Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Feel Like an Idiot Around My Friends”

I’m a sophomore at college, meeting lots of people, and able to be myself…in some respects. Back in high school, I was one of the “smartest” girls in my class, making Honor Roll and graduating with a 4.0. But enter college — a place filled with TONS of extremely intelligent people, people who talk about the theories of reality or the absence of it, or the origins of civilizations in ancient South America and so on — and I feel so very insecure even talking to these people. I find interests in other things, like music and art and odd facts and so on, but in this environment, I feel like that doesn’t even matter. If I can’t give an intelligent two cents about some weighty subject or the current political events, I feel like people look at me as if I don’t even belong here. It makes me apprehensive to make new friends, and thus, I’m feeling really lonely at school.

This insecurity is seeping into my relationship with my boyfriend. He’s awesome, a senior, and incredibly smart. His major is one that forces him to study multiple subjects and expand his knowledge about … everything. If it’s anything about science, history, philosophy, tech, so on, he probably knows about it. Me? My major is Food Science and though I absolutely love it, I feel like I can’t lend anything to the conversation among my boyfriend’s smart friends when they always talk about heavy matters. This insecurity is killing me. I don’t know whether to say anything about it to my boyfriend, because that might make him feel uncomfortable or make him feel like he has to “dumb down” things for me. What do you think? — Intelligence Inadequacy

Are your friends stoners? I’m just thinking back to when I was college and my friends and I would talk about “the theories of reality or the absence of it,” and we were usually high as a kite and munchin’ on a bag of Funyuns. These conversations about “reality” were typically sandwiched between ones about the existence of a higher being and whether any of us were time-travelers from another decade.

Whether your friends are stoners or not, you should probably go ahead and treat them as such when they get started on their “weighty” topics. Because, truly, I’m just not sure a group of 19-year-olds should be taken all that seriously when they are discussing the theories of reality. Chances are, stoned or not, they’re just talking to hear themselves talk. That’s what nerdy college kids do. They don’t really pay that much attention to what other people are saying — they’re too busy thinking about what they’re going to say next and when they’re going to get a chance to say it. Honestly, they’re too busy worrying about themselves to give you — or anyone else — much thought. I can almost guarantee you, that not only are they unaware that you don’t add much to their conversations about ancient civilization (YAWN, by the way), they wouldn’t care if they did.

But, if you truly are concerned about appearing the big dumb-dumb around these geniuses, including your boyfriend, why not brush up on a few topics outside your comfort zone. It wouldn’t hurt to at least scan the headlines so you have some knowledge of current events. With the election coming up next year, you could focus on presidential candidates and their various campaigns. That way, you could steer the conversation to something your friends might find interesting and you’ll have something to add to the discussion.

More than all that, though, you should put the biggest focus on what already interests you: music, art, food, etc. In my humble opinion, these topics are far more compelling that what your friends typically discuss anyway, and you’d do well to play up your role as an authority on these. Any well-rounded intellectual knows a lot about the arts so you’d be doing your buddies a favor by broadening their horizons a bit. And if you find that they simply aren’t biting, find new friends — friends who don’t make you feel like an idiot. Join a foodie club or audition for a play or start an art appreciation club. You have so many options in college and it’s silly not to take advantage of them and to branch out little if the social circle you run with bores you.

As for your boyfriend, if he’s such a smarty-pants, then trust his judgment in dating someone like you. If he really found you unintelligent, or didn’t enjoy your company, he’d probably MOA.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

153 comments… add one
  • avatar

    DDL December 2, 2011, 8:18 am

    Don’t compare back to high school – that’s the WORST thing you can do now that you’re in university. University is a massive learning curve where you basically have to learn on your own. With that said, find classes/activites that interest you, then you won’t be stressing about you GPA; you love Food Sciences – great! Make your friends there.

    Don’t worry about you boyfriend’s friends, and for that matter don’t worry about your boyfriend (thinking you’re dumb). If he’s trying to have “intellectual conversations” with you, he probably doesn’t think you are. Or, if you ask him and he ponies up to thinking you are, dump him – there are always other fish who will think you’re super smart, even when you get the answer wrong.

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  • avatar

    ReginaRey December 2, 2011, 8:21 am

    You know LW, I had some extremely intelligent college professors. One was an expert on ancient art, and she specifically studied women as they were depicted in ancient art and iconography. I had another professor who was a Public Relations guru – this guy could probably have gotten any presidential candidate elected who he represented. The thing is though, if you’d gotten the PR dude and the Art Lady together, neither would know jack about the other person’s trade. BUT…would either of them have thought less of the other? No! They both had their PhD, just in entirely different subjects.

    The point is…everyone has their area of specialty. I majored in PR and minored in art history, I now work in Marketing and freelance write about relationships and other life issues on the side. Those are MY specialties. But there are people on this very site who are engineers, who do crazy ass things on the computer that I can’t even begin to understand. Likewise, I have friends who working in finance or engineering…and I’ll be the first to admit I don’t grasp an ounce of what they do all day long, same as they probably couldn’t write an article or plan an event like I do all day long. But guess what? None of us look down on each other! We’re all smart, we just gravitated toward different areas of “smart.”

    So stand tall – you’re the expert in YOUR specialty. Music, art, food. Those are cool things to be an expert on, as Wendy said. And if your crowd are really making you feel down, if this insecurity isn’t all stemming from your head, then screw them. Who doesn’t hate a bunch of pretentious, know-it-all college students who don’t know ANYTHING yet about the real world. If they’re really spouting off about how much they know, and are judging you for not “being on their level,” then you need to find a new crowd to run with. Make friends with people who can appreciate your interests – there’s no better place to do that than in college! There are clubs and classes for just about everything. Bond with people who’ll appreciate you!

    And as for your boyfriend – again, he’s good at what he’s good at. That doesn’t take away from you. You’ve got to get out of that mindset. Other people can be smart, talented, geniuses even, but that doesn’t take ANYTHING away from your intelligence and talents. Learn that!

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    • avatar

      Carolynasaurus December 2, 2011, 10:51 am

      Woot! Engineering shout out! (I work with robots, btws…)

      RR’s right, but she missed on one important detail in her comparison of the art professor and the PR guy: they don’t think less of each other because they don’t think less of themselves.

      You have got to summon up some confidence! Some of the most interesting and intelligent people I know don’t know anything, or they know a whole hell of a lot about something so narrow someone else knows what they’re talking about. But they are still incredibly interesting because they aren’t afraid to ask questions, learn, and they know that just because they don’t know every word written by some crazy 1850’s philosopher, it doesn’t make them any less intelligent.

      Are your friends and boyfriend straight-up calling out your intelligence? If they were, screw them and move on. But I have a feeling you’re projecting all of this. Just work on your conversation skills, not your intelligence, and keep your head held high.

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  • rainbow

    rainbow December 2, 2011, 8:21 am

    This is what happens when you’re one of the smartest kids growing up and then you get to a place where you’re suddenly average. You feel bad about not knowing everything they mention instead of feeling good about finally being somewhere where sometimes people teach you things and not always the other way around.

    (Been there. Sucks, but you need to get over it.)

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    • rainbow

      rainbow December 2, 2011, 8:32 am

      Also, I know a dude who killed himself because he couldn’t handle it. It was very sad.
      Obviously he had a ton other problems, but for him this was the main factor.
      It’s a long road from child intellectual star of your environment to regular adult. Specially if you end up in a crew that values knowledge as a measure of self worth in the same way TV values huge boobs. It’s the same lame structure, but for people with different assets.

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      • avatar

        oppositeofzen December 2, 2011, 8:36 am

        Wow. That’s kindda harsh.

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        slamy December 2, 2011, 11:55 am

        huge boobs aren’t even en vogue anymore.

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    • avatar

      iseeshiny December 2, 2011, 12:33 pm

      This is exactly what I was thinking – it’s easy to get insecure if you go from the smartest person in the room to being relatively “average” – the same thing happened to me.

      I know a little about a lot, a lot about only a little, and time was I could spit out a couple blurbs about the lots of stuff where I knew a little and impress everyone around me. Well, once you run into people who know more about whatever you’re talking about it’s not as impressive. I embarrassed myself a couple of times acting like I knew more about what I was talking about than I did.

      The best defense is to be honest: “Oh, that’s cool, I never really studied that, but I always wanted to learn more,” and then actually be willing to learn more. And you know what? People will like you more for it. Most people, especially nerdy college kids, love to show off how knowledgeable they are. They won’t think you’re dumb. They probably aren’t going around thinking, “Man, this girl knows nothing about particle resonance! What a moron.” Did you think your friends back in high school were dumb just because they didn’t know as much as you about certain subjects? I hope not.

      But the thing is, you’re in college. Getting educated. Learning things. Eventually you’re going to be a senior intimidating the crap out of some poor freshman because you’re in an argument with someone at a party about whether or not the act of perception of reality affects reality itself, or whatever.

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      • avatar

        mcminnem December 2, 2011, 2:02 pm

        I was going to say something like this, but you already did. Second!

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      • avatar

        mf December 2, 2011, 2:24 pm

        The best defense is to be honest: “Oh, that’s cool, I never really studied that, but I always wanted to learn more,” and then actually be willing to learn more.

        I really like that approach. And it seems like a great way to make friends, since people really like it when you offer them a chance to teach you something.

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  • avatar

    Lindsey December 2, 2011, 8:33 am

    Totally agree with Wendy’s advice! They are definitely loving to hear themselves talk. That happens in university sometimes. There’s an overwhelming urge to prove that you sound smart. In fact, that can be just insecurity talking.

    Why don’t you try to be a conversation starter? That way you can control the conversation. Maybe start out with something universal, like movies. I’ve discovered that everyone, even the super smart intellectuals will break down and have a convo about why the Green Lantern sucked (for example).

    I had a bit of trouble making friends in university and I took it one at a time. Next time you go to one of your classes, try sitting next to someone you sort of know. Suggest coffee. It may take a couple of tries, but it will eventually work. If you start building your own circle of friends, dealing with your boyfriend’s friends won’t seem so stressful!

