they had directly addressed me)– that hurts. I felt like I had done everything in my introvert capacity to engage people and I kept feeling rejected over and over again.
And guys, that has happened more than a few times. It has happened enough for me to think that it is, in fact, me, and not my insecurity or assumptions or projections. Because logic, reason, and the evidence, would all point to the fact that these people just do not care to talk to me. And, so far, that has been most people I have interacted with at the seminary. So, making friends, building community, and networking has been hard. I feel like no one cares. And I understand that everyone is at a different place. Some have families, some have other close-knit groups of friends, and some have full-time jobs with no time to spare for frivolous adventures that so often come with friendship. I get that, and I am not asking for friends who will go on photoshoots with me, or go out to brunch every Sunday after church, or get tacos every Tuesday– I have friends like that, and I am beyond blessed that they like me enough to put up with me that much. But I would like someone to at least pretend to care when I talk. Or someone to sit with while we do homework who can put up with the occasional distraction from ADHD me.
I found it difficult to engage in class discussions too, which makes it difficult to gauge what my professors (you know, those people who need to like me enough to write recommendation letters for my PhD) think about me. Because I don’t want to talk just to fill space. And I struggle to talk because I feel like it never sounds as good as it did in my head– somewhere between my brain and my mouth the words get stuck and jumbled. That’s why I write. My fingers and my brain are perfectly in synch and my thoughts are expressed so much better in writing than in speaking (unless I write them down first). In classroom settings, I don’t want to speak unless I have something to say. I don’t want to share every thought that pops into my head, but I also don’t want to share unless I have something I think can be a valuable asset to the conversation– and those thoughts seem to be rare. I don’t want to dominate the conversation, but I also don’t want other students or the professor to think that I don’t care or that it is okay to talk over me or not listen when I do talk (because that has happened on one of the rare occasions I have spoken up in class). So, engaging in class is hard. And it is even harder when you feel like nobody in the room cares what you have to say because it has felt like every time you had a conversation with them outside the classroom they only talk to you until someone more interesting comes along. But, I think my professors feel neutrally about me, for the most part. My advisor seems to want to actually help me, and some of my professors have actually engaged in conversation with me outside of the classroom (whether out of genuine concern, niceness, pity, or obligation I don’t know). So, I already assume they like me more than I assumed my undergrad professors liked me– which was not at all. So, improvement! (Or, if all else fails, I can just do what I did with the few undergrad professors I had that I thought didn’t hate me– annoy them until they are forced to like me.) So, I find myself feeling like I am slipping back into feelings of invisibility and am starting to believe Satan’s lies again. I feel like I am setting myself up for invisibility by not engaging and not making connections, and this lack of connection somehow makes me unable, unfit, or inadaquete to pastor or teach.
Needless, to say, I am ready to come home and process everything some more with people I know and love and who know and love me. People whose words I have been reading and repeating over and over when I am in these situations. Because I am left with so many questions. And I am sitting here reading those words from loved ones over and over, crying. And looking at pictures from my college’s formal (which I don’t even enjoy participating in) and wishing I were there– even though I know almost none of the faces in the pictures. And I am realizing, as I look at all my stuff in my room– the same stuff I’ve had for years, but is now in a different place– that this move I made is nothing like any of the other trips I have taken. Because this time, I am going home, but I am also going to have to return to this new home. And, as that realization is hitting me, and I am listening to songs that remind me of home, I can’t help but reflect on the past semester with dissatisfaction but also with sprinkles of joy and peace and remain hopeful for the future.
Side note: as I was writing this blog, I stumbled across a song that I think portrays my journey to seminary quite well while also reminding me, in these moments, of the steadfastness of the God I am studying. So, I’ll share it with you all 😊