Archive for December, 2010

Small fish

There was a noticeable shift in the air that first week of November, as people started to realize how much was sitting on their plate, thinking about their second memos (I spent way too much time on it for a pass/fail class…), what they might want to do this summer (…but it’s partly because I want to use the memo as a writing sample for summer job applications), and outlining for finals. Now that it’s December, with just a few days of classes left, there’s been another shift. People are back from their trips home for Thanksgiving, and it’s time to get cracking. There is much to do—too much to do—and every time I leave the library after a 3 or 4 or 5 hour study session, with my eyeballs tired and neck stiff, I wonder how it’s all going to turn out. Studying is tiresome, especially when there’s so little reward or feeling of accomplishment after putting in long hours.

But that’s school. Now to life and real learning…

It’s amazing how here in this part of New York City, I am just a small fish. I look around on campus and assume everyone around me is brilliant at what they do. It is both encouraging and humbling to meet other Christians in other programs at Columbia who are all so “ahead” in life and people at church whose academic pedigrees make Columbia seem like a safety school (a lot of lawyers from Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, people in finance and consulting who went to H, Y, S, Princeton, UPenn-Wharton undergrad). They tend to marry or date people from other high-power backgrounds, so it’s just a little overwhelming for this little USC Trojan. I see a lot of international Asian students when I study at the other Columbia libraries who most likely not only come from wealthy families (like those at USC) but also are really smart (at least that’s what I assume when they’ve got their math and engineering books open). There are a decent number of international JD students from Asia who studied at top Ivies or liberal arts colleges in the States and have been all over Asia, Europe, and Australia. The LLM students have all been practicing law for several years in their home countries or abroad (abroad meaning not in their home country and not in the US), and many of them in corporate law, so they tend to dress in nice coats and wear nice shoes (especially the Europeans) and I hear foreign languages all the time as I walk around the law school. There will be two people speaking in Spanish in front of me and then when a non-Spanish-speaking friend comes around they’ll convert to perfect English. Or the guy I thought was a straight American in my JD class will start speaking in German to an LLM student. Or in class the white guy who went to Yale will be sitting next to a guy from China who went to college in China. And the guy from China will do better during his cold call than me.

At times, it’s nice to be around people who know how to work hard and get things done. People who know how to set goals and plan and structure their schedules and manage their time and be responsible. I have three Mormon classmates who are married and have kids and they’re really smart. I respect them a lot. People like them help me to man up. But sometimes, it’s strange being around people who don’t have strong connections to home. It’s strange being in a city so full of transplants and sojourners. There’s something cool about, for example, being a Korean citizen and having your parents in Korea, but going to high school in the States, college in an Ivy League, and living and working or studying for an advanced degree in another foreign country. But at the same time, I feel bad for them that they’ve spent so much time away from home that they don’t quite have a close-knitness to their parents and/or their siblings. The same for American citizens who have spent all their years since graduating high school away from home. There are a lot of over-independent people in Manhattan.

But then there are some people at the law school who came straight from undergrad and probably got into Columbia mostly because they were good at taking standardized tests. I have in mind a few kids—mostly Asian American—from UC schools who came straight from undergrad who seem so immature and silly. Despite their probably impressive academic ability, they seem overly casual, unrefined, immature, even laughable in terms of their character and personality. They don’t carry themselves like responsible, thoughtful adults. Instead, they approach law school like they did college—a big public CA college, at that: late night study sessions with an unhealthy dose of Facebooking, getting dinner delivered to the law school classroom they’ve camped out in, and the typical Asian American undergrad social quirks (obnoxiousness, hyperness, humor, binge drinking). There are a number of people in the law school in general that don’t strike me as very respectable…it’s sad that a lot of them are Asian Americans.

Life in Manhattan near the Upper West Side is so different from New Jersey just across the Hudson, the other boroughs, and even upper Manhattan just a mile or two north and east (Harlem, Washington Heights). Take care lest I forget…