Alex's Alliterative Adventures

Thoughts on Programming, Life, and Travel

Begrudging enlightenment

I recently had to come to terms with a terrible epiphany. At first, I was disgusted by the idea. I tried to bury my emotional reaction, to silence the self-doubt bubbling out from every porous thought that crossed my mind, but you can only lie to yourself for so long. I had to face the truth:

I love CS at Waterloo.

The classes are excruciatingly, senselessly difficult. The subject matter generally covers a few select topics, most of which are boring, irrelevant, painstaking, or meaningless. A startling number of professors are completely incapable of expressing themselves to English speaking undergrads. The school’s websites are a joke, at best. While the coop program is extremely valuable, the implementation is laughable. It seems that the administration’s only purpose is to make students’ lives more miserable in as many shocking new ways as they can. It seems that every time you overcome one of their seemingly insurmountable obstacles, you’re rewarded with yet more hardship. Most upper-years at Waterloo no longer look at their degree as an opportunity to learn and immerse themselves with knowledge, they’re instead trying to find the best way to scrape up a few more passed credits and counting the days until they can return to a life of sleeping at night. It’s sometimes difficult not to imagine a malicious office worker working late into the night, drafting a plot for your next ill-fated encounter with a Course Permissions Override Form.

I don’t know if my epiphany was a sudden rocket-powered leap into a more maturely cynical viewpoint of the world, a world where life is hard and no one goes out of their way to make life easy for you, or if it was simply Stockholm syndrome caused by my recent traveling to said city, but now I can’t get over how great it is to be studying Waterloo. When I compared my experiences to those of the students I met from other schools and countries, I initially felt jealousy at their tales of easy, well-taught, low-pressure courses. I’ve felt some of that spectacular European educational bliss by coming here, but I only recently appreciated how much Waterloo has shaped and hardened me. At Waterloo, showing up and giving a good effort is synonymous with failure. In order to succeed, or even just to pass, you have to add new ends to the candle from which it can then be burned. Studying CS Coop at Waterloo is a lifestyle; one where free time means a taking a break from the assignment with a Tim Hortons coffee run at 4:30am, a long-term friendship is one that survives more than one academic term, accomplishment is getting 63% on the midterm with a class average of 39%, and a good night’s sleep is when you don’t accidentally pass out on your textbook or in a library, classroom or lab. In comparison to the real world, Waterloo is hell. And when I’m honest with myself, I can’t think of any way I could possibly become better prepared to not just deal with the real world, but to also gain the knowledge, cunning, and perseverance I need to be able to thrive in the the worst life has to offer and walk away with a smile on my face.

“Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.” – Winston Churchill


2 Comments so far

  1. Dad November 5th, 2006 8:29 am

    Your insightful comments remind me of the saying: “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger”.

    I guess one of the biggest obstacles you’re currently facing in Sweden, though, is the lack of Tim Horton’s. Poor Swedes….. Poor *you*!!

  2. Alex November 5th, 2006 6:59 pm

    The poor bastards over here have to settle for vending machine coffee. That being said, the vending machine coffee costs 2 krowns, which is equivalent to $0.30 CAD. You don’t get much, but I can afford 30 cents now and again.

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