Revising our advising
Realizing what you don’t know — and why that's okay
When asked to give directions to Lawn Garden VII in the Final Jeopardy round of our training game, I freeze. I start to sweat profusely — as if waking up from a nightmare — and my brain erupts into a whirlwind of blankness. The only salvageable thought within the reach of my abysmal mind is, “Wait…the Lawn has gardens?”
I decided to become a peer advisor because I wanted to offer students insight I wish I’d had when I was in their shoes. I figured if I couldn’t jump back in time to fix my own mistakes, the next best thing would be to prevent others from following directly in my footsteps. I craved an opportunity to shower blossoming first years with my omniscience and brag about my extensive knowledge of the nuances of University life, saving them from years of regret or life-threatening embarrassment in the process.
Immersing myself in advising protocol made me realize how little I actually know about being a University student outside my own sphere. I wasn’t sure how I could serve as the go-to resource for international students when my own knowledge of cultural adjustment extends only to speaking broken French while ordering crepes during a weeklong European tour. I can’t offer advice on obtaining a Social Security number, signing up for a cell phone plan or setting up a bank account in a foreign land.
Though I’m nearing the halfway point of my stay at the University, there’s still a lot I haven’t been exposed to, even on a local level. My lack of athletic ability renders me utterly ignorant in the field of intramural sports. Living two hours away makes me numb to homesickness, and leaves me thinking it’s always cheap and easy to find a way home. The only question I can answer about Greek life is how to identify a sorority girl to whom one should really be directing questions.
Upon realizing I am not an expert, I began to question whether I even had it in me to be an advisor. I would hate to be a disappointment to incoming students who will likely already be emotionally vulnerable. But through digesting the words of a smiling man in a bow tie, I accepted the fact nobody around here can really claim to be an expert.
To echo the wisdom of Dean of Students Allen Groves, mentorship isn’t about being a human encyclopedia and indexing all the fine details. It’s about utilizing what you know to extend a hand to people who might not be quite as knowledgeable. It’s about looking directly at someone and saying, “I’ll help you find out,” instead of passively avoiding eye contact and muttering a dismissive, “I don’t know.”
No one student has the possibility to equally represent everything the University has to offer. With the ever-expanding breadth of majors and CIOs comes much more room for individuality. We are all an agglomeration of diverse backgrounds and career goals brought together only by our aim to develop into better people.
If we all knew everything there is to know, none of us would be here. None of us would push on with our lives driven by a sense of passion or purpose. The beauty of life lies in acquiring knowledge along the way. What it all boils down to is this: everything, including teaching other students, is a learning experience.
Vega’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.