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  • avatar

    oppositeofzen December 2, 2011, 8:35 am

    It’s very normal to feel this way. When I left high school for college, I went from being a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond. Like Wendy said, those “intelligent” conversations are more just other people wanting to hear themselves talk and to make everyone think they are an intellectual. Besides the upcoming elections, check out magazines like Popular Science or check the news for tech trends so you can feel like you know what’s going on.

    And NEVER, EVER, EVER feel dumb about your major. I’ve been working in horticulture for years now and work a lot with food scientists. It’s amazing what y’all do. There are a lot of people who will think that working with food is below them and may mean that you’re very smart, but between what you and I do, we feed the world. Check out if there is food science club at your school and get involved with them. Or, check out other organizations. I don’t know if you have it at your school, but at mine we have Sigma Alpha, which is a professional sorority for women with a interest in agriculture. Getting involved in other organizations may help you work through your loneliness and develop self confidence so you can show everyone how brilliant and awesome you are.

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    • theattack

      theattack December 2, 2011, 1:09 pm

      To go off from what you’re saying, I’ve found that it’s easiest to make friends who appreciate and understand you in your own major. They likely think the same way as you and value the same things you value. It’s good to have friends all across the board, of course, but seriously, you will feel so much better after finding people in your major. The classes related to your major are your place to shine with your intelligence again, and people actually value the things you have to say about the topic. Take my major for example: I am a social work major who values justice and equality, living in a very conservative, bigoted part of the country. Making friends with random people has been very difficult for me, as many of those people promote the opposite of what I believe in. But inside the bubble of the social work program, we all value each other as individuals who just “get” each other, no questions asked. Those are the friends I can vent to when other people just don’t get it. LW, you need those friends.

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  • FireStar

    FireStar December 2, 2011, 8:39 am

    I feel your pain LW. I remember my first day of university where the poem was given to the class: “I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold.” We were told the poet left it on the fridge since he had eaten the plums and were asked for the meaning of the poem. The class read the fall of Adam and Eve and the redemption of Christ – I thought he ate the plums. I thought I was screwed. But for all the lofty talk and beret wearing that went on in that class – I won the award for the year – but you would never guess it if you attended class. Intelligence is not measured by how much information you can spew at others. At that age, some people get so full of themselves and wrapped up in the ideas and information that are new to them. If anything, all they are being is a tired stereotype of an intellectual – truly intelligent people never make other people feel inadequate in conversing with them. I guarantee those people don’t know the things you do – and yet you don’t feel they are stupid – why wouldn’t the same then hold true for you? Wendy is right that a general knowledge of the world is a good thing – skim through CNN or MSNBC and I promise you will have things to contribute to discussions of the world. As for ancient civilizations – if something they say interests you, ask questions – you’d be surprised how impressed with you they will be – in just allowing them to speak.

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    • caitie_didnt

      caitie_didn't December 2, 2011, 8:47 am

      My grade 11 english class studied the Catcher in the Rye, and our reformed stoner teacher started talking about a three-legged stool that features in one line of one chapter of the book, and how it represented the Holy Trinity. And then, after about 40 minutes of discussion on the meaning of the stool, some kid at the back stood up and yelled “IT’S JUST A STOOL!!!!”. Some people have to assign meaning to everything, including plums and stools.

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      • rainbow

        rainbow December 2, 2011, 8:54 am

        I love that kid. I want him/her at my birthday party.

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    • TaraMonster

      TaraMonster December 2, 2011, 10:32 am

      William Carlos Williams! My boyfriend and I have a little geeky inside joke about that poem. I left him a note one morning reminding him not to forget his lunch, and he wrote me that poem back on it. I cracked up when I got up to get ready for work and saw it. I know I KNOW… super nerdy. Lol

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      • FireStar

        FireStar December 2, 2011, 11:18 am

        That’s a far cuter use of the poem than the Fall of Adam and Eve. Lord help me – those people traumatized me so much with their pretentiousness I will never forget that poem.

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      • avatar

        mcminnem December 2, 2011, 2:10 pm

        I always loved that poem – I think the people who insist on analyzing everything to death miss a lot, actually. They forget that E.E. (or e.e. I suppose) was just a guy who liked messing around with words and thought punctuation was kind of overrated. He had a wonderfully nostalgic and childlike sense of humour, and people miss it entirely. There was also a poem about a wheelbarrow, a believe. Plums can just be plums and still be beautiful art.

        …Lit class me will shut up now.

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      • avatar

        bethany December 2, 2011, 2:54 pm

        We read that wheelbarrow one in college. I have no recolection of if other than I thought it was weird to write a poem about a wheelbarrow.

        Clearly, I’m no poetry buff!

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      • avatar

        mcminnem December 2, 2011, 3:07 pm

        Something about a wheelbarrow half full of rain from the night before? It may have been a red wheelbarrow.
        …I’m going to go look that up.

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    • theattack

      theattack December 2, 2011, 1:17 pm

      I second the idea of asking questions to the people who seem to be informed about some topic. Everyone wants to be valued for their intelligence, and asking them questions will make them feel good too. Admitting that you don’t know something does not make you dumb – it makes you smarter. I know that probably does not make actual concrete sense to you right now, but most people here on DW could tell you that it really is true. In fact, the big difference between actual adults and these condescending students is the knowledge that it’s okay to not know everything. Asking questions will make those people feel more appreciated. Believe it or not, no matter how high on their horse they’re sitting, they’re feeling insecure about themselves as well. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be so judgmental. Make them feel more intelligent by asking questions, and it will likely open the door for you to speak more about what you know about too! My guess is that most of these people will chill out in a year or two. The first part of college is full of assholes trying to sound smart. By the second half of college, most people have calmed down and are mostly using their actual level of intelligence.

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    • avatar

      convexed December 3, 2011, 12:32 am

      If you like that poem, read poet kenneth kochs variations on it….pretty hilarious, but also, duh, serious poetry for nerds who wanna one up their pretentious nerdfriends who bring up wcw poems ay stoner shindigs. I recommend quoting it in the voice of dylan thomas via pennsound and then telling thm to take their absent minded reality crisis and suck it!

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      • avatar

        convexed December 3, 2011, 12:33 am

        *at stoner shindigs. Not ay, or even ‘aye, stoner shindigs!’

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  • avatar

    Renee December 2, 2011, 8:40 am

    Makes me wonder how these college aquaintaces will be a employable in ‘reality’ after graduation?

    BTW on PBS last month, the tv series, Nova has a show all about quantum physics and the plausibility of time travel. It was good.

    I understand you don’t want to embarrass yourself, are they seriously enjoying these conversations. I assuming it is just one up manship.

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    • avatar

      Morgan December 2, 2011, 10:14 am

      Oh, they’re all going to law school. All the stoner philosophy majors go to law school.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray December 2, 2011, 10:28 am

        Haha, so true.

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      • avatar

        Britannia December 2, 2011, 10:30 am

        Not 100%. My manager ended up in retail 😛

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      • avatar

        grendel December 2, 2011, 2:41 pm

        the ones that manage to do decent on the LSAT do (about 1%)

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    • avatar

      6napkinburger December 2, 2011, 11:17 am

      See, I think this is swinging too far in the other direction. Talking about the multiple layers of reality in an interview unless asked about it directly? Not so great. But being able to talk about any subject that the interview finds interesting because you are well-rounded? Priceless.

      People in authority positions like talking about things that they like (well, everyone does, but they’re the ones you are trying to impress) and being able to relate to them that way increases your value and your ability to succeed. The key is to avoid sounding pretentious and instead sound engaged.

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  • avatar

    Kerrycontrary December 2, 2011, 8:44 am

    Most of the time, people are too busy worrying about themselves to notice other people. So the girl that’s talking about the recent election in Egypt is wondering if she should join Circle K or not. And the guy discussing bi-partisan politics is probably thinking “I hope I get laid tonight.” If you got into college and you are doing OK then chances are you aren’t a total idiot. I know that I’m intelligent and well educated but I can sound like a total ditz sometimes. But you know what? When people think I’m stupid I don’t really care because I know I’m not. and I know that they are only putting me down because of their own insecurities. Please just have fun in college!!!!

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  • dabbler

    dabbler December 2, 2011, 8:48 am

    I don’t think it’s even so much that the big fish in a small pond has moved to a lake, I think it’s more that you’re a right-brain surrounded by left brains. I was the same way in high school, until I graduated and went to art school, where suddenly I was surrounded by people that got me, and I actually got them, and I was no longer the weird one. Haha. 
    Now, I’m an artist whose day job is working with engineers and scientists. Communication is a challenge, because our brains are wired so differently, and I feel like the dumbest person in the room on a daily basis. When they talk about things that are way over my head, I’ve learned to laugh it off and say “hey guys, I went to art school, can you break it down for me a little?” 
    I would suggest trying to find more like-minded people, and when you do hang out with your boyfriend’s friends, maybe ask some questions. You can learn a lot from smart people with different world views, even if you don’t always agree with them. As long as they’re not completely arrogant asshats, they probably won’t mind filling you in, plus you’re making the effort to engage, and they get to hear themselves talk a little longer. Win-win right? 

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    • avatar

      Christy December 2, 2011, 8:58 am

      I think this is really worthwhile advice that is worth paying attention to.

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    • dabbler

      dabbler December 2, 2011, 8:59 am

      i mis-read the food science part… i guess i was thinking more along the lines of a culinary major, so maybe my response is completely off. same basic advice about finding like-minded people and common ground with the rest still applies though…

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    • avatar

      mf December 2, 2011, 2:29 pm

      Yeah, this is good advice, even if you did mis-read the food science bit.

      I’m a writer (re: quite right married) who is marrying a chemical engineer (perhaps the most left-brained person I know). Sometimes I have to remind him, and vice versa, that our brains work very differently. On the other hand, we’ve learned a lot from each, which is awesome because we’re both intellectually curious people.

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      • avatar

        mf December 2, 2011, 2:30 pm

        Whoops! I meant to type “quite right brained.” Side note: I’m not awesome at proofreading.

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  • rainbow

    rainbow December 2, 2011, 8:48 am

    OFFTOPIC: did you guys in the north hemisphere move your clocks back because of winter or something like that? lately I’ve been getting the feeling all the internet parties start an hour later.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Wendy December 2, 2011, 9:13 am

      Yes, in the US we moved our clocks back an hour about a month ago or so. It’s always a pain.

