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becoming someone



Last fall, I started thinking about going to graduate school although I had never thought of it before. In my university, I belong to the department of international relations, and I’m studying in a seminar about research on societies in developing countries based on our own interests. But, the more I study, the more I want to learn deeply on these case studies and I feel that the one and a half years I have left until graduating university is not enough. That is the reason I started thinking about graduate school.


After I made up my mind, I told my parents that I was thinking about going to graduate school. Then, they asked me, “What do you want to be after graduating from graduate school? What do you want to do in the future?”


I also talked to a professor of the seminar about graduate school when I contacted him about a report at the end of last year. He replied to me that “making sure that the research has an ‘end product’ is a ‘very normal’ important condition for various international cooperation projects and businesses of private corporations.” I think that the ‘end product’ which he said, means the goal or meaning of the research and the way to use them in the future. I’m not so sure of the ‘end product’ yet. I don’t even know the ‘very normal’ conditions clearly. I felt like I was told that I was not worth going to graduate school. I struggled to sleep at night since I received the email.


My pure intellectual curiosity made me want to go to graduate school. I have a lot of things that I want to know more about, and deepen my understanding about. But, I don’t have a concrete goal for the future such as a job based on the knowledge I will gain, what to do with it, and how to give it back to society. So, the questions from my parents and my professor made me feel conflicted. I felt that they were expecting me to have concrete goals for the future. I lost confidence suddenly even though I made up my mind to believe in what I want to do and be confident that curiosity is enough to pursue things I want to, like I had written in my previous article. I got worried about whether I was being too optimistic and began to think deeply, especially at night.


While still having such feelings, one day, I had an opportunity to listen to a panel discussion about Danish youth mental health and education system by two different politicians from different parties, who came to my school where I’m studying abroad now in Denmark. I’m studying abroad at folkehøjskole (folk high school), a unique Danish educational institution. Here, many students spend their gap year after graduating from high school. They are now thinking about whether to go to university. In Denmark, more than half of students take a gap year after graduating from high school, and university tuition is free and it is possible to receive financial support for six years at maximum. So I felt that the Danish educational system is more flexible than Japan and young people have various free options. In fact, my Danish friends look like they are free to learn what they want and choose their own career, regardless of age or money, even if their age is almost the same as me.


Denmark is said to be one of the happiest countries. But, on the other hand, the number of young people who go to see psychiatrists has been increasing and youth mental illness is a serious issue. It was a reality that was totally opposite from what I imagined Denmark to be as “the happiest country.” Through this discussion, it was raised that one of the biggest causes of youth mental health depression was the pressure to become “someone.” In Denmark as well, people have more freedom to choose their career compared to a point in time when it was natural to be the successor of your parents’ job. Doing what we want to do and living the way we want became easier, but at the same time, the responsibility for our own choice grew. It means that we have to become “someone” by ourselves and failure is our own responsibility.


When I heard about this, I thought, “This is it!” I felt that I finally found what this thing that I couldn’t put into words about graduate school and my future was, although I was struggling for a long time. It was the pressure to become “someone” and the vague fear of the possibility that I would not be able to be “someone.” As I hadn’t thought that I would go to graduate school until recently, I felt that my study abroad was broadening my horizons and world, as well as increasing my options. But, on the other hand, as I became what I hadn’t expected at all and changed my mind, sometimes I felt like my future became more vague and invisible, and made me scared. While I feel like I am required to be “someone,” I don’t know what that “someone” is and I’m moving further away from a clear goal or future. Sometimes I wonder if I have to be “someone” in the first place. The accumulation of the things I will go through and achieve will lead me and become my future, so do I necessarily have to have a clear goal? I’m struggling with anxiety, fear and doubt about the thought that I’m required to be “someone.”


I haven’t found the answer in myself yet. Even now, I have some sleepless nights, but knowing that Danish youth also have similar anxiety despite the fact that Denmark is a high welfare state and is called one of the “happiest countries,” made me feel a little easier because I realize that it was not only me who was struggling. Even if the education system, culture, and backgrounds are different, we all feel the pressure from society and the people around us. I might find the answer someday, and I may not find it at all. It may be a search and struggle without an answer, but I want to keep thinking and not to lose the passion for what I want to do. What does it mean to become “someone” for you?


The Asahi Shimbun Globe+ - 『「幸福な国」デンマークにも孤独問題 若者のつながり作るシンプルな取り組み

The Local dk - "Number of young diagnosed with anxiety and depression trebles in ten years"

Images by Yuri

English Edited by Hanayo

Edited by Kiara and Hikari

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