52

My girlfriend is studying both math and Computer Science (CS) at the best university in Poland, which is literally the hardest way to get through university. The acceptance policy says that they only accept Olympiad winners and finalists, and even they usually drop one of the majors after a year.

She's very smart and hardworking, so she manages to pass most of the classes, but she still has to retake one subject in September. However, every time this is brought up during a conversation with her family, people start saying that

"Oh, it isn't that bad, I studied that and this and still had plenty of time and good grades."

They can't understand that it's not possible to find time to learn all the math during the year if you have all the programming projects to do. I tried telling her not to be bothered by their remarks, but it's hurting her and she can't do anything about it. They don't seem to see the difference between a hard major, like they might have had, and literally the hardest major in the country. And, mind, it's only people who have long since graduated, as all of our peers understand the situation completely.

How should she tell them that it's really hard, and a much bigger deal than what they think?

  • 7
    Do you mean: how should she tell them that it's reeeeaaally hard, and that it's a much much bigger deal than what they think? IMHO you should edit the Q to narrow down a bit or make it more clear what she/you want. Thanks. – OldPadawan Aug 25 '17 at 11:43
  • 1
    RE: What should she do? What does she want to do? – NVZ Aug 25 '17 at 11:44

12 Answers 12

33

Since they dismiss her opinion, the idea is basically to bring in external data to support her case.

Use facts or statistics

Gather as many statistics as possible about the course and throw one of these at them in every time they downplay the difficulty. If they feel like arguing, hit them with more statistics.

You're specifically looking to compare these numbers to similar statistics for other degrees or universities, because some percentage doesn't mean that much by itself (especially since their argument seems to be comparing the difficulty of what they did to what she's doing).

Things like:

  • Percentage of students completing the first year.
  • Percentage of students completing the degree.
  • Percentage of students completing the degree with honours.
  • Surveys about the difficulty of the course (ideally compared to other courses).
  • Expected total number of hours you need to study per week (some institutes provide this information).
  • Similar statistics for the university as a whole.
  • What their acceptance policy is.

As an example:

"Oh, it isn't that bad."
"The X% of students who drop out in the first year might disagree with you on that."

I don't know that much about double majors, but you can presumably use statistics from the individual majors as well:

A mere X% of students who register end up getting their Computer Science degree (compared to the Y% average for this university / all universities), and this is that, plus all the additional subjects needed to get the Math degree as well.

Get an external opinion

Perhaps you can convince a teacher to speak to them.

If not, some quotes from a teacher or someone well-known could serve roughly the same purpose, ideally appearing on a website somewhere, but you can also consider a quote that's been communicated one-on-one (although it's more likely they'll be dismissive of that).


Although being so dismissive is really toxic, so I wouldn't be too surprised if this doesn't work.

If it doesn't work, she might just have to accept that she'll never get sympathy or understanding there and try to avoid opening up to them.

  • 4
    To avoid the possibility that after a "The X% of students who drop out in the first year might disagree with you on that." they would reply with something akin to "Well, nobody told that university is easy", it might be useful to also know & tell what are the average percentages in other universities in Poland, so to make a comparison. – ris8_allo_zen0 Aug 25 '17 at 16:07
  • The paragraph starting Although being so dismissive might sound better if it starts something like "In any case being so dismissive..." – I say Reinstate Monica Aug 25 '17 at 18:47
34

You don't.

*NOTE: this is coming from a US perspective, cultural norms may differ in Poland. YMMV.

This is your girlfriend. Even if she were your wife, interfering in her family's internal dynamics is courting disaster. In other words it's the nuclear option: you only do that when all other avenues have failed. In particular, with something as temporary and transient as university performance, bide your time. Once she's successfully graduated and in the workforce her family will probably move on and if they don't you can cross that bridge when you get there.

Just continue to be supportive in a way that makes it clear that you disagree with her parents but aren't trying to drive a wedge between her and them.

  • 11
    Maybe your answer came before an edit was made to the question but OP is asking what their girlfriend can do herself. – user510 Aug 25 '17 at 13:39
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    @henning fair enough (and I may have just misread the question). In that case, she should decide whether to draw a line in the sand over this issue (the other answers are geared in that direction) or my alternative approach: suck it up for a couple of more years. Trade off either way, and I know that 2+ years seems longer to someone who is 20 than it seems looking back. – Jared Smith Aug 25 '17 at 13:49
16

It doesn't matter how hard the studies are objectively. Whether she competes on the level of college students or professors, it is hard enough for her, and she's still doing a great job.

