Keyi Cui

Weather that made me feel like I was wearing 1,000 panting Labrador Retrievers. A festival of joyous hugs with old friends that is reduced to ritualistically superficial interactions like asking, “How was your summer?” The shirtless spikeball bros that make me wish I could spike hard enough to earn a place in Valhalla, the warrior’s heaven.

Certain guarantees accompany any return to Yale in late August. As I watched “The Notebook” on my cross-country flight and prepared rebuttals for any judgement from the person behind me surveilling my screen through the gap in the seats, I looked forward to these traditions. It promised to be a year of new adventure.

And what holds the potential of a semester more than shopping period?

More than the overly ambitious promises we make to ourselves during Camp Yale — we will not vomit from drinking, or we will spend a night with someone other than Sufjan Stevens — shopping period seems to offer everything you could want. That two-week buffer is a treasure map to the happy, intellectually stimulating life that will also prepare you for a career at Goldman Sachs.

Shopping period. The perfect opportunity to explore. More specifically, the perfect opportunity to explore existential dread.

Desiring slightly more confidence in my employability, I found myself in CHEM 161 on the first day of classes, in pursuit of that coveted B.S.

While there, I found myself facing the same question over and over: What in the world am I doing here? Spending my Yale tuition and bright college years on a harder and more crowded version of AP Chemistry?

I am sure I am not the only one who has ever felt this way in a chemistry lecture. But, the special thing about a Yale chemistry lecture at the beginning of the semester is that you can leave it. I ditched chemistry quicker than my grandmother turns away from grocery store products with any artificial ingredient that might kill my grandpa.

As I walked away from Sterling Chemistry Laboratory, I also left behind any idea of what this semester may look like. It was not my first shopping period, but I was finally starting to experience the pressure of having to narrow down my life. The open season for class hunting made a swift transition from game to survival.

Maybe you have had a similar experience during one shopping period or another. Perhaps, like me, you are not particularly great with decisions, plans or more generally, life.

Gather round, ye who have stumbled in the darkness of shopping period. Let’s try to break down this phenomenon that so effectively broke me down.

Yale is not the only school to begin the semester by offering an overindulgence of curriculum samplings. Plenty of schools call it shopping period as well — Ivies and non-Ivies alike, such as Brown and Brandeis.

Our neighbor to the north, however, may face a tectonic shift: Harvard’s faculty council debated extensively the possibility of eliminating shopping week and instead instituting online preregistration programs, a proposal brought forth by the Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda Claybaugh. According to the Harvard Crimson, students welcome the flexibility of shopping week, whereas the teaching faculty is less than thrilled about the seven-day “limbo” that may hold up class discussions.

Shopping period is often advertised as a chance for students to discern their path through each school’s hoard of courses. But they rarely explain exactly how one gets from no schedule to final schedule.

Lily Dodd ’21 can attest to the brutality of shopping period. Unleashing a pack of more than 6,000 undergraduates to roam over course offerings is bound to generate some moments of hardship, especially if those students tend to love school more than their elementary school baseball coach thought was good for them.

It did not take Dodd long to decide that she and “Norse Mythology” just would not work out. She found it hard to say whether it was the 90 people in a class meant for 20, the flickering light or the furnace-like heat of that room in Bass Library. She appreciated the shocking realization that Thor and Loki are not brothers and bid a still optimistic farewell.

But it was a good thing she could turn to Spanish. A veteran of Yale’s language program and a generally funny person, Dodd saw that Spanish creative writing seemed like the perfect fit.

That is, until the professor told the class to write something about a daily activity in the past tense, which she would use as a measure for who would be in the class. Unaware that in-class applications were a common practice but nevertheless a resourceful scholar, Dodd managed to produce a series of haikus about whole foods (still unpublished, currently in the revision stage).

In short, she admitted “they were really, really, really bad.”

In this rare shopping period story, she not only got to experience a class she would not actually be allowed to take, but also an email expressing disappointment, sorrow or some combination in her supposedly “basic lack of grammar.”

So maybe all the courses you get to sample for a day just mean to give you something else to think about while sitting in the back of lecture. Because it’s going to be that or just replaying the latest “Bachelor in Paradise” episode in your head.

While shopping period promises as much time to figure your life out as you could want, it also threatens to undo what little sense of understanding you thought you had concerning your life.

The solution? How about we take a page from the playbook of the Grand Inquisitor, a poem from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.”

“In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, ‘Make us your slaves, but feed us.’”

Now that I think about it and read it out loud, it does not seem the optimal route.

Because, while shopping period threatens any nervous young student like myself without great study habits, mandated classes and time slots I did not choose would give me a hemorrhoid rather than an existential crisis. And listening to hours on end of Blink 182 does a lot more to cope with overwhelming angst than it does for a raging hemorrhoid.

As I reflect on this shopping period and the ones to come, I need to remember there are multiple ways to approach them. Perhaps rather than following my own stress down a rabbit hole of doubt or abandoning any sense of creativity in planning my schedule just to avoid responsibility for my education, I will listen to Dodd’s advice.

“I’m the kind of person who’s pretty much always chilling. I’m just so thankful to be here. My general advice — which I know you never asked for — is that we’re all going to be so good. It’s all going to be so good.”

Here is to more shopping periods of chilling through the chaos.

Tommy Martin tommy.martin@yale.edu