Three Friends, One Instructor, Six Parts
Three Parsons students meet in a New School group chat, planning to go to a movie before the start of their first college semester and, to this day, remain friends. Their First Year Integrative Seminar instructor interviews them a month before graduation.
Alex: We’re all different majors and we’re all international students so we didn’t really have any other friends in the city that we already knew. We met in a chat and talked online, in between classes.
Casey: Did Anshuman and Cole ever tell you what happened in our Spring ’19 class with the group chat? For Bridge 5, the project that required reflection on the semester work, one student turned in an enlarged printout of the entire chat, without permission from the other students. When one of the students realized what was going on, she turned around and said to me, “I just want to apologize for the things that I said.”
Casey: The group mind in the chat often distorted the assignments and sometimes worsened confusion. E.g., “Our instructors are so mean, they’re making us do all this work. None of this makes sense.” “Yeah, it doesn’t make sense!” So, my co-teacher and I met with our students to acknowledge the value of the chat but also the value of a student’s own mind. Thinking for yourselves and asking instructors for clarification. After the meeting, there was a powerful acknowledgment of this distortion.
Cole: The fact that we were in dorms was a big part of our friendship. We could just come over to each other’s rooms and visit. Anshuman and I were in the same building.
Anshuman: That’s how I got closer to Cole.
Cole: I started living in his apartment, against his will.
Casey: And that’s where you set the music video you made for one of my assignments.
Casey: Alex, you’re in Communication Design. Cole, you’re an Illustration major? And Anshuman, you’re studying Design and Technology?
Three friends: Right.
Casey: How much of your friendship has developed online versus in person?
Alex: Eighty percent online.
Alex: A lot of the time, after second year, even when we were all still in the city, I think all of us were quarantining. Eventually we returned to our home countries. So it felt impossible to coordinate in-person hanging out. I remember us trying to play Among Us, but we couldn’t figure out how to play the game together; there was no common time when we were all awake.
Casey: Eighty percent online, I’m still digesting this.
Cole: For us, a lot of our connection has come from sharing humor and interests. We send each other a lot of music or memes or videos. That’s part of what keeps us together.
Alex: Even though we’ve talked online more than offline, before the pandemic, every other week or Friday night we’d get together and play games, walk around, just hangout. And since the pandemic started, we’ve become busier as juniors and seniors, that’s when the friendship went mostly online.
Casey: Anshuman, do you remember your perspective shifting from when you were a freshman and how you perceived the workload back then in regards to what’s too much work v. what’s manageable now?
Anshuman: It’s always been intense for me, even if it’s not much work. I just have to deal with the tension in a way that allows me to finish and learn from my work. Even if it was only one paper to write for a class the entire semester, like you said; When I need to write a paper, I put a lot of random thoughts into it, which isn’t efficient. If there’s only one paper, then there’s more pressure on the success of that paper.
Casey: What would you say about Alex and Cole and how they’ve handled their workloads after the freshman year?
Anshuman: I feel like Alex has always had a big workload.
Cole: I think Alex contributes to the size of the workload.
Anshuman: She should have graduated five years ago.
Casey: Before she started.
Cole: She was qualified to graduate when she started. She’s just here for fun.
Alex: I think Cole is just really chill about workloads. When I’m always complaining about everything I have to do, Cole would advise me that it’s not hard if you don’t think about it in stressful ways and in terms of volume. Just do the assignments one by one.
Cole: With each workload, I consider if I really need to get stressed about it in my head. I can just try to think of it as putting in time to finish the work. My calculation is something simple like: putting in X amount of time = getting X amount of work done.
Casey: That’s a really good place to come from for giving advice.
Cole: Despite my outward “chill” demeanor, I do get worked up about things from time to time.
Casey: Do you hold it inside?
Cole: I’m very guilty of that. If I had been aware of the ‘time put in = the work you get out of it approach’ the whole time at Parsons, I would’ve saved myself from getting too worked up about some important things.
Casey: Alex and Anshuman, when Cole was acting “chill,” did either of you sense that he was holding something in? Did you suspect that his outward facing demeanor was different than what he was actually going through?
Anshuman: I’ve lived with Cole.
Cole: Anshuman can read me.
Casey: How would it show up? Would he clean the fridge?
Cole: Absolutely not.
Casey: Would Cole leave his food out on the counter when he was stressed?
