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On Losing (and Regaining) My Identity as a Student

student identity
Ashley Kim
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Published on March 17, 2016

Ever since I can remember, I have loved learning. As kids, my older sister and her best childhood friend would sit me down on the floor and develop lesson plans to teach me math and reading before I was old enough to attend school. They would assign me homework, and I would do it, diligently and eagerly.

I was fortunate to have such a passionate love of being a student, as it would be my main role for the next 18 years. Last year, however, as I put on that black cap and gown for my college graduation ceremony, I realized it was all coming to an end. With a degree in hand and no plans to attend grad school—at least not immediately—my time as a student seemed to be over. At the age of 22, I was faced, for the first time, with the task of defining myself. Who am I if not a student?

The first couple of months after graduation were a whirlwind of moving to a new city, starting a new internship and making new friends. I didn’t have time to question my identity—nor did I need to. I was busy floating in an I-just-graduated-college sense of accomplishment.

But then the internship ended and I moved back to my home state for the first time in four years. I started looking for jobs and, with my friends scattered all over the country and world (studying abroad a lot means having far-flung friends), I had to start building a new life for myself, but first, I had to figure out who I was.

I have always been a good student and, if money was no object, I would love to be a fifth, sixth or tenth year senior, racking up endless degrees, but more than being a good student, I just love being a student. I love picking up a new subject and discussing it with people who are interested and engaged. I love taking what I know and pushing into it further, until it reveals a complexity and depth I hadn’t been able to see before. I love learning from passionate teachers and subject experts.

I just love being a student.

And once I understood that, I also understood that I will always be one, despite having graduated from college. I just have to make an effort to be a student in new ways. Now, I learn from my supervisors and colleagues. I take language classes for fun, not a grade, and I pick up new hobbies to keep things fresh. I experiment with new cuisines and then test them out in my kitchen, and I force myself to use Photoshop to design baby shower invitations because I want to get better at it.

When I graduated college, I thought that I lost my status as a student. It took a little time to realize that all I need to be a student is mindful engagement and the eagerness to learn.

Ashley Kim

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