What I think matters to your girlfriend is that her parents acknowledge and appreciate the hard work she's putting in; she's not arguing about the level of difficulty per se.

There may be different reasons why she (and you) want(s) her parents to understand. Perhaps she might feel overwhelmed with her studies at the moment and could use some moral support; or she feels inadequate or belittled when she hears her parents say that her work isn't as hard as she finds it.

I would suggest to your girlfriend to tell her parents exactly how she feels when she hears them talk like that and what she would like them to do (or not to do). It sounds simple -- but has she actually tried to explain what she needs or has she only tried to 'prove' with 'facts' how hard she studies?

As an afterthought: Some people have a habit of downplaying whatever negative emotions and challenges you tell them about. They say something like "Don't be sad, everything's fine" when all you want to hear is "Sorry, this must be so sad." I think this is often because they are helpless and hope they can talk you out of (rationalize) a bad feeling, although what you would actually need is acknowledgement and empathy. Perhaps it's the same in this case.

10

I think that she should just have a serious talk about it with her family members. They probably don't realize the stress she is going through, and don't realize that those comments are hurting her. I think she should be honest about her feelings with them (I know, easier said than done) and everything should eventually fix.

EDIT for OP comment

It's a really bad situation then. I am no one to judge someone's parenting, but dismissing your child when she/he is trying to talk to you about a problem is definitely not good. She could try to speak to another family member that might talk to her mother and help her realize the situation.

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    Every time she tries to tell her mother how she feels, she dismisses it as selfish and her just making a drama for attention. – Joald Aug 25 '17 at 12:05
3

Have you considered that these family members and others are possibly trying to help her?

Maybe they do see the amount of stress that's involved, and are trying to relieve some of that stress by trying to take away it's source. Needing to retake the subject sounds like a serious issue to your girlfriend, and others are trying to convince her that it isn't that big, hoping that would lessen the stress.

In this case the best way forward IMO is to tell these people that their efforts to help her are actually making it worse. They could be unaware of that, and will react very different once they know that.

So she could tell them this and take it from there.

PS: I'm not saying this is the case, but consider the possibility.

3

I would explain these people that this is the hardest curriculum in the university, if not the whole country.

A good (Polish) person to refer to is Marie (Sklodovska) Curie. All right, she took math and physics because there was no Computer Science 100 years ago, but your girlfriend is on essentially the same track. And look where Madame Curie ended up.

You are smart to date (and support) such a talented, hardworking woman. Not many would want to. Until, perhaps, she brings home a Nobel Prize. You can tell her family that they may have the next "Madame Curie" on their hands, and that's why she has to work so hard.

2

Everyone experiences doubts and dismissals from older family members sometimes. Part of becoming a successful adult is learning not to be too deeply affected by those. In the larger picture, it doesn't matter at all for your girlfriend's future even if her family never understands. In a very real sense, they are her past. You are her present (and possibly her future) and you understand and are supportive. No potential employer will call her uncle and ask if she worked hard enough.

It's also a part of the modern condition that technology changes so fast that the older generation is quite literally unable to understand its demands unless they are in that line of work themselves.

I would suggest your girlfriend let it fall off her back, or gently turn it around --after all, they probably experienced similar doubts from their family members when they were young. "I studied that and this and still had plenty of time and good grades." "That's not what Aunt Janet tells me, ha ha!" or "Plenty of time for drinking, you mean!"

2

Are you saying that she is studying both maths and computer science at the same time? Two majors?

When I went to university, I took maths (major) and computer science (minor) at one of the best universities in the country. There was one guy out of several hundred who took two majors. Actually, because you couldn't take a major without a minor, he take maths major / CS minor AND CS major / maths minor and had to spend some time convincing the university that passing CS major exams should count as passing CS minor exams, same with maths.

So if that is what your girlfriend is doing, tell her, and more importantly, tell her family that I am utterly impressed. And I'm not easily impressed.

1

The way her family is acting may seem horrible to you - and it may very well be for her as well - but try to keep a level of perspective.

Her family probably thinks that comments like 'oh it's not so hard, I did x and y and did fine', are encouraging comments, not discouraging ones. They see her struggling, and are trying to give her perspective on how they managed to get by.