Anshuman: When I become aware of people doing this , hiding their true feelings, I just give them space. I don’t try to force anything. I’m there if they need me.
Casey: We’re getting at the ingredients for a lasting friendship, at least one that lasts this long. Maybe the ‘80% online’ has given the friendship some healthy space. Cole and Anshuman, are you roommates now?
Anshuman: Technically no, but he’s like Kramer from Seinfeld.
Cole: I just show up at his apartment.
Casey: What did you learn in First Year that you still find valuable?
Cole: At first I just wanted to jump into the work in my major and was resisting the idea of First Year. It turned out to be pretty helpful because I tried out all the requirements and also tried different fields. I was able to figure out that I like certain things that I didn’t think I would like, and I didn’t like certain things that I thought maybe I would like. I figured out what ways of working and creating were a good fit for me. The entire First Year let me try a bunch of different things, see what I could draw from all the different mediums and all the different people I was learning from. I learned what sticks for me.
Casey: How did these experiences affect your self awareness?
Cole: I’m the kind of person who has a lot of ideas, and I want to do so many different things, and I know I can’t do all of those things. They’re not all for me to keep working with.
Casey: Realizing what is and what isn’t you?
Cole: Yeah, and starting to think critically about it. Taking the time to feel what I feel. Question if what I’m learning is something that I really enjoy doing.
Casey: Has this kind of awareness raising continued throughout the rest of your time at Parsons?
Cole: I’ve questioned whether I’m going in the right direction each step of the way. I feel I’ve had fun with my accomplishments while at Parsons.
Alex: Now that I’m about to graduate, I was looking back and thinking I want to do undergrad all over again.
Cole: Yeah, I want to start over.
Alex: I started off doing a lot of things that didn’t go anywhere, and I wish I had focused on something else. But in the end, all of those things weren’t for nothing; it was just for me to figure out the path I’m following right now. I feel like even if I were to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have a dead set focus on one thing from start to finish. I guess your goal for each year is different. When you’re a First Year, you mess around, do whatever. You’re not in the major courses yet.
Anshuman: I came from a background where I just transitioned out of a science and engineering mindset. I realized I just wanted to work in the arts, so I came to art school, not knowing jack about art, except how to paint plants.
Casey: I remember this coming up in a 1:1 meeting about your mindset before you came here.
Anshuman: A lot of the people I met at Parsons had been doing artistic stuff for quite a while. Cole has been using Photoshop since he was 11. I didn’t learn it until my second semester. There were a lot of things I was discovering for the first time. Mindsets that I wasn’t accustomed to. I never expected woodworking. There are a lot of things I started to experiment with. I did new things for the first time in First Year. Eventually what you end up doing is getting a knack for how to do the things you like. And a procedure that you particularly like. I believe that is something that subconsciously applies to what you’re doing when you’re making a thesis project. For example: journal of hunches, I’m still doing that. It has become a diary thing for me. Casey, you recommended this journaling process for research: tracking my thoughts. I reference this process quite a lot when trying to come up with new project ideas. I track the thoughts that have emotions attached to them, and then I recreate those feelings in a project. Also, Casey, you made us do field research, the first assignment you gave in which we had to walk around campus. I did super weird things for that assignment with poetry. I still reference that project. It was the most fun I had in the process of making a project.
Casey: Was that the day I took you to the installation of words on the stairs?
Anshuman: Yeah, and then I went around taking photos of things like the door I saw on top of a staircase that led to nowhere. I started to replicate that whole fieldwork/writing process in my own design process. I used it with my thesis, for example, when I was trying to come up with an idea. For thesis, they let you do whatever you want. I’m indecisive when it comes to that, being able to do what I want. I couldn’t think of anything. So I walked around Columbus Circle, and I did that exact thing where I started to note down my thoughts as I was walking. My thesis process is similar now to the process for the first assignment you gave in Integrative Seminar 2.
Casey: That’s extremely rewarding for an instructor to hear.
Anshuman: Reviewing my notes from that walk, the thoughts I had, I came up with a separate concept. Even if it doesn’t directly lead to a main idea, it does lead me in valuable directions.
Casey: The power of process (including thinking of First Year as the process of your education).
Anshuman: My research paper in your class was a rap video. I feel like that specific freedom has led to what I’m doing now: finding ways of bringing writing into visual media. For my thesis, I wrote a poem, and there’s a narrative that’s attached, and it’s interactive. I’m trying to find different ways to include writing in the way that your class encouraged me. I enjoyed that. Like Cole said, the things that you enjoy stick. You keep doing more of those.
