Part II – Photography, German, and Jobs
By senior year, it was clear that I was going to college to study photography. I was chief photographer of the yearbook and school paper and I won a statewide award for my photography that would allow me to attend the state university cost free with a monthly stipend. But I didn’t take it. Instead, I took a smaller scholarship at a midwestern school that I had never heard of before, called Washington University in St. Louis. They wanted me to come and study fine art photography.
This all seemed fine at first. My parents learned that Wash U was on the list of “acceptable schools for my kid to attend,” so I felt like I had narrowly escaped a life of questioning, even though I was still studying fine art.
But I could already feel the drag of demotivation. I had burned out my senior year of high school, full on collapse-and-didn’t-leave-my-room for weeks burn out and now I was shifting into the next phase of doing what I was supposed to do: attend a good school –> get good grades–> get a good job (and marry well and have beautiful and well-behaved kids and send your parents on vacation). Also, never complain along the way, or get fat, or get depressed, or party too much, or date the wrong people, or god forbid, embarrass your parents along the way.
In retrospect, I had no idea who I really was or what I wanted. So many people had praised my photography, and I liked it well enough, but that was because I could hide both behind a camera lens, and then spend hours alone developing photos in the school darkroom.
But the first semester of art school was full of drawing and color theory and I was surrounded by people who seemed a lot more talented than me, like a lot more talented than me at drawing. I wasn’t going to be able to get back to my beloved photography until I had finished all the other requirements for an art degree. And I was beginning to hear the rumbling that I should be studying something else if I wanted to get a decent job out of school.
And so I began college with my first full-on imposter freak out. If I wasn’t good at art, then what would I do? I was too tired to do research. Before I knew it, we had to register for the spring semester, so I decided to transfer to the school of arts and sciences and take classes that sounded at least somewhat appealing to keep me interested enough to keep going, because all I wanted to do was drop out and quit. I took German, French, Philosophy, Economics, and Calculus II. I felt like the mathy classes would balance the freeloader-type classes. I hated almost all of it, except for German. The professor was hilarious, the German poets and writers were cynical and depressed, and the language was straightforward and a little uptight. I loved all of it. And even more importantly, it came to me easily so I wouldn’t have to work too hard. It fit well with my I’m lazy and can’t do hard things belief system.
I started college as a photographer and I left with a bachelors degree in German. As you can guess, my Korean parents were thrilled. But all I could think was that I had finished college at all. I had taken a leave of absence, during a particularly bad bout of depression so I had to take an extra summer to finish, but I finished. At that point, I was also heavily medicated and didn’t know where my mom was, but that’s another story for another time. This imposter had made it through college while also failing two classes.