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      • rainbow

        rainbow December 2, 2011, 9:23 am

        Thanks, I was starting to feel like an old lady always showing up early =)

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      • avatar

        Carolynasaurus December 2, 2011, 10:55 am

        I feel ya. We don’t switch them in Arizona, so I’m always an hour off now.

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  • avatar

    silver_dragon_girl December 2, 2011, 8:57 am

    OMG this totally makes me remember a guy in on of my honors classes in college. He was triple majoring in Math, Economics, and English, and he was SUCH a know-it-all. I couldn’t stand him. Totally pretentious…he got on my case one time (keep in mind we barely knew each other from briefly chatting before class started) for not having any strong opinions on music, because apparently that makes me “apathetic.”

    Anyway. The point is, college is full of douchebags. There are a lot of people like you, who were very bright in high school, only instead of realizing that they’re now in a much bigger pond and learning to adjust, they decide to just act like the biggest fish they possibly can. That’s where all that theoretical and deep-discussion crap comes from- they’re showing off. They’ll probably get over it in a couple years when they realize that nobody wants to be friends with a know-it-all. In the meantime, follow Wendy’s advice. 🙂

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    • avatar

      Sarah December 2, 2011, 9:26 am

      Except for the triple-major part, you just described my older brother. Getting on people’s asses over nothing is a recreational activity for him. And then he gets pissy when people are irritated with him for acting like a jerk. Charming to deal with, no?

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    • avatar

      cporoski December 2, 2011, 4:19 pm

      Being interested in far out ideas is not showing off. I love politics and trying to understand religion and how the bleeds to quantum physics. I have friends who like the same things. This is a group off friends that enjoy these conversations and the LW wants to join. Why should they change for her? Your comments are frankly rude. Oddly enough, your example is of someone being rude to you then you do it right back.

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  • avatar

    Matthew December 2, 2011, 8:57 am

    II, Wendy is so spot-on with this one. The chances are exceedingly high that your ‘friends’ are just pulling massive amounts of BS out of their butts and spewing it all over the place.

    My experience in college is that everyone feels pressured to be smart, look smart, and act smart. When I first got to school, I spent tons of time with my head in books, on google, or wikipedia because whenever someone would talk about one of these topics that was over my head, I too felt inadequate and felt a need to learn the subject. Well, it didn’t take too long to realize that a lot of the kids really had no grasp on what they were talking about whatsoever. After spending 2, 3, and 4 years with a lot of these people, it generally becomes clear which topics they actually know about and when they are simply BSing their way through life.

    That said, I did know a number of students who were actually just damn smart, so it’s possible your friends are this type of group. I spent as much time around them as I possibly could! People who are actually smart (and aren’t simply just trying to look smart) are good at conveying knowledge and teaching, which makes them easy and fun to learn from. My experience is that these people are rarely judgmental.

    I think as one gets older, it’s becomes easier to develop a good BS-meter, which I honestly believe it one of the best skills I developed throughout college.

    Lastly, and I’m writing this paragraph mostly because I’ve developed a pet-peeve about teaching because I HATE the phrase ‘dumbing it down’:
    I don’t even remotely believe that a topic ever needs to be ‘dumbed-down.’ I’ve been tutoring Math/Science for high school students, APs, SATs, etc for a while and it’s my experience that if I can’t explain the concept to someone at some high level, I never understood it to begin with. Moreover, it is completely impossible to explain the gist of a topic without really mastering the material first. But even explaining the ‘gist’ of a subject is NOT ‘dumbing it down,’ which is what I think a lot of people confuse. A well-explained ‘gist’ is the type of introduction that every teacher should use before they start digging into the meat of a subject. That ‘gist’ should be understandable to even the worst students in a class because it must draw accurate parallels to which most people can relate. And having a good grasp of that ‘gist’ is always essential to learning a topic. If someone can’t explain that ‘gist,’ they don’t know what they are talking about. That ‘gist’ is just as important as the ‘meat’ of the material, it not MORE important. Anywho, I’ll stop my rant now.

    Matthew

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    • rainbow

      rainbow December 2, 2011, 9:06 am

      Very true. I think ‘dumbing it down’ is a phrase coined by people who are not very good at explaining themselves.

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      moonflowers December 4, 2011, 8:07 am

      As an experienced TA, I second all that you’ve said, Matthew.

      If someone is trying to “teach” something but can’t convey their message to an attentive and reasonably intelligent audience, it means either they’re so smart they never actually broke down in a concept to figure out how it works, OR they’re completely bullshitting.

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  • avatar

    Addie Pray December 2, 2011, 9:00 am

    LW, have you tried to hang out with people from your Food Science classes? I feel like in college kids tend to make friends with the random kids in their dorms the first week or so and have a hard time breaking into new social groups as the year(s) progress. (That was sort of my experience anyway.) But those first friends you meet in dorms may or may not be the perfect group for you. If your friends are sitting around talking about subjects that don’t interest you, then I think you’re trying to force a group that is not right for you. Ask your Food Science classmates to coffee or whatever. I think it will do you good to spend some time with people with similar interests. You won’t feel so left out of the conversations – conversations on topics you will likely enjoy and feel like you can contribute to. It’ll build your confidence; when you’re hanging out with your smarty pants friends, you won’t feel so inferior.

    P.S. Happy birthday JK, amber… and Britney Spears!

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      amber December 2, 2011, 9:12 am

      aww thanks for the shout out! 🙂

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        amber December 2, 2011, 9:18 am

        also i agree with you that hanging out with people in your major is a good idea. i had a core group of friends from both my major and then from a variety of other majors too. it definitely helps to have people you can talk about your major with. and like you said hopefully boost her confidence.

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    • JK

      JK December 2, 2011, 9:19 am

      Thanks Addie, good memory for 33 (I´ve decided to go back to 29 :D)
      And happy birthday amber!!!

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        Addie Pray December 2, 2011, 9:34 am

        Eh, 33 is not so bad. I forget anyway and keep saying I’m 30. At least at 33 we’re still in our “early 30s,” right? Definitely. A Friends rerun was on the other day, the one where they all turn 30, and I thought, fuck, they were only 30? I remember watching them in high school thinking they were so old …

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      • JK

        JK December 2, 2011, 9:38 am

        I know, that´s awful, or thinking back to teachers who were in their 30s, and how old they seemed.
        I joke about the age thing, for now at least, 33 just sound so grown-up, no? And 40 just around the corner.
        I never remember my real age anyway, I always have to figure it out.

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        Addie Pray December 2, 2011, 9:40 am

        But, JK, can I tell you something I noticed only when I turned 33? My hands – they look – 33. Like, I’m noticing more wrinkles around the knuckles. What is happening to me? Am I dying? Also, I have one grey eyebrow hair. What is up with that? I’m afraid of death.

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      • JK

        JK December 2, 2011, 9:46 am

        Don´t even get me started on my mortality, only this year has it really sunk in that I´m going to die someday. 🙁 And if I even think about my daughters´ mortality I´ll probably start crying.
        I´m starting to get a few grey hairs, too, haven´t noticed any on my eyebrows as of yet.
        I try not to pay too much attention to my hands, they´re really horrible looking!
        Sheesh, between this and having my daughter with fever yet again it´s turning into my most depressing birthday ever!!! OK, that one where I got back from a wedding and our house had been broken into with all valuables and my presents stolen probably ies still in the lead, but this is a close second!!!

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        Addie Pray December 2, 2011, 5:24 pm

        Oy. I hope your day got better!

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      • JK

        JK December 2, 2011, 8:31 pm

        Nope, worse. 🙁 My daughter has pneumonia in the end, on our way to see the dr I didn´t get crashed by a jerk by about a millimeter. Now I have to wait til wednesday to see if we can do my daughterps birthday party on thursday, if the Dr gives her the ok.
        But well, at least the day is nearly over!

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        amber December 2, 2011, 9:34 am

        happy birthday to you too! 🙂

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      • JK

        JK December 2, 2011, 9:38 am

        Thanks!

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    Jess December 2, 2011, 9:00 am

    Just read Time magazine or Newsweek everyweek and when you watch TV, check out the national geographic channel or discovery. Discovery news is fascinating. Popular Science is an awesome magazine. If you aren’t a naturally curious person, and these kinds of things bore you, well then, you’ll find like minded people soon enough. The big topic when I was in college was the bachelor. lol

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark December 2, 2011, 9:02 am

    Relax. I’ve found that the people who constantly try to impress you with how smart they are usually are simply trying to impress themselves… Perhaps convince themselves, too. Then again, who doesn’t know at least a little about ancient civilizations in South America? Seriously? 4.0 and the whole Machu Picchu thing never came up in your studies? Yikes, that is a scathing indictment of our educational system to be sure…

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    • rainbow

      rainbow December 2, 2011, 9:10 am

      Schools don’t like to talk about ancient south american civilizations because they did lots of drugs and didn’t die. (sadly I’m only half-joking here)

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      Caris December 3, 2011, 8:39 pm

      The other day I was talking to my bf and a friend of his. His friend had no idea what Machu Picchu was -_-. I was really disappointed !! He told me they never even mentioned it at his school. (He is from the US, I’m from Argentina). MY bf is also from the US and he said the reason he knows about it is because of National Geographic…

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        mcminnem December 4, 2011, 12:16 am

        That’s bizarre…is it a US thing? We had ancient south america all up in our history courses up here in Canada. I built Chichen Itza out of Styrofoam and spray-stucco one year.

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        Matcha December 4, 2011, 9:58 am

        What? My middle/high school definitely talked about Machu Picchu. I wish I could go there!

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  • Budj

    Budj December 2, 2011, 9:43 am

    Don’t underestimate what you have to offer. The arts are something that may be completely foreign to them – probably why they don’t talk about it – and your input could generate some healthy conversation as well as allow you to strut your stuff in something they aren’t versed in.

    Additionally, if you don’t understand what they are talking about….ask….if they are terrible at explaining it they don’t understand themselves (so don’t worry about it) and if they are able to bring you up to speed then you understand the conversation. If you have never taken a course in any of the science topics they are dicussing you have no reason to feel bad for not understanding and in most cases, a “scientist” that understands something you don’t, is happy to try and explain it to you….in fact they would probably pop a nerd boner over it.

