Maybe the fact I’m an international student has twisted my views slightly on this issue. Going from a country where 18 is the legal age to drink to a country where I suddenly have to wait three years for the same privilege seems to have a slightly strange logic to it. But the question of when someone is considered old enough to handle their alcohol responsibly isn’t the one bothering me at the moment – because let’s be honest, we’ve all experienced the hilarity of drunk grandparents at some point.
No, it’s the question of when someone is genuinely considered an adult that is getting to me. When do we move over that line of ‘you’re here to be taught’ to ‘I can do the teaching’?
I think a lot of it comes down to the systems that shape our lives. In college and school, it doesn’t matter how intellectually mature and open-minded you might be, you are still under the regulations of your professor. You still have to adhere to whatever rules they decide to set. Now I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the handling of students by a lot of the professors I’ve had at college – a lot of them treat their students like equals; young adults capable of developing the knowledge to help shape the future.
But they aren’t all like that. And when that same twenty year old college student moves into a different social setting, they have to adapt. A lot of twenty year olds just want to party, and then spend the next day recovering in the darkness of their room with a pizza and Netflix for company. The philosophical discussion one twenty year old has just been having in class would get ridiculed in a certain group of their friends. But when they encounter other adults who may have an interest in that same philosophical discussion, the adults assume they are in the group of party-going, Netflix-binging twenty year olds.
When you’ve been in a system for a large part of your life, where you’re taught to listen to the people who are older and smarter than you are, I think it becomes difficult to move out of that dynamic. Of course when you’re young there are certain things you need to learn and certain times you have to be quiet while the adults talk. But you can’t get treated like that forever.
For example, in the past year I’ve become aware of the TED organisation. I think it’s a fantastic concept and there are a lot of inspiring, life-changing talks that I think everyone should listen to. I was in a situation recently where I was part of a group of ‘students’ listening to an ‘expert’ talk. A question came up about body language and a TED talk I had recently watched sprang to my mind. As I listened to the ‘expert’ answer the question, I realised he was quoting almost directly from the TED talk. And then he ended his comments with a direct reference and recommendation to the talk that I had been thinking about the whole time… and yet I sat there in silence, not knowing how to share the fact that I too had watched the talk that he had learnt from.
My point is that despite the fact I had the same level of knowledge as this ‘expert’ for this particular discussion, nobody else realised that. And it wouldn’t have crossed anybody’s mind that I could be capable of actively taking an interest in something that the ‘expert’ would. I don’t see myself as part of that student system anymore; I’m not just interested in being ‘taught’ stuff – I want to go out and learn it. But then what do I do?
Because I’m not an adult. I’m just 20.