A few weeks ago, I was asked to reflect on what I did wrong at university. While technically I am still a (PhD) student, I am now a different type of student (literally and figuratively) and I must admit that during my BA and MA years I was indeed angry with everyone, myself, and not fitting in. I guess for my BA years, it was mostly because I didn’t study what I’d planned to study.
When I was in Year 9 back in Cameroon, I was enlightened. At that stage, I had discovered all these subjects that secondary education had to offer me. French and English were my favourite subjects and when I discovered Spanish, I immediately fell in love with that language.
I remember after my first Spanish lesson coming home and saying to my mother: “Mum, I know what I want to be later, a translator” and my mother said to me, “You have my full
support, son!” The five years that followed were devoted exclusively to preparing for my future career.
My project, after obtaining my A-level, was to do a BA in bilingual letters (French/English), continue my Spanish lessons, add two or three other languages (Italian, Arabic and Portuguese) and take the competitive entrance examination to get into the Advanced School of Translators and Interpreters (ASTI).
However, as I said, things didn’t go as planned. I obtained my A-level and began all the registration procedures, with my plan in mind. And my mother, who until then had always supported me, told me: “You are not going to do what you say you want to do, you are going to do something else.” So as not to go into details, I didn’t study languages and I did not become a translator.
At the request of my dear mother, I applied for the competitive entrance examination to the Advanced School of Mass Communication (ASMAC). At the time, the teenager that I was said to himself that there were thousands of candidates and that the probability that I would be one of the 25 candidates selected in my field was therefore very thin. If I was not admitted, then I could go back to my initial plan. But the brand-new studious A-level graduate that I was at the time not only applied for this entrance examination, but also prepared for it.
I passed that exam and spent three years at ASMAC after which I obtained a BA in advertising. I had very good results, but I was not happy. I wouldn’t socialise much, and I wasn’t particularly keen on extra-curricular activities that involved most of my classmates. When we all parted ways after three years, I didn’t keep in touch with many of them and at the time I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
When I got my BA, I thought to myself: this is it, there’s no way I will go any further. But after more than a year in a communication and advertising agency, I started considering the option. Everything was going well for me in that agency but a part of me kept telling myself over and over: “This is not what was planned.” I let that voice speak to me for a while and ended up saying, “OK, that’s not what was planned but can I, after five years, start all over again?! I see things differently.”
So, I resigned and decided to do a MA in the UK in a wider field than that of advertising: media and communications. Even though that anger left me through this MA, I still wasn’t the type of student I now think I should have been. In fact, while I gave myself a second chance and discovered other passions (cultures and research), I still wasn’t fitting in.
I had lectures nine hours per week and when I wasn’t attending a lecture, I was either in the library studying or in my shared house. You would hardly see me with my classmates after lectures. There were always assignments in the way, and those were my priority. Of course, I achieved excellent results but as I now think, this isn’t the sole purpose of a university journey. It’s as much about the grades/results as it’s about networking, making friends and discovering a new environment.
I will always remember this episode when I came back for my graduation ceremony after spending a few weeks in Cameroon. My former classmates wanted to meet up at ‘The Rocket’ (London Metropolitan University’s bar), and I remember asking what that was and where it was. They all laughed and said it was our university’s bar. I studied a whole MA in that university, and I didn’t know it had a bar… I was ashamed, to say the least. That’s why I decided to do things differently for my PhD, but I will talk about that in another article on what I did right at university.
Categories: University Advice