Cole: For me, in First Year, at that time in my life I was very anti-authority. Rebellious. I mean, I wanted to be good, go to college, and do what my parents were telling me, but inside I was very rebellious, thinking: I don’t want to listen to these grown ups telling me what to do.
Casey: I think it’s important at that age to rebel.
Cole: But then having engaging experiences in First Year helps you open your eyes and realize that, okay, not everyone is like a stiff, uptight adult. People are still people.
Casey: Especially at a place like The New School. I know many First Year faculty members, and I consider them to be very “cool” and inspiring and generous.
Cole: Education can be engaging and fun, and it doesn’t have to be you complaining about how much work you have to do. It doesn’t have to be thought of as work at all. If you’re engaged in it, if you’re interested in it, it can just be fun, it can just be learning. That’s something that many of my First Year classes helped me to start seeing, and it helped me to go through the remaining 3 years of college with a better, more open mind, really absorbing the most I could from these later classes and the different perspectives I encountered. First Year lets you experience the widest range of professors and types of classes you’re probably going to have.
Anshuman: By exploring all these different options in First Year, you’re not learning those skills; you’re learning how to learn new skills.
Casey: Learning how to learn.
Anshuman: Learning how to keep learning. You’re not learning woodworking; you’re learning how to use your hands to craft things.
Casey: That’s why the Seminar is taught with a Studio class: connect the thinking and the making in a synchronous way.
Casey: Alex, what have you learned since your first year that you wish you knew then?
Alex: You’re the only person who’s going to know what you want to do. You’ll have teachers and peers who will give you critiques and feedback but no one really knows which direction you’re going in. So, I learned to not lose focus on that. Coming from my high school, the teachers pushed you forward. They made you read this and read that and write these things and turn this in and join these competitions. Somebody else did the motivational work for you. And it’s very different when you start college. My first year was, by comparison, so relaxing because nobody was pushing me to try to do something. Now I look back and see missed opportunities.
Casey: I want to clarify what you mean by ‘nobody’s pushing you to do something’.
Alex: No one’s saying that because you want to do graphic design you should start reading these things and you should make one poster per week. Nobody set those goals for me.
Cole: You’re required to set your own goals.
Alex: You need to learn how to do that, or try to do that, from the start.
Casey: So you’re talking about post-First Year regarding graphic design goals?
Alex: In First Year, it’s helpful to have that idea because it’s easy to lose sight of where you’re going in First Year, especially because everyone’s trying all these things out. Sometimes you find a new direction and can decide to change your major, and that’s very helpful. But sometimes when you know what you want to do, and you’re doing all these different things in First Year, your goals can easily get lost.
Cole: Yeah, if you know what you want to do, you should research what resources are available to you and do everything you can to utilize every opportunity that comes your way.
Casey: How about Anshuman or Cole, what have you learned since that you wish you knew then?
Anshuman: The practice of making something every day. I call them ‘every-days’. The idea of…if you have a hunch, or if you have something that you’re thinking you might want to do sometime, just make a tiny project on that theme, or a project that uses that technique. Just make it. That’s a practice I should’ve started a long time ago.
Cole: Something that I’ve learned that I’ve always known but never really followed: don’t get lost in perfectionism. I used to not have a problem with it, but then I started falling into that mindset, and then I had to unlearn that.
Casey: What is the damage of perfectionism?
Cole: It makes it harder to start a project. And it makes it harder to finish. Things will take longer. You’ll be stuck on one thing. It just halts all creativity. It’s good to have standards, to a degree; you don’t want the work to look sloppy. At a certain point, though, you just gotta get the work out there.
Casey: It’s the value of process.
Cole: The everyday thing.
Anshuman: The fact that you’re posting every day means it’s not going to be perfect; you don’t put enough time into it for that. But the fact that you’re putting stuff out constantly helps you build up that confidence to make you think that everything you make is good.
Cole: It’s exercise.
Casey: As long as there’s progress and you’re not, for example, putting out mediocre stuff and content with it. As long as your potential is being tapped, it’s valuable.
Cole: You have to find a balance.