It doesn't help, but they probably don't realize that, and if confronted they would probably be taken aback - which is why you don't want to confront them. It's definitely not your place to tell them how to talk to their daughter.

We often reach out to people we want to help, even when we don't have the answers for them. And sometimes the answers we do try to give are worse than if we'd said nothing at all - this is human nature.

The best thing you can do in a situation like this isn't to address her family, but to address her concerns - now, if her concerns are her family, and she'd like for you to speak on her behalf explicitly, then you can talk about what she'd like you to say to them - but that's a conversation you two should have before you say anything to them about this situation.

0

Sometimes an attack is the best defense.

Note that this answer is derived from personal experience, though thankfully not with family members. (I didn't attend one of the best universities in my country either, but it was definitely a hard and time consuming course.)

Upon receiving a dismissive remark, she should right out tell the person making the remark that they have no clue. Don't use swear words, but be very direct. Look at them while you say it (cliche, but it helps). She should also ask them how many people they know that are going through her (or similar) current programme(s). The answer will be zero. Always. Some people will have the decency to get slightly embarrassed at this point. With these people she should give them a semi-smug look, shrug and change the topic. With people who still don't get the hint, she should reiterate your point: "I really don't think you have any relevant experience here." and walk away immediately. Pretend to go to the toilet if there is no other way out, but leave the dinner table if you have to. If the person gets angry and starts mocking her (e.g. "What a snowflake!") and she cannot avoid the person physically (sitting at the dinner table/in a car etc), she should answer as often as it takes: "I've had enough, you are boring." Do not try and refute any secondary attacks. Boring is a really good word to use here.

If her mother is causing her extra stress (I assume she has to live at home ?), she should tell her mother than she's not helping and otherwise avoid her as much as she can ("Mother, I need to prepare for my exam. I'll be in the library/at my lovely boyfriend's/the park.") Do not engage. The goal is not to make her mother understand - though oddly enough, this might actually help as some people respond a lot better to actions than words - the goal is to make sure that other people's preconceptions/prejudices/whatevers are their problem and not hers. I once spend a skiing holiday with my nose in a quantum mechanics book instead of on the slopes. While not being too well received at the time, it did drive the point home in the long run. (I barely scraped trough the exam, in case you are wondering.) And, I realize you didn't ask, but what could you do to help ? If you witness any of this, immediately also respond with the "you have no clue" line of answers. Don't worry about being the rude son-in-law and/or trying to use facts. You can't win here, but you can minimize damage to your girlfriend. Keep telling your girlfriend she's awesome and that these other people have no clue and it is not her job to make them understand. You might want to emphasize that last point. Good luck.

0

Big up-vote for You Don't but there is more. Even if the subjects at hand were trivial the issue is they are dismissing her, not her opinions but herself. This is the reason it is important and impossible for you to fix. Their opinions are not built on good sense or keen insight but their long standing opinion of her.

She tells them what she is doing and that it is difficult for her, never mind who else, she has a tough time doing it. I'm sure there is nothing she could do that would make them say wonderful things about her. Except perhaps to shut up, get a man and have some kids. [Note: I am the least P.C. on this list but this sounds about right.]

0

How should she tell them that it's really hard, and a much bigger deal than what they think?

You can't. They just don't have the background experience to relate to. Try to understand them.

Example: I'm an office worker, I spend my life at the desk. I'm not very fit, but I can run to catch a bus or ride a bike for few hours. Now, let's take a common marathon run. I consciously know that it's very taxing physical activity, but my body says: "c'mon, it's just some running, we can do that". I just don't have the experience of complete physical exhaustion to relate to. I know that a marathon run is way out of my league, but I can't feel it. I need to think hard and put conscious effort to understand that. It really takes lots of researching of a subject to understand your limitations. This thinking is not something I take for granted, because I know for a fact that in every marathon run, there are people who jump into it without that process and then collapse on the way. Because they haven't done their homework. You can't do that research for someone.

That's the situation you're in. Your girlfriend is doing Ironman and they say "It's just some running, biking and swimming. Nothing I haven't done before".

People will always downplay your effort, often only because they don't realize how big it is. Both you and your girlfriend have to learn to handle that.

I'm not even talking about people downplaying out of malice, that is to feel superior to somebody. If that's the case, you can't do anything about that.

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