Help: the hardest thing to ask for

Yejean Kim

It’s often said that apologizing is the hardest thing to do, but I disagree. After two-and-a-half years of the W&L experience, I think asking for help is the hardest.

Having a somewhat jarring academic experience after coasting through high school seems to be a rite of passage for most first-years, but for me it was downright catastrophic. I had always struggled with language classes in high school, and First-Year Chinese was no different.

I quickly realized that the rigor and speed with which we were learning was completely over my head, but I didn’t do anything about it. I felt ashamed. I thought having a hard time meant that I was stupid, because everyone else in class seemed fine. I stayed silent and somehow managed to scrape together a B-.

The second part of First-Year Chinese rolled around. I vowed that, unlike first term, I would ask for assistance when I needed it. Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

It didn’t take long for my professor to notice how poorly I was doing; he called me into his office. Gravely, he told me if I needed help he was always available. I responded to this statement with a slew of heated deflections: everything was fine, I was fine, I did not need extra help. I said all this hoping to seem supremely unconcerned, confident, a girl who didn’t need his, or anybody’s assistance. For all my pride, I was rewarded with a D.

After that fiasco, I managed to learn a few things. Turns out, asking for academic help isn’t that difficult. The school’s deep hatred of super seniors ensures that all kinds of aid are available.

But one troubling thing I’ve noticed is that when it comes to personal problems, the prevailing attitude seems to be put up (with it) and shut up (about it). And this attitude doesn’t stem from the administration.

Like the honor system, this attitude prevails because of its overwhelming complicity among the student body. There is obviously an overwhelming pressure to seem perfect at W&L, and I feel that this attitude, above all, prevents most people from asking for the help they deserve. From those who feel like food is the only thing in their life they can control, to those who know their drinking is getting out of hand, or even those who are just unhappy for any or no reason at all, no one seems to think that it’s okay to admit that something’s wrong and show any kind of insecurity.

Although I can write about how counterproductive, paradoxical and horrible I think that attitude is, nothing I say can sum up the solution better than Bill Withers:

Please, swallow your pride

If I have things you need to borrow

For no one can fill those of your needs

That you won’t let show