Anshuman: When there’s something you want to try out, you should just make it. E.g., I wanted to try out a certain technology, and I thought of a random mini-project that would use that technology, and I made it. And I put it out there. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But that process encourages you to do more. And to learn more. Most of the professionals using these technologies and skills, they do the same thing to grow. And I think it’s valuable. Especially when it’s not perfect. When my first semester professors said that shitty ideas are the best ideas, I think that really affected me in a positive way.
Casey: What’s the Venn diagram of each of you, with the following as intersecting categories: First Year, Friend, Creative? For example, I would ask you: What is the middle space of knowing Alex as a First Year person, a friend, and a creative person? How do all those things intersect?
Cole: I see that Anshuman’s process is very fluid, constantly changing. With Alex, for some reason the word ‘streamlined’ comes to mind. Your text design is really cool. I really love that stuff that you do. It’s very industrial.
Casey: How does Alex being streamlined apply to First Year?
Cole: It relates to what she was saying about keeping the path in mind, the direction you’re going in…that focus. With Anshuman, what he was talking about, he’s drawing inspiration from many sources.
Anshuman: I’m trying to think about Cole. If I’m flow and Alex is streamlined, what will Cole be?
Alex: Cole is a boulder. Kind of stubborn. Not moving but also moving in one direction somehow.
Cole: Hell yeah, a rock.
Anshuman: What would you say for us, Casey?
Casey: If I included myself in this Venn Diagram, I would say the word playful is where we all meet. There was a playfulness in the classes I met you all in. And I think playfulness is something that’s overlooked a lot in academia, specifically in regards to the learning process. With the pedagogy class I’m taking for teaching ESL, the value of being playful with students has come up often. Students can actually learn more with play and playfulness.
Cole: I recently realized that things are typically taught in school in a very boring and monotonous way, and it feels like a chore, and it’s not fun anymore. But learning itself is fun and enjoyable. If you can make it playful, it’s the most rewarding approach.
Casey: Alex, what are your thoughts on playfulness and education? In the context of this group of friends?
Alex: It’s important to not be in the mindset that being in a classroom setting is boring and feels like going to work. It’s important to have playfulness. I was in a game design workshop, and we used this app called Gather, an alternative to Zoom. It’s a lot more realistic. It’s like a Pixel game, and if you walk too far away from the teacher you can’t hear them. The teacher walks around, and you have to follow them and do things like, for example, drive a go-kart to go pick up a file for an assignment. It turns learning into a game.
Casey: Alex, what is your Venn Diagram representation of your two friends here?
Alex: I feel like Anshuman’s personality doesn’t change much from being a friend to being a creative. He’s spontaneous in all these dimensions.
Casey: I’m trying to think of a thing that’s spontaneous. Like, if I were a birder and knew my way around the animal kingdom I could say, “You’re the sparrow, Anshuman!”
Laughter and banter about how I might be correct about the sparrow being spontaneous and how the sound we typically associate with an Eagle belongs to a hawk, and how American that is to force an image of strength.
Casey: Anshuman, have you thought about this question for Alex?
Anshuman: I don’t know why, but I think of clean, in terms of a visual aesthetic and dress code. Super clean.
Casey: Alex, what about Cole and the Venn Diagram?
Alex: A couple of days ago, Cole posted on Instagram, What is your perception of me? And, I answered Snorlax. Powerful but always relaxed.
Casey: What do you think about the future, after graduation, in terms of your friendship and your educational experience? Has this future leaked into your thoughts about yourself yet?
Cole: I just want a break. I’ll figure it out afterwards. I need rest now.
Casey: How about you, Alex: one word for your future?
Alex: The grind. I’m probably going to go into work right after graduation.
Casey: What will you be doing?
Alex: I want to join a smaller studio, though they’re not always on the lookout for someone new. So, probably working at an agency.
Casey: What location will you be looking at?
Alex: I plan to stay in New York, but if there’s a great opportunity somewhere else, I could go there, too.
Casey: Cole, where are you going to rest?
Cole: I’m going to Japan first, to see everyone. And then I’ll come back here. I’m thinking about furthering my education but don’t know with what exactly or know where. I’m thinking about music as well, doing that here.
Casey: Anshuman, where and what after graduation for you?
Anshuman: Near future, uncertainty, for sure. I might be in this country, I might not be in this country. I’ll end up wherever I am. Everything is uncertain right now because a big phase of my life is ending.
Casey: You could use your journal of hunches.