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    Greebo December 2, 2011, 9:47 am

    I was that person in high school, too, and did very well in college, thank you. When you start working, however, you’ll quickly realize that some of your bosses will be smarter, some…uh…will not, and intelligence doesn’t always equal success. You’ll also realize that philosophy may be a charming hobby, but most people couldn’t care less about Kant and Cicero and find people who do to be rather tedious bores.

    Also, I knew people who talked about these things in college. “The theory of everything” may have special meaning to a budding theoretical physicist, but the people I heard were mashing up philosophy, metaphor and physics. When I mentioned this, they earnestly tried to explain to me that I was simply too dumb to understand their brilliance. *eye roll* My point is that it’s one thing to recognize and be impressed by genuine intelligence. It’s another to be intimidated by poseurs.

    And hey–there’s nothing substandard about food science, music or honestly held opinions! Dive into your own interests and don’t worry about impressing people. Be the ultimate “you”, and just by doing that you’ll impress the people who really matter.

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    Alecia December 2, 2011, 9:58 am

    I understand where you are coming from LW, I was a Sociology/Communication Studies major and I dealt alot with pop culture. Everyone around me would joke about how it wasn’t a real major or whatever but now they are all the rage in terms of what employers want. To be honest, I never cared what anyone thought because I loved my majors. Now I blog about pop culture but I do it in a way that people can’t insult my intelligence because I incorporate theories of sociology and other subjects with what I observe.
    My advice to you is jump in like Wendy said. They just want to hear themselves talk and in few years they’ll probably be doing the same thing in the workplace/grad school where people stop caring about fronting.
    Wendy’s right, if your boyfriend didn’t see you as intelligent or sincere, he would have not gone out with you. Be yourself, don’t care, and have a good time. And if they are trifling still, join a club or group related to your interests/major where people won’t care as much about your thoughts on free markets. Best of luck!

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    Morgan December 2, 2011, 10:05 am

    I feel ya LW. I went from smartest kid at my high school to a school where everyone was the smartest kid in their high school. That guy? He figured out how to get electricity to his small village in Africa. Her? Published novelist. That blacked out kid in the corner? He’s working on a project to bring clean water to developing nations and its going really well. And of course then there are the Olympians. And the random kids who had their final papers published in x, y, or z impressive journal. And the kid who blogged for politico. And that music superstar who’s also a varsity athlete. It just felt like, yeah, I’m smart, but I haven’t done anything….special.

    The point? Yes, its an adjustment. Just remember that your school admitted you just the same as they admitted those kids who you think sound so smart. And also, in about 3 years you’re all going to laugh at how totally pretentious everyone was at 20. Here’s the trajectory of your basic college intellectual: Get to college. Get super into intellectualism and or drugs. Talk about saving the world. Get super disillusioned. Drink a lot. Get over yourself. Go into finance/law, optional but likely.

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      callmehobo December 2, 2011, 10:11 am

      Where did you go to college?? It sounds like crazy! Do they have an underground bunker for the students just in case there is a nuclear holocaust and need a new society for our world?

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        Morgan December 2, 2011, 10:24 am

        It was very intimidating at times, especially because my school had a culture where it was very not okay to brag about those kinds of things. How drunk you got last night, sure, tell everyone you know. How you helped engineer something that is literally saving lives, no, keep that one to yourself. So then you find out this stuff about people you otherwise know pretty well, just kind of randomly, and its like “Oh. Of course you did.” Very intimidating.

        But you wouldn’t want to put the students of my dear school in a bunker as your hope for society. They’d drink themselves to death before anyone came to dig them out.

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        Britannia December 2, 2011, 10:27 am

        I often hang out with kids in the same sort of crowd as the LW as honestly, most do talk about post-apocalyptic strategy on a regular basis. I take it fairly seriously, too – it’s better to be over prepared than caught with your pants down 😉

        But that may just be the Tucsonan mindset – we do have the biggest aircraft graveyard in the world, so it could possibly be a strategic attack point. But anyways, my paranoia mostly just manifests in my owning defensive weapons and having a “survival pack” ready to go in the cabinet by the door.

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      Addie Pray December 2, 2011, 10:16 am

      Wow – what college did you go to??? What I am finding in my old age is I just enjoy friends who can laugh at hipster boys with me, drink with me, tell me about what movies they saw recently, and share how our days went. I could care less if they can also write an appellate brief that would make Scalia proud.

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        lets_be_honest December 2, 2011, 12:53 pm

        We are so meant to be.

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        Addie Pray December 2, 2011, 5:19 pm

        Want to form a firm with me… where we laugh at hipster boys and fail to impress Scalia?

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    • Budj

      Budj December 2, 2011, 10:18 am

      Haha – you left out the underachievers that just went through the motions (class was an optional motion). Pretty good summary for a lot of college though!

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        Morgan December 2, 2011, 10:31 am

        Oh yes. Always that guy who shows up to the midterm and everyone else is going, “He’s in this class?!?”

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      • Budj

        Budj December 2, 2011, 12:46 pm

        I was that guy 🙁

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        SpaceySteph December 3, 2011, 5:18 pm

        I still have nightmares where I’m being that “guy” and don’t realize until the night before the exam. Do those ever go away?

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      Matcha December 2, 2011, 1:12 pm

      God, this was my school. I went from being the smart kid to the average kid. 😛 I had friends working on cancer research, physics research on the Large Hadron Collider, archeology research in Africa, flu research in Korea, nanotech, who published papers in journals when they were in high school, who are a part of political conferences across the nation and worked with a lot of very important public policy makers.

      And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with being average in a spectacular setting. ENJOY being near people who are so enthusiastic and passionate about their interests, and let them know about yours. I have friends who aren’t science majors but when they talk about opera, literature or linguistics I am so interested. I’d love to hear about food science! Who doesn’t love food?! People are just going on about what they learning because it’s new and its interesting. The same goes for you subject matter.

      Oh, and when you graduate you rediscover you are not stupid. Unless you go to grad school, in which case you discover you know nothing.

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    MiMi December 2, 2011, 10:09 am

    LMAO! If only I had a quarter for every obnoxious college fart who has bored me over the years with their “expertise” in absolutely everything…Funny how they never seem to notice people either scurrying to get away or falling into a bullshit-induced coma.

    You could try laying some almost-Food Science on these intellectuals by expounding on the fact that micro-nutrients ingested 48 hours earlier are just now affecting their brain chemistry, so what they’re thinking at this moment is actually an essence of the lasagna and garlic bread served in the caf last Tuesday, therefore they should always be eating two days ahead in order to achieve maximum performance on their finals…or you could just go back to loving what you do and enjoying a well-rounded college experience, hm?

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      Renee December 2, 2011, 10:37 am

      Yea, mess with their heads how food affects their brains, and explain to them how that bag of Doritos they’ve been munching destroys their precious brain cells. (That’s true!)

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        silver_dragon_girl December 2, 2011, 11:00 am

        NOOOOOOOOO!
        Although that explains a lot…

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    Britannia December 2, 2011, 10:21 am

    I have to say that I don’t really appreciate the tone some people are taking with the kids who are discussing the philosophy of reality and existence. People talking about weighty matters like such are not necessarily talking just to hear themselves talk or trying to feel superior, or stoned. College is a time when you figure out who you are and what your views are of the world – and being able to bounce your abstract theories off your peers is a great way to do that. Everyone needs to go through a period of self-discovery and philosophical development, and that’s what LW’s friends are doing right now. Calling them “douchebags” is, in my opinion, really quite rude. At least these kids are talking about interesting subjects rather than Justin Bieber or who fucked who last night!

    LW, obviously these friends are not your cup of tea. So, go find some people who are!

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      Christy December 2, 2011, 11:26 am

      Thank you for putting this so eloquently. I was thinking along similar lines, but I couldn’t think of how to phrase it.

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      cporoski December 2, 2011, 12:00 pm

      Thank goodness you wrote this. These comments are so offensive to me that I am besides myself. Frankly, as a strong student, you are starting to learn and be challenged in different ways and should discuss it. The reader isn’t saying they are mean, she is saying that they are talking over her head. I hate that as a culture you are a pretentious snob if you speak about anything relavant but so cool if you know about the Kardashians.

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    Guy Friday December 2, 2011, 10:36 am

    You know what bothers me about many of the responses I’ve seen in the thread so far? They seem to presume that the people around the LW are pretentious a-holes who sense that the LW is struggling and deliberately continue to mess with her, when, in fact, the problem lies with you, LW. And I don’t mean that in a harsh way at all; it’s just a fact. And this problem you’re facing is going to get A LOT easier if you stop, take a deep breath, and repeat to yourself that this is very likely all in your head, because I’m willing to wager that as much as you feel like you’re telegraphing “I’m an idiot. Oh Lord, I’m an idiot. I hope they all don’t recognize that I’m an idiot!”, no one else sees you that way. And it’s not because they’re oblivious; it’s because they feel that your contributions are more valid than you think they are.

    Listen, one of the most incredible and equally terrifying things about higher education for most people is exactly what you’re feeling right now: being surrounded by people and ideas and such that force you to extend yourself beyond where you’re normally comfortable being at. But that’s not a bad thing; that’s an amazing thing. Instead of being worried about it, embrace it as an opportunity to learn all sorts of new things you never knew before. The beauty of the kinds of conversations you’re describing are that everyone can bring a different perspective to them. Let’s take your example on current political events and create a hypothetical scenario about the Republican primaries involving Rick Perry’s plans to cut the budget of departments like the FDA and Health and Human Services. I was a political science major, so I might be able to bring to the table an understanding of why, say, Perry is bringing it up when he is by comparing it against the ideological trends in various states and by exploring whether it has anything to do with vulnerabilities in Congressional districts. ReginaRey — having majored in PR — could probably discuss how Perry is or isn’t properly utilizing the news cycle, not to mention how his speech gaffes at the debates have affected his candidacy. Perhaps there’s a psych major among us who could discuss whether the words Perry chooses might be deliberately designed to evoke certain emotions or beliefs, thus causing us to vote the way he wants us to. And then you, with your specialty in Food Science, could break in and discuss, say, the link between reducing funding to certain departments and the effects it could have on quality degradation in the beef market and the battles being waged with the current funding on some specific foodborne illness. (It’s not an exact hypothetical, but you get the picture.) Everything I’ve just described fits into that discussion and is valid. And, really, maybe I never would have thought about how the policy impacted the hamburger I just got from McDonald’s until you mentioned it.

