Sunday, August 19, 2007

I Choose Sleep

Last week, we S.J.Ds had orientation. Sort of. It was the orientation for the new eighty-odd LL.M class, but the eleven S.J.D. admits were also called to be oriented. Only two of us came. I have no idea why, other than that the rest were still traveling or visiting their home countries. But the U.S. of A was representin'. But because only two of us came, they canceled the one hour session intended specifically for S.J.D. students, and just gave us a handout of the program requirements. Which may be found on the law school's website. And then told us to come in for individual appointments if we had further questions.

The welcome was the same exact welcome as last year. Our Charismatic Dean welcomed us all, and remarked on how international a group we were, and how many countries--nay, continents--we represented. He told us to take advantage of that internationalness. He said the exact same thing last year. It's true though--until last year, I don't think I was ever exposed to so many people from so many different countries. I learned a lot from my colleagues through their presentations on the law in their jurisdictions. I also learned a lot about the different customs and cultural differences. I got used to cheek-kissing. Bises for Belle! It makes you immune to the intimacy of the gesture. With so much cheek-kissing hello and goodbye or as a thank you, it just ruins it in some ways. I used to blush and feel thrilled at such a gesture. Now it's like shaking hands. Le sigh.

This is what it's like to be one of the few Americans in a predominantly international program. A vague feeling of not belonging in your own country. Surrounded by internationals--but wait, there's a Wal-MART!"--in your own country, you at once see how you do or don't fit in with your native land. And you definitely can observe how they do or don't fit in. I got a lot of "but you don't seem American" last year due to the fact that I dressed with some style, did not wear "trainers" (sneakers) all the time and knew a great amount about Western art, literature, and culture. I had actually read almost as much Russian literature as my Favorite Russian Dude, and knew more ancient Greek mythology than some of the Greek Girl's friends. Knowing chanson and French symbolist poetry only pushed me over the edge of un-Americanness. Since when did not being "Typically American" mean being well-educated and cultured? That sucks! I was frequently offended by their surprise at my not being a dumb f**k. Or by strange compliment-insults to the effect of "wow, your shoes aren't ugly."

Actually, for domestic LL.Ms, the LL.M year can be a year of being constantly offended and offending. It just happens, and I can't explain how to avoid it. It's supposed to be hands-across-the-world-uniting, but it's more like a series of missed hi-fives and left-handed compliments that border on insults. Or else actual insults. Maybe it was just the crowd I hung out with last year. There was a lot of complaining by the oblige-free noblesse about the coarseness of middle-class America, how we cook our meat, what kinds of clothes and shoes we wear....yes, there were a lot of times where I wanted to flash dexter hands appaumy. By the end of the year I became oddly more jingoistic and less-inclined to cosmopolitanism, and almost wanted to utter xenophobic statements like "if you don't like our Nike sneakers, go back to ____!"

I wish the Dean had told us how to avoid culture clash. There are more types of kulturkampf than previously thought.

Instead, the Dean told us to sleep less.


He said that this year will go by incredibly fast (and it is true, last year's went by--there is no other way to say it, as "very" doesn't do the trick--incredibly fast). So "drink it in, drink it up." He said that no one ever finishes the one-year LL.M program wishing they had slept more. Don't waste this year, he cautions. Make friends with your colleagues. Integrate yourself with the J.Ds, the law school, and the wider campus community. Take advantage of living in one of the best parts of the country. See the surrounding area and the rest of the state. Take advantage of being at one of the best universities in America--heck, the world. Take advantage of the other departments and lectures (nevermind that you can't get credit for outside courses and so you'd be auditing on top of your law school load). Explore the arts scene. See things. Live. He said the exact same thing last year.

You know what?

I choose sleep.


It is true that this is an awesome part of the country. And I am glad to have three more years to enjoy it and explore it in greater depth and breadth. But for that one year, it's damn near impossible to live as much as the Dean suggests (seriously, he sounded like Thoreau, and I was half-expecting him to hand out straws as physical metaphors of how we are to suck the marrow out of life) and get all your work done (well) and maintain balance in other ways. I think there's already enough of a party-hearty culture among the international students (the 1Ls are too freaked out, and the 2Ls and 3Ls here are quite serious). I think he should have said "work hard and get good grades!" Maybe that goes without speaking, but it should have been said. I'm all for working hard and playing hard, but I argue that one should laze just as hard.

Get some sleep! I definitely didn't sleep enough last year. I was working too much and was way too overscheduled. Again, maybe it's just me and the crowd I hung out with last year (it is trial and error after all, and with only one year in which you are the misfit in a crowd of misfits, more than enough opportunity for error). Most of the experiences from last year I would like to spit out. You sometimes order the wrong drink. Over and over again.

So I would change the advice a bit. I would indeed say out loud "work hard and get good grades." I would also say:

"Sip cautiously as you drink it all in...take your time to settle in and acculturate yourself. Take a step back and look at your new home for what it reallly is after your eyes adjust to its newness and after you have acquired the perspective of an adoptive son or daughter. Think of what it can be for you. Forge the bonds of friendship carefully but strongly. Do your work, but pay attention to your health needs and social needs, and don't let one set of needs crowd out the other. And get some sleep. Sleep as much as you can very night, and more on the weekends if necessary."

Yeah, I choose sleep.