«Party tonight. Are you coming?»
«Where are you?»
The messages come in, but I don’t answer. Then I would have to admit how sad the situation has become. It’s Friday night, and I’m alone in the reading room again. A little before 10 PM the guard comes like usual to turn off the lights. He looks at me a bit longer than usual, as though he’s thinking: wasn’t that guy sitting here at closing time yesterday too? And the day before that? And the day before that?
The Monday after I’m sitting in a bomb shelter bunker in the basement of Georg Sverdrups building again. There’s no cell service there.
Last semester I took 80 credits, nearly three times the normal course load. I had just moved back from six months of living in a mountain hut in remote Gudbrandsdalen. Now I was ready to storm Oslo academia, so in January I signed up for a cocktail of political science and media studies courses. When summer came, the results came with it: six As and two Bs. I was exhausted, and unconvinced it had all been worth it.
During exams I had pulled ten all-nighters, and drank enough Red Bull that my saliva took on a concerningly sour, sharp taste. When I finally had my first beer outside in July I was noticeably paler than my friends – even though I’m half-Asian, and should have some color all year round.
My uncertainty had grown as exams approached, and with every coffee date and party invite I turned down, it got worse. When I sat alone with my books in front of me, the questions multiplied: why was I really doing this? Should I close the books, answer those texts, and go to a party?
Just before fall semester I decided to face those thoughts, so I headed to the career center. The advisor was a friendly and sympathetic guy. I was upset with what he said, interrupting him frequently. Employers don’t care one bit if you take one bachelor’s or ten – the point is to have a degree. I smoked a cigarette out on Frederikkeplass outside, and cursed the hours I spent in the bunker.
I went home and logged into StudentWeb. Then I signed up for 250 credits, eight times a normal course load.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t know why I did it. With last semester behind me, I could have easily taken a year off to let my brain recover. I could have drunk beers in Blindern’s basement pubs, mingled at tapas parties, or joined some kind of student board.
One motivation might be a wish for some kind of mental strength training, repeating the same academic exercises for hours, day after day: read, think, write, and read again. Everything I read I’m going to forget after a few years, but the practice will stay.
More than that though, I believe education should be based on genuine curiosity, not getting a job. Education doesn’t help you get a foot in the door, or load your resume. It has value in itself, it’s something we should seek without needing practical value. When you burn with interest for the things you’re reading, it makes sense to spend your nights reading. Then you don’t need the parties and company visits.
It’s a hefty student life, but it feels like a rebellion against the university. Nowadays education is focused more on having a career and work life after graduation, instead of passion for knowledge. The university has taken on a new role in the «knowledge economy,» as the primary engine for higher productivity and human capital. The definition of a good education now has become «will you get a good job?» Studying just for the sake of learning is liberating; it’s a protest against the market-oriented university of today. Maybe it sounds arrogant, but it’s what I thought of as I sat in front of my computer and signed up for 25 exams: better to go down to the bunker again than grovel for employers already, building networks and perfecting my resume.
My plan is to spend four years on my bachelor’s degrees before I start specializing. I will have celebrated my birthday, 23 years old, with degrees in literature, economics, media, and political science. The 250 credits I signed up for have dropped to 210 because of conflicting exams. I don’t know if I’ll manage the rest. I doubt it, but I’ll try. This is my riot from the bunker.