    As for your boyfriend, I know there are guys out there who like to be the smartest one in a relationship, but let me let you in on a little secret: the kind of guys who major in the things your boyfriend’s majoring in are the kind of guys who want to be intellectually challenged by the women they’re with, and I’m willing to wager that THAT is why he’s with you, despite what you believe. Let me ask you this: when you talk about the things you’re learning or an exciting day you had, does he genuinely listen to you and appear interested? Does he ask questions? Or does he kind of blow you off and move on to his day? Because I’m betting it’s the first two and not the last one, and it’s because he is interested in this field you love and he wants to learn about it from you.

    Basically, your letter makes me feel that you really do enjoy learning new things. Assuming that’s the case, don’t worry so much about not having everything “click” for you right now; it’ll happen soon enough. For now, just jump in with both feet to every new learning experience you get, and let the chips fall where they may.

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      cporoski December 2, 2011, 12:19 pm

      Totally agree. This conflict is in her head. Understand that your opinion has value and if you don’t have anything to contribute then be a good listener and see if you can gain anything. This is the first of many situations that you will be in that you feel out of place and out of your comfort zone. It is up to you to establish yourself or not.

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      Matcha December 2, 2011, 1:14 pm

      Preach.

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    oldie December 2, 2011, 10:36 am

    I don’t think LW’s friends are trying to make her feel stupid or putting her down. There really is no evidence of that in the letter. Neither should her major make much of a difference. She’s a sophomore, presumably first semester, since letter written in November. That’s not the point in a degree at which you’ve taken a lot of courses in your major. Usually core courses and distribution electives predominate.

    Are the friends BSing. Well, sure, but college is the time for discussing big ideas that you here about in class or read. You’ve left the memorization-focused HS and moved on to the stage, where you try to actually understand how things work and why they’re the way they are. The friends are not really so much pretending to know more than they do and puffing up, more just discussing fanciful topics of interest. Although ‘reality’ is a big, big topic, it’s also a bit fanciful, in that nobody really knows the answer, there are a myriad directions from which to attack the question, and there are a ton of interesting ideas floating around. A lot of college kids just enjoy discussing such ideas. LW should be glad her college pals are more into ideas than they are into beer. Of course, if these friends are really her bf’s friends, and are seniors like him, then they have taken over twice the courses that she has. She has two years to catch up to where they are.

    On the other hand, not knowing at least the rudiments of current national and international political and economics events suggests that LW has too much tunnel vision and should try to find out about such things.

    Most majors have more that is dull and uninteresting, especially to outsiders, than things that are sparkling conversation topics. I was an engineering major. Other than an accountant outside of tax season, you can’t get much more boring than that. Still, one can find nuggets of general interest from one’s classes that are funny or insightful and easy to share with others. I wouldn’t try to start a conversation about the matrix calculus equations used to describe fluid flow with an English major. Still, even if I didn’t have any interesting course material to talk about, I had a lot of oddball professors and grad assistants, who were always good for a legitimate laugh.

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      cporoski December 2, 2011, 1:07 pm

      See, this is how I remember college being and loved it. You are right. It is finding out how big the world is and talking about big, dangerous ideas in a safe, intellectual place. Love your response.

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    sarita_f December 2, 2011, 10:43 am

    Congrats. You’ve just met what the real world calls “Blowhards.” And what does their spouting off about outre’ topics do for you, them, anyone? Not a whole lot. Just do you, LW. Do you.

    When they come to your dorm room play them “Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes. Lyrics:

    I was raised up believing
    I was somehow unique
    Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes
    Unique in each way you can see

    And now after some thinking
    I’d say I’d rather be
    A functioning cog in some great machinery
    Serving something beyond me

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    SherBear December 2, 2011, 10:43 am

    My first question is where the hell do you go to school?!??!? bc if every person there only enjoys “intelligent” conversations I would NEVER want to set foot on that campus!! And if they are judging you bc your not interested in or up to date on a cetain topic that is all of their OWN insecurity showing.

    I’m going to share a little life lesson with you – if your “friends” shows zero interest in what you love or heavens forbid looks down on you for enjoying certain things than they are definetly not your friends. I would call myself a smarter than average person (I chose to go to a state school over an ivy) and there are certain subjects that I am very knowlegable about and can have very intelligent conversations about – specificially things relating to banking, finance and numbers. There are also certain things that I am beyond inept at – specifically spelling, reading out loud and music (while I have rhythm I am beyond tone deaf). I love to read but give me chick lit and books that have been made into a movie. Does this make me not well-read since I have zero interest in boring/hard to read classics/books that make you have to think what they “truly mean”? I don’t think so but a literary snob (such as my sister) might think so – but if someone where to say that to me I would just roll my eyes and wonder why what I do and like matters so much to them.

    The moral of my story/rant is that you sound like a really interesting person and I personally would have enjoyed having a conversation with you in college (or now). Expand your network – reach out to people in your major, volunteer, look for a club or organization that sparks your interest. Mainly surround yourself with people whose company you enjoy and who make you feel good about yourself because that is what true friendship is about.

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    lk December 2, 2011, 10:46 am

    LW, my first day at work, my boss told me, “if you aren’t asking questions, you don’t get it.”

    i say all the time, “I don’t really get what you’re saying” or, “ok, i know about X…. but i’m having trouble imagining why Y…” or whatever. i mean not just at work, too. on dates, with my parents, with my bank, at the grocery store….

    i know i’m smart & i don’t care that a lot of people probably think i’m a little space-case-y. eff them. i learn new things every day : )

    & BY THE WAY – don’t appreciate the sass from a lot of readers today… maybe i’m still soft & sensitive this morning, haven’t finished my coffee or something… but let the kids talk about what they want to talk about. there is nothing wrong with the kid who was teased for years FINALLY getting a chance to tell people what he thinks about the relationship between surface albedo and GIS technology or quantum physics & buddhism. LET THE KIDS TALK. don’t haze young humans. thank you. i’m going to go microwave my coffee & try to relax.

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      Christy December 2, 2011, 11:33 am

      No, I agree with you about the sass. Even Wendy was a little harsh on the friends for my taste. Some of the best parts of college for me were these sorts of deep discussions. And (after freshman year, at least) we weren’t blowharding, we were just talking about our thoughts and feelings on subjects.

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  • parton_doll

    parton_doll December 2, 2011, 11:13 am

    LW … I could have written this letter in collge. I was valedictorian of my class, was a National Merit Scholar, and was admitted into an honors engineering program at a major school. Yay right? Well, I could never seem to catch up to my classmates. Not that I am not an intelligent person. I just wasn’t exposed to as many academic opportunities as many of them were. So But at the time, that almost crushed me. You know, you’re first couple of years of college, you spend a lot of time learning about who you are. It is so natural to feel the way you are feeling. I felt like I was so much less of a person because I couldn’t program in several different languages, or design my own video games, or give give a dissertation on the history of baroque music. But I realized that a lot of the insecurity that I was feeling wasn’t just coming from my supposed “lack of knowledge”, it was coming from the way I defined myself as a person. I was always a bright person … I graduated with a 4.0 unweighted. I was reading novels at 6 (oh why am I sharing all of my nerdom with you 🙂 ). I had unconsciously defined myself as the “smart girl”. Luckily I realized that I had the opportunity to define myself differently. I would use this opportunity to expand the way you see yourself. Ask questions to learn something new when you want to, jump into the conversation when you are knowledgeable and go to a happy place when you could give two cents about the ongoing conversation. You will always be an intelligent person, but don’t let your mind define you based on the intelligence of others. If you can, expand your circle of friends with people who have a less academic focus.

    Believe it or not, I have been an engineer for 12 years and a professional actress for 6. And I do them both at the same time. I define myself by my own terms. I am still the same nerd with friends who are amazingly so much more knowledgeable than me. And sometimes it’s my turn to be the smart one. Best of luck in your major (I had a friend who was a turf science major and used to work on the turf at Lambaeu field … coolest major ever)!

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    • parton_doll

      parton_doll December 2, 2011, 11:28 am

      Ugh … I am having computer problems at work, so please excuse the typos and bad grammar. LOL. And it’s Friday and my mind is already 2 hours into the weekend 🙂

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      Morgan December 2, 2011, 11:28 am

      “I had unconsciously defined myself as the “smart girl”. Luckily I realized that I had the opportunity to define myself differently. I would use this opportunity to expand the way you see yourself.”

      This. This This This This.

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      Matcha December 2, 2011, 1:16 pm

      Love it! I think the letter writer has to redefine who she is, other than basing her whole reality on the need to be ‘the smart one.’ Could not agree with you more.

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    niki December 2, 2011, 11:28 am

    I really feel like this is more about LW’s insecurity than her friend’s love of “intelligent” conversation. The LW sounds like your typical Type A overachiever who is incredibly hard on herself. (I understand because I am one of them too) The point is, She needs to take a step back and really look at the reactions of her friends when she puts in her 2 cents. Are they really judging her? I highly doubt it. People who are overly-critical of themselves tend to think the whole world is judging them, when in fact most of the world really doesn’t give a crap. And the one who do judge usually have their own insecurities. I think the LW would benefit from some counseling. Most Universities offer free counseling for students. If she continues to allow her insecurities to make her think she’s not good enough for her friends or boyfriend she’s going to shut down and not achieve her potential. Again, I am speaking from experience here. I could be totally off-base, but I’m just picking up too many similarities between myself and the LW. Good luck!

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    6napkinburger December 2, 2011, 11:41 am

    I think there are two totally different issues that need to be addressed:
    #1:The group of friends
    #2: The LW

    1. Regarding the group of friends, there are a couple of possibilities (this is really more of a continuum than a list, but whatever): (a) they are stoners who seem deep but really aren’t saying anything worth listening to; (b) a group of douchebags who all like to hear themselves talk about deep sounding things; or (c) a group of college kids who like to talk about stuff they just learned that they find interesting, confusing, fascinating and worth sharing.

