The Lessons of Life
My Journey Thus Far
I am due to finally attend University this coming weekend after accepting an “Unconditional Offer” from the University of Exeter. There I will be undertaking a three year BA History degree, something I have been working towards for quite some time. Before I start reciting my academic history I feel the need to comment on the current state of education here in the UK. Society in the UK has deemed it normal if not expected that adolescents around school leaving age (18) attend University or some form of higher education. I think that this emphasis and weight of expectation this society forces on its youth to go straight into tertiary education is massively flawed and frankly delusional. Going straight to