Today is the annual Law Student Mental Health Day. The Law Students Association (BC Law’s student government) is hosting several events throughout the day through their Student Wellness Committee. Also, in recognition of the tough times that most of us will experience over the course of our three years here, we asked some of our bloggers to share times when they felt out of place, and how they reacted. If you want to share your story about feeling out of place with us, send a few lines to firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the social media hashtag #fittingin.
Where to begin? Parties where the music is so loud that conversation is impossible and I end up standing awkwardly against a wall. Repping purple at the recent Holy Cross – BC football game as my alma mater lost to my new law school 62-14. The first four months of undergrad, going from a small public high school in a blue-collar town to a college where the Vineyard Vines whale was practically the mascot and the parking lot looked like an Audi dealership. My lack of a social life in those early days meant I had time to read USA Today and the New York Times cover-to-cover every day. I was quite well-informed.
It’s funny that the first “out-of-place” moments to come to mind seem so innocent, so easily fixable by some better dance moves, a maroon undershirt, a conversation starter or two. The difficult moments, those that hold deeper and more foundational struggles and challenges, are thing like immersion trips to Appalachia, trying in vain to maintain a relationship with a grandfather with Alzheimer’s, and volunteering for a year with indigent clients in New Orleans. As exhausting as those experiences were, and as emotional and nervous and aware of my Northern accent as I was, they don’t make me cringe. I guess that’s the difference between out-of-place and out-of-belonging, between being uncomfortable and being lost. I knew those immersion trips would change everything, my family would emerge stronger, and the work I was doing in New Orleans would alter the trajectory of my life. It might not make those experiences any easier in the moment, but in hindsight there is peace in purpose and community. I’m out-of-place all the time, but I’ve been blessed to find belonging when it matters. I’ll take the 40-point loss any day.
The first time my grandmother, who lived her whole life in Korea, came to visit my family in Cambridge, I was probably 7 or 8. I did not speak Korean; she did not speak English.
I remember going to the grocery store around the corner with her, and being embarrassed when she froze and panicked in front of the cashier. She mumbled something in Korean that I could not understand as she handed me a bundle of cash that my mother had given her to spend. I gathered that she wanted me to pay the patient cashier. I don’t think my grandmother understood what “Come on! Let’s go!” meant. But she probably gathered from my pink face that I was irritated.
When I feel out of place, I think of my grandmother. I think of why she traveled to the opposite side of the globe, only to be surrounded by unfamiliar faces speaking in a language that made no sense to her– a woman who, despite being illiterate until she learned how to read and write at church in her mid-50s, raised three daughters and two sons by herself after her husband passed away at a relatively young age. She left her home seeking something she loved – a purpose that allowed her to overcome her fears and anxieties. She’s the same as you (and me–love you, grandma. And sorry for, well, acting like a brat.). Perhaps you may never feel “at home” here, but I hope you find what you came looking for.
I felt extremely out of place my first semester of law school. I’ve always identified myself as a hard worker, but never as being particularly smart. I suppose compared to the general population I’m quite intelligent; hard work can not compensate for everything, but because I struggled academically for most of my high school and undergraduate career, I’ve always labeled myself as average. This never bothered me until I found myself in a room full of over achievers who cared very much about keeping their top status. This point was really driven home every time a professor or well meaning dean would point out that “all” of us were used to being the top students.
I did not fit into the all. I have never been the top student in any academic situation I’ve been in. Even in my last two years of undergrad were I did pull top marks, my academic probation GPA from the semesters prior kept my GPA at a high median. I felt out of place because not only was I not a high achiever, but I didn’t really desire to be one. The median at BC was quite attractive to me because of the fact that median students still got very lucrative job offers. Still, being around a section worth of people who were stressing over A’s made me feel as if I wasn’t taking law school seriously enough.
Ultimately I received the grades I needed to accomplish my goals. Honestly, many of the people who were used to being the top students received grades similar to mine. Your undergrad performance does not correlate with your law school performance, and your work ethic, not the emphasis you put on your grades, is what gets you through. In many ways I think I’m luckier than the average law student, because I have experienced failure. The energy that many people spend on worrying about their grades, I spend on doing my best to push forward. I’m certainly not aiming for B’s, but they do not scare me either. At the end of my first semester, I realized my grades were not much different than everyone else’s. Thanks to the curve most people did not get A’s, but most people didn’t fail or do poorly either. As a result of this, I felt much less out of place going into my second semester, though I still shied away from talking about grades and expectations. You really do have to run your own race in law school.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t worry about feeling out of place before heading to law school. I was moving to a different city, leaving a steady job, and beginning a completely new chapter. Many people have told me that taking time in between college and law school was a smart decision, but I feared that this three-year gap would hinder my relationships with my future classmates.
On top of that, my decision to go back to school also made me feel out of place with my college and high school friends. For those who decided to pursue graduate school, most were already finished with their programs. And for those who never wanted to be back in a classroom, they could not understand why I wanted to return to reading textbooks and writing papers.
Needless to say, August was a pretty strange month. I was caught in between two chapters of my life, and wasn’t sure how to navigate the transition. Feeling out of place is never fun, but it pushed me to step outside my comfort zone during the first few weeks of law school, and possibly convinced a few of my non-law school friends to study for the LSAT (or at least visit Boston).
During a slow middle school summer, I spent a few weeks in Barcelona visiting my dad, who lived there. He had work to do, and I was still too young to move around and entertain myself solo in the city. I ended up at a summer camp, hanging out with kids who were from Barcelona. This alone was intimidating to me. I had only lived in Barcelona for a year when I was five, the rest of my life I’d spent in Boston.
Although I spoke decent Catalan, I wasn’t anywhere near the level to pass as a local at camp. So I felt out of place pretty quickly. These kids went to school together, grew up in nearby neighborhoods, and had little interest in a stranger from the US. To make things worse, we spent a lot of time there playing soccer. And as stereotypical as it sounds, all the Catalan kids were damn good. I was not. We were doing soccer drill relays, and the team I was playing for got mad at me for having zero dexterity with my feet. This was more than I could handle, and I ended up teary eyed in the corner. One of the counselors tried to console me, but no amount of forced comfort could have given me the soccer skills I needed to fit in and make it through those weeks.
In the end, I put my head down and got through most of the rest of camp. The kids were a little easier on me. I begged my dad to let me miss a few days, and he gave in. Sometimes you put your head down and grind through; sometimes you cut your losses and give up. Usually it’s a little bit of both.
Marcus Nemeth is a 3L student and the Law Student Association President. He can be reached at email@example.com.