    My money is on (c). Is everyday a discussion about the metaphysical properties of rain? Or was that one day that you remember because you felt so out of your element? Does it switch to different topics? If so, you probably have a group of friends that like engaging topics and are figuring out how to think and what their opinions are. That’s wonderful. Is every conversation going to interest you? No, but so what?

    I remember taking an Intro to Political Theory class freshman year and reading all the big thinkers I had never read before (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) and I really liked getting into midnight discussions with others who were reading it/had read it because there were way too many part of it to discuss in class, and I wanted to think about it more. Maybe some people sit in their rooms and just think by themselves most of the time, but for most people, the way to ruminate on things like that is to discuss it with other people.

    Which brings me to #2: The LW. Now, lots of people disagree with me on this, especially given this economy, but I stand by it: The point of college is to become a well-rounded person with a learned, employable skill. I don’t know anything about Food Sciences, but that sounds like an employeable skill to me. So good work, check plus. Now, you need to focus on becoming a well-rounded person. Most schools have requirements, which students hate, but I probably never would have taken “Chief English Writers” if I hadn’t had to take an english class, and you’d be surprised how often knowing even a smidge about Chaucer comes in handy.

    This is an advice column, so here’s some advice: Take random classes in things that either sound interesting to you (but totally unrelated to your major) or that sound like they will be “good things to know.” If you’re scared for your GPA, audit them or take them pass/fail. Doing this will help you on two levels: (a) personally, this will expose you to all sorts of things that you might be interested in and happier and more confident in settings like the ones you describe; and (b) practically: you’ll appear “smarter.” Take a class on the nervous system, which will make reading articles in the health section of the paper more relevant and memorable, which make great chit-chat. Take an art history class if you don’t already, as you are interested in art, so when someone says “which one was Manet and which was Monet,” you can feel confident about your answer. Things like that.

    Good luck.

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      6napkinburger December 2, 2011, 12:11 pm

      I meant to add something else regarding the friends: do they ever talk about not high level stuff? Because otherwise its tedious. Can you talk about reality shows? or whether Clarissa really did explain it all? or whether ducks or bunnies are better? If EVERY conversation is about string theory, then maybe they are just trying to sound smart. But if not, then you might have some winners there.

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        iseeshiny December 2, 2011, 12:50 pm

        For the record, it’s definitely duckies.

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        Matcha December 2, 2011, 1:17 pm

        Bunnies for sure!

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        iseeshiny December 2, 2011, 3:07 pm

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        rainbow December 2, 2011, 2:06 pm

        I don’t like ducks. They rape each other all the time.

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        mcminnem December 2, 2011, 2:26 pm

        But the duckies with the way they glide across the water and then underneath their little feet are all “flailflailflail”…

        …you can’t see, but right now I’m doing the duck feet with my hands whilst making motor noises.

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        iseeshiny December 2, 2011, 3:08 pm

        That’s the same reason I don’t like humans!

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        lk December 3, 2011, 4:04 pm

        i’m dying laughing re-reading the comments on this thread today

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      oldie December 2, 2011, 2:38 pm

      I agree — the friends aren’t douchebags or talking to hear themselves talk. They are just discussing the latest ideas that interest them. It isn’t necessarily even that highbrow. I remember lunchtime college discussions of topics like this, which were as likely to arise from a Star Trek episode most of us had watched or a science fiction article one of us had read, as from any academic course. When it was from an academic course, it didn’t intimidate the rest of us. We knew it wasn’t some great theory invented by the speaker. It was his professor’s idea or an idea he had read. We could all agree or disagree. No need to quote Aristotle, Hume, or Nietsche to support our view. Perhaps LW is just too timid at expressing her own opinion or point of view. We had discussions of ideas or current political/economic issues about half of lunches. This was not a fancy Ivy League school — it was a second-tier engineering school. And these discussions weren’t all that different than those we had around the lunch table at my summer job as a stockboy. Everyone participated in those discussions, also. Whether college kid or HS dropout, everyone dare to express a view.

      This is not an area in which there is a ‘correct’ answer. Too many new collegians take the HS view that there must be one correct answer to every slightly high brow discussion, and that if you aren’t sure yours is the right one, you’d best keep quiet.

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    ele4phant December 2, 2011, 11:54 am

    I met my boyfriend when we were in the same small minor. He kicked major butt and it while I, well not so much.

    For a long time, I felt slightly inferior to him, because whenever we’d talk about tech, computers, science, ect., he had me beat. He never looked down on me, but it is hard to feel you are significantly less smart than your partner.

    Then I started a graduate program where I looked at social theory and politics, and suddenly, the roles were reversed. So don’t let anyone make you feel (or make yourself feel) inferior.

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    GatorGirl December 2, 2011, 11:57 am

    I’m BF is in a Phd program and I have a bachelors. We primarily hang out with his collegue/friends who do the same thing as your friends, LW. They ramble on and on about classes and history books and professors. They are incredibly one dementional and frankly boring. Thankfully my BF, and it seems like yours, has more interests than just his major. We talk about politics, news, pop culture, a lot of football, just about anything. I wouldn’t pay to much mind to these “friends” unless they are actually being mean…then you and your BF need to stand up for yourself. Try ro make some friends of your own in your dept who have similar interests.

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      GatorGirl December 2, 2011, 11:58 am

      And I don’t have any problem with history nerds, if it came out that way. My BF is one 🙂

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    mlippart December 2, 2011, 11:59 am

    wow, a lot of anti- intellectualism going on here today- what’s with calling college kids “douchebags” because they are interested in less concrete topics? I love reading and discussing philosophy- Aristotle and Kant, in particular. I guess that makes me a douchebag, or a blowhard, or a windbag, or any other of the words people were throwing up here. What gives? Why all the anger? The letter writer never said anyone was doing this on purpose. It would be like if I was in a group and they were all discussing American Idol. I have never seen the show, so would not really contribute to the conversation. Does that make them assholes for talking about something they were into?

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      cporoski December 2, 2011, 1:10 pm

      I am with you. I was so upset I thought about never coming to the site again.

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        grendel December 3, 2011, 12:30 pm

        maybe this site doesn’t really exist? maybe we are but the figments of an uncaring being? maybe the matrix is real and reality is just baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarf

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      Matcha December 2, 2011, 1:18 pm

      Thought I stumbled into onto a pro-Perry blog XD

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        cporoski December 2, 2011, 3:54 pm

        ha ha ha ha. awesome

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      Addie Pray December 3, 2011, 12:58 pm

      Good points, mlippart.

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      moonflowers December 4, 2011, 8:27 am

      I don’t think it’s anti-intellectualism as much as uncertainty about whether the friends are being pretentious or if the LW is insecure and blowing this up in her head. If it’s the first case, all the complaints about blowhards are justified, but that’s not anti-intellectualism, it’s just anti-poser.

      For the folks who truly love a subject, enjoy sharing their ideas or teaching others, and don’t judge, none of the harsh comments pertain at all – more power to you! It’s just that a lot of insecure kids will intentionally try to leave others in the dark to sound smart, or snub them for not knowing stuff, and that’s not cool. I think that’s what the commenters here are against, not real and welcoming intellectual vitality.

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        moonflowers December 4, 2011, 8:33 am

        And I know ad-hominem arguments are logical fallacies, but just in case – I’m a PhD candidate in electrical engineering at a top school, a through-and-through nerd, and I totally hope to be some sort of well-rounded intellectual (most definitely not in the Palin/Perry demographic!). I’m just out of patience for putting up with the folks I’d see in class who make a ton of noise but usually turn out not to be that exceptional. They give my major a bad name.

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    Christy December 2, 2011, 12:20 pm

    LW, I felt similar to how you feel when I entered graduate school. All my friends always had these interesting little stories or facts to share. I thought I was hopelessly dumb until I discovered their secret: NPR! Seriously. It was surprising but a relief at the same time. I started listening in the car on the way to campus and boom! Now I have some of my own factoids to add. Plus, NPR is seen as “smart people news” so it’s more legit than MSNBC.

    So I think your friends aren’t any smarter than you are, they might just be getting their info from somewhere else. I agree with Wendy, tune in for a few minutes or scan the headlines to get a sense of current events. But another thing I learned from my friends is that, even if what you’re not saying is all that significant, they’re confident enough to throw it out there. Think about something you’re excited about from your major and bring it up. You’ll be the expert for the moment and it might help you find common ground for further conversation.

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      mf December 2, 2011, 2:36 pm

      Thumbs up for the NPR mention! I’ve been listening to some NPR podcasts this year and I’ve feel like I’ve a lot of interesting stuff on a wide variety of issues. Plus, they’re NOT BORING!

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        cporoski December 2, 2011, 3:55 pm

        I LOVE this american life. love it. best NPR podcast by far.

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      iseeshiny December 2, 2011, 3:12 pm

      Yes! Thank you, Science Fridays!

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    Samantha December 2, 2011, 12:29 pm

    LW, I can totally relate. I chose to go to film school because I love writing and culture and this seemed the perfect way to blend both (and it totally is – I love my movie job!), but when I arrived at college, I was so intimidated by all the movies people had seen, made, and were constantly discussing. As a kid, I spent more time playing outside, and in high school, I was involved in everything, so there was just no time!
    But what helped me was remembering the first Harry Potter book – Harry arrives at Hogwarts and is completely intimidated by all the kids that grew up around magic. And yet… we all learn. And some of the people who started most “in the dark” end up bringing the most to the table because they have a broader base from which to draw. Ralph Waldo Emerson said something along the lines of “life’s chief good is for well-mixed people.” Take advantage and learn from these people, and remember that they probably only know what they are talking about, which is why they talk about it so loudly and for so long, and take pride in the fact that you are absorbing all of this to add to your own knowledge base. And be proud of your major and what you do know. Don’t let ’em intimidate you!

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    ladybug December 2, 2011, 1:05 pm

    And watch “The Big Bang Theory” on TV. Seriously. Even though it’s TV, it’s a concept where one not-so-nerdy girl is trying to fit in with a bunch of physicists and scientists. The show does a good job showing that even coming from different backgrounds, they all manage to get along and get along well, from Penny (a waitress) to Sheldon (a string theory physicist). One episode that could really hit home was where the super-smart Sheldon had to buy a children’s book to learn how to make friends. Goes to show you – even if someone is book smart, they still are equal or even lacking in other areas.

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      moonflowers December 4, 2011, 8:42 am

      I like to joke about this – “God is fair.” I once had a brilliant TA who aced our department’s super-competitive PhD qualifying exams. I once ended up taking a super tough class with him (somehow he didn’t take it in undergrad) and he’d go to office hours to ask for more practice problems, because he’d finished them all. (The same set of practice problems I was staring at blankly and trying to work up the guts to ask for help just to get started on …).

      Then this guy took social dance, one of the few things I’m a fast study in. He had three left feet. He was so relieved every time we rotated partners and he got me, because he knew he could ask me for help – and boy was he lost. Sometimes I had to try to swing his 6″ plus frame around myself because it was so hopeless and we were going to collide with another couple.

      No one is great at everything. Schadenfreude, perhaps, but it definitely helps keep stuff in perspective.

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        moonflowers December 4, 2011, 8:44 am

        Clearly I’m no good at punctuation. That was 6 feet, not inches!

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    YouGoGirl December 2, 2011, 1:53 pm

    I am a PhD student in the physical sciences who returned to school after 25 years of working. I am attending a top-tier university for scientific research. I am surrounded by extremely gifted, much younger classmates who probably all have IQs in the genius range. I was considered very smart at my job and as an undergrad, but became below “average” in grad school. I also obtained my undergrad degree before the personal computer was invented and did not know how to incorporate technology into my studies. And I have an autoimmune disorder that causes fatigue and I am unable to work at the pace of my much younger classmates.

    Like the LW, I was very intimidated by my classmates even though they were very nice. Several classmates were very encouraging, saying they said they admired me for going back to school and wished they had my practical experience. And I asked questions if I did not understand something. I would go to Happy Hour with my classmates and learn how Twiter works or how to take a picture with my cell phone.

    The best advice I can give to the LW is to not be ashamed if you do not know something. If you do not understand what your friends are talking about, ask them to explain it to you. Also appreciate your strengths in food, art and music like my classmates appreciated my practical experience.

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    lk December 2, 2011, 2:10 pm

    I’m actually still feeling angry about this. & really very very sad.

    For me, it’s not about anti-intellectualism or anything really related to higher education. I feel sad about the way people are writing about humans – young humans – as though their ideas are less valid somehow than “adult” humans. That makes me feel very afraid about the cruelty in this world & all the hatred & derogation that children endure just on the basis of being small & all in the name of “discipline” or “teaching them a lesson.” I feel like crying.

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      Christy December 2, 2011, 3:00 pm

      *hug*

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      cporoski December 2, 2011, 4:00 pm

      Totally agree. I loved me in college and love me today. Guess what, most scientific breakthroughs happen by people under 25 because they are not incumbered by the restrictions that come with getting older. They are uninhibited and brilliant. Don’t let these closed minded, judgemental people get you down.

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      moonflowers December 4, 2011, 8:50 am

      On one hand, yes, I agree – it’s no good for older folks to dismiss young peoples’ ideas. (Being the youngun at work every time I did an internship, this strikes home.)

      But one advantage the old have on the young, if they use it properly, is experience with human nature and maturity. And if the problem with either the LW or her friends is that they lack the experience that would give them perspective on how to handle their own insecurity, then it’s good for older people with the experience and perspective to lend a hand. It’s not so much a youth problem as it is a personality problem – insecurity and being defensive/judgemental can be unattractive or unhealthy at any age.

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    mf December 2, 2011, 2:16 pm

    Here’s a little secret you should, LW: everyone in college feels the way you do. That’s why they have to make up bullsh!t about theories of reality – they feel like they’ve got to prove how smart they are.

    When I was an undergrad, I struggled a lot with the same feelings as you are. I developed a few coping techniques. In particular, when I’m feeling insecure around people who are smarter/prettier/more talented/more athletic, I think about one of my traits that makes me unique, something about myself that I really value. Like, “I don’t have a genius IQ like that guy, but I’m thankful for my quick wit and creativity.” It’s a reminder that I don’t have be to smarter/prettier/more talented/more athletic or whatever to have value.

    It’s great that these friends of yours are interested in intellectual ideas, and like Wendy said, it can’t hurt to read up a bit on these topics. But if these friends are the kind worth keeping, they won’t care if you can’t tell Kant from Hume. And you don’t have to prove anything to them or anyone else – you have a lot to offer just as you are!

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    grendel December 2, 2011, 2:38 pm

    Anyone, especially someone who is 18 or 19 years old, who talks about “theories of reality or the absence of it” is a grade A choade guaranteed. I would suggest you find some people who are actually fun to be around and don’t just sit around and engage in passive aggressive, masturbatory “wiener” waving contests about cares the most about pointless stupid crap. You’re in college have some fun for christ’s sake.

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      grendel December 2, 2011, 2:39 pm

      Maybe I should also mention I’m a doctoral candidate, but my passion is beer and video games.

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        Budj December 2, 2011, 2:54 pm

        Yea – I went to a tough academic school and the only people you discussed stuff like that with was your classmates during work shops / hw groups…outside of class it was drinking, pop culture, video games, and recreational drug use…

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      cporoski December 2, 2011, 4:03 pm

      so you think time is better spent with video games and beer then politics, religion, and science? God save us all.

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    mcminnem December 2, 2011, 2:57 pm

    I’m just going to skip over everything else and focus on what I see as the most immediate things here:
    Look, college is a learning curve. You’re a freshman. It’s like a rite of passage to feel like you’re out of your element – in a few years, you’ll be the senior shark in the pond full of little fishies. It’ll happen! So don’t sweat it.
    As for your boyfriend and his friends: these are the people affecting you directly, so I understand wanting to fit in with them. So they’re smart! That’s fine. So are you. You were accepted into your college, and therefore you deserve to be there.
    The important thing to remember is that being intelligent isn’t measured by the things you know, but how you deal with the things you learn. You are as smart as you are ever going to be. But you haven’t learned all the things you are going to learn. Neither have your boyfriend and his friends.
    You aren’t less smart than these people; you simply know different things. You have a different set of information. The way to show your intelligence isn’t by already knowing what they know – it’s by being interested and engaged in *learning* what they know. Discuss with them, ask them to explain to you. ASK THEM WHAT THEY THINK. Every person on this planet has an opinion, and most people will love being given the opportunity to tell you theirs.
    Offer up your own knowledge. You know stuff. Interesting stuff. Be willing to talk to them about it.

    You are not less intelligent. You just don’t know as many facts. Yet. 🙂

    Personal story time: My BF has a computer science degree. Right now, he’s working for a software company as Fixer of the Code which is Broke. The other day, he published an article on the company’s blog about the fixes he and his team have been doing recently. He sent it to me and was all “look what I did!” and I was all “Woo! You wrote a thing! I have no idea what any of it means! Yay you!” And he laughed.
    The thing is, he’s smart. I know he’s smart. And I’m always proud of him for doing well at his job and I thought it was really cool that he was published about it. But I have NO CLUE how his work actually, well, works. It’s not my body of knowledge.
    On the other hand, he came home one day this week to find me buried in books and journals up to my ears and was like “What’re you doing” and I was all “I’m writing this paper on the transition of musical knowledge in aboriginal Australia and Neuenfeldt wrote all the books and it’s just going to be a word salad of sadness and Neuenfeldt! Gah!” and he went: “Derp?”
    Turns out ethnomusicology isn’t his thing.
    We’re both smart; we just know about different things. And a large portion of the time, neither of us knows what the other is talking about. And that’s okay; this way, we can learn from each other. Hell, I even wrote a line of code the other day. And it did a thing! So there’s hope.

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    LK December 2, 2011, 3:39 pm

    I wonder if the LW’s issue is that she’s just at the wrong school for her. I went to one of those schools where intellectual conversations were the norm. My bf went to a big 10 party school and every story he has revolves around someone passing out from drinking too much. I’m at a school now that’s a cross between the two and frankly, I’d probably feel more comfortable at a smaller, more intellectual school. Maybe the LW just isn’t at a school with the right culture for her, which often happens, and she just needs to realize that the environment might not be the best fit for her rather than get upset with the people around her.

    Also, college is very much about learning new things and stepping outside of your comfort zone. I think that maybe one of LW’s issues is that she doesn’t know how to articulate ideas properly – the same idea can sound really smart or really stupid depending on how it’s presented. This is probably a great opportunity to work on that. So you know about food and they’re talking about South American civilization.. why not mention how gastro-tourism is becoming big in Peru or how difficult it is to boil water in higher altitudes so you wonder how long it took the indigenous people of the Andes to actually cook their food. All basic facts – one I learned from watching Top Chef, hte other from the back of a cake mix box (and I guess basic geography to know that the Andes are in South America).

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      Christy December 2, 2011, 3:57 pm

      THIS THIS THIS.

      I went to a total nerd school for undergrad and I ate it up. My grad school, not so much. The nerd factor was pretty high in the library school (Kerry not included) but the math kids just party all the time. Math PhDs, partying. It’s just the culture. Some people like nerding out, some like partying.

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    John Rohan December 2, 2011, 4:59 pm

    I have experience from the other side of the coin; I was mostly a “C” student in high school, yet I read an awful lot, and I had no trouble carrying on deep conversations with even the smartest people I knew. Yet, I also knew a few “A” students who seemed to know almost NOTHING about the world; eg: they didn’t know what countries fought in WWI, what a combustion engine is, that not all snakes are venomous, etc. It soon became apparent to me that they were “A” students because they worked hard at studying material for class, but had no natural curiousity about anything else in the world. I’m afraid this LW might fall into the same category.

    But you can change (so did I, as a matter of fact, and eventually became an “A” student in my later years in college). Wendy’s advice here is mostly sound. Simply reading the news will give you a huge leg up in conversations. But you have to actually READ it, not just “scan the headlines”, otherwise you will be completely bewildered by some topics, such as the ongoing Israel-Palestine situation (You can go anywhere for news, but I recommend http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/ because it has a good international focus). Try to be a little curious about the world, and the rest will fall into place without any real effort on your part.

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      mcminnem December 2, 2011, 10:53 pm

      Word to the BBC!

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  • Lyra

    L December 2, 2011, 5:29 pm

    LW, I feel your pain.

    When I started college I decided to go for this program that was like a honors program, but it really isn’t an honors program…I know, it’s confusing. My brother had taken classes in a similar honors program at his college so I thought I would try it out. It turned out to be basically a classics minor…which was something that I definitely wasn’t interested in. At first I pretended that I enjoyed it. In reality, I hated it. There were other classes that I should have taken instead or that I wanted to take instead and I really should have gone for those. I fumbled my way through a year and a couple months until I realized that I really wasn’t getting anything from it so I dropped the class I was taking at the time and dropped the program altogether. Trying to be polite, when I went to my professor to have her sign the form to drop the class, I automatically told her that the class wasn’t the reason I was dropping and that it was a good class. She stopped me and told me that I shouldn’t just say that something was “good”; it wasn’t for me and that was ok. It wasn’t something that I was interested in and she understood that. It wasn’t meant for everybody.

    I’m not demeaning those who love talking about philosophical and abstract things. I love a deep philosophical discussion when I’m in the right mood. It’s not for everyone, but some people absolutely love to discuss deep topics like that all the time.

    I was the same way as you, LW in high school: I had an awesome GPA and I stood out as a result. I considered myself pretty smart. However, I also had a couple of friends in my major in college who were extremely intelligent and ALWAYS got A’s on EVERYTHING. The professors LOVED them because these guys always always always went above and beyond to the extreme (5-page papers would turn into 12-page papers, they would do extra projects, etc.). It was frustrating, but of course these guys were some of the nicest guys ever. They just happened to do everything perfectly and it seemed to overshadow the rest of us at times. I just kept on plugging and doing my best work and as a result did pretty darn good if I do say so myself. 🙂

    You aren’t a philosophy major or a neuroscience major or an astrophysics major…and that’s fine! Maybe look towards your major for some more friends who will understand your passion and love of food science! That’s one of the best parts of college — it’s almost guaranteed that there will be people there who have similar interests as you. Good luck!

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    LSS86 December 2, 2011, 5:56 pm

    I haven’t read any of the comments, but this letter could have been written by me my freshman year of college, so I feel compelled to respond.

    Firstly, I completely disagree with Wendy’s assumption that all these people are stoners. I also disagree that reading the news is likely to give you much of a leg-up, since it doesn’t sound like these people are talking primarily about current events, it sounds like they’re talking more about topics like theoretical physics.

    I’m assuming you went to a top school where everyone was one of the smartest people in their highschools. Now they’re in college with a ton of other smart people and a combination of two things is happening: 1) they finally have a ton of people around who are willing to have intellectual conversations; and 2) they no longer feel like the smartest person, so they feel the need to one-up each other so they don’t feel dumb. Yes, that’s right, I’m suggesting that all these other people who make you feel dumb are acting so intellectual in part because they too feel dumb and are trying to prove otherwise (to everyone else, but also to themselves).

    I think there are a couple things you should pay close attention to: 1) do you get the feeling that these people think less of you, or is it just YOU thinking less of yourself – there are plenty of people who like to have intellectual conversations and/or prove how smart they are that won’t look down on you if you can’t keep up with their conversations. You should be able to tell the difference between those people and the people who look down on you. 2) are these people willing to talk about non-intellectual topics as well? The ones that just want to talk about the theory of relativity ALL THE TIME are probably not people you want to hang around with. But there will be plenty of people who are interested both in having deep philosophical conversations and also mindless, silly conversations.

    My group of friends in college were particularly nerdy, but we covered the entire spectrum. About half of us were the type who liked to have geeky intellectual conversations sometimes, but would die if those were the only conversations we had; about a quarter of the group was pretty incapable of having a conversation that isn’t intellectual, and could take even the silliest of conversations and find a way to put an intellectual spin on it, but clearly did not look down on you for having that silly conversation; and then the last quarter of the group only ever wanted to have intellectual conversations and quickly tired of people that talked about anything else. You can probably guess that the third group is the one that I don’t really keep in touch with 3 1/2 years out of college.

    A little anecdote I’ll leave you with: I took a math class my first semester of college, and there was this one guy in my dorm who was also in the class. He always acted like he completely understood every concept, he sat in the front row and was constantly asking really intelligent questions, and had a bit of a know-it-all attitude. Seeing him made me feel incredibly stupid; after all, it took me 10 hours to finish the weekly problem sets and I’d wind up with about 85% on most of them, and he probably just sat down and churned out a 100% problem set in an hour. One day I actually decided to TALK to him, instead of just assuming he was a smug genius. Turns out, he was doing really well in the class, but it wasn’t easy for him. He was spending 14 hours each week on his problem sets! That was the last time I assumed that just because someone acted like a know-it-all, they didn’t need to work really hard and study a lot to get so smart. If you talk to some of these people one-on-one, you might learn that they have to work really hard to be able to keep up with these intellectual conversations.

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      lk December 3, 2011, 4:14 pm

      thanks, yes.

      i was a really excellent math student my whole life. i had a reputation for working ahead units & “getting” everything. was allowed to take required courses without doing the homework so that i could do more advanced work…

      want to know why? because i have really bad oral comprehension. so i could only learn in class if i had *already* learned the material. i remember taking a whole day one time – like 6AM to 6PM – to try to understand the unit circle (hayyy calculus friends!), because we were learning it the next week.

      so, if someone’s chewing your ear out about the theory of relativity, maybe they were up till 4 in morning reading articles & watching videos & re-reading their class notes & they are excited because they JUST NOW got it : )

      & also, now i’m really in the mood to buy a used math textbook online & get involved : )

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    Meredith December 2, 2011, 8:00 pm

    I felt the same way in college! I had a group of friends I remember we’d always hang out at the Caribou Coffee and they were all such intellectuals and always knew a lot about a lot. I was embarrassed for a while because I was nowhere close to being on their level and often times had no idea what they were talking about. But that’s the cool thing about college, you learn so much in class as well as outside of class! Instead of feeling ashamed because I didn’t know or understand the subjects of the conversations, I started asking questions and totally embraced these coffee house evenings as a learning opportunity. Your friends won’t think you’re dumb, they’ll be flattered that you ask questions! Most ppl like the occasional opportunity to teach others. Also, I made sure to make friends that were interested in the same topics as me such as boys, sex, and celebrity gossip lol. Don’t beat yourself up, you are still smart! I’ll never be an intellectual but I know I’m intelligent and have a successful great career regardless of my limited knowledge of philosophy or history. 🙂

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      lk December 3, 2011, 4:17 pm

      & if you ask the questions & your friend doesn’t know – then you can both get involved in some educated guessing : ) that’s my most fun activity! i just make shxt up, on the regular & ask other people how possible it is that my version is true. “what if…”…. fun game.

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  • katie

    Katie December 2, 2011, 9:20 pm

    i think you just need to be more engaging in conversations. the only way you can look stupid talking about something you dont know is if you flat out lie about a fact. so, during a conversation about the christmas, you start talking about how the easter bunny brings presents, something along that line. so, just dont do that (im sure that you wouldnt- that would be weird), and engage them in the conversation. if they say something that you dont know, ask. or, ask really slyly… like, while they are discussing the theory of relativity (which i know very very little, i would use this line), ask them the best analogy they can come up with for that theory. i heard one on a movie once (deep blue sea), and the analogy was you put your hands on a hot pan, a minute seems like an hour. you put your hands on a hot woman, a hour seems like a minute. that makes the theory of relativity make sense to me. so, trick your friends into dumbing it down, thats one way. the other way is to just ask! just say, ive never really studied that, whats that all about? and listen and learn. i have learned the funniest things just from random conversations in like grocery stores and stuff. you gotta be able to be interested in subjects you dont know, and willing to listen and ask questions.

    i dont think that there is anything wrong with you. you just need a little confidence! oh, and by the way, dont feel like being a food science major is somehow a step below other people. i want to go back to school to get a degree in food science, and i am soooo terrified of all the math and science classes i would have to take, and i can have a conversation with anyone about literally any topic, including the theory of relativity, which all i know about is the line from deep blue sea. if ive got nothing to worry about, neither do you! lol

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    SRBoyd December 2, 2011, 10:45 pm

    My tip for expanding your horizons: listen to podcasts. They’re great for commuting and even better for something to listen to when getting ready in the morning. I hate to think that the time I spend doing my hair or putting on makeup is wasted, so I throw on This American Life and let Ira tell stories about families or teach me something I didn’t know about mortgages. Trust me on the mortgages, they make it interesting 🙂

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    Violet December 3, 2011, 1:16 am

    What an interesting field you’re studying, though, LW! I would love to talk to someone in Food Science. That is so relevant to what is going on today with our food supply. I imagine you know all kinds of things about what we eat and where it originated. And in the future, you might even develop new ways to do things! Everyone has to eat food, so use that in your conversations! Tell people things they might not know. So often people don’t think about where their food comes from. 🙂

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    Caris December 3, 2011, 8:53 pm

    So I haven’t read all the comments so maybe I repeat some advice. One thing that might be different is that I’m from Argentina and maybe colleges are different, but here are my two cents: you can just listen, there is nothing wrong with not participating and just paying attention to what other people say. If they are talking about something you have an opinion about then go ahead and just give your opinion, that you are a food major doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion about the topics this other students talk about.

    I made lots of different people in college. Granted most of them are studying to become biologists like me, but that doesn’t mean we only talk about biology or that we have the same opinions about everything. We also don’t spend all the time talking about deep stuff. We also joke around and talk about nonsense and just try to have fun 🙂

    And with your bf? Just talk with your bf the way you always did? I mean, you had no problem talking to him before you started college.

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      Caris December 3, 2011, 8:55 pm

      “I made lots of different people…” what??? I meant: I met lost of different people, made lots of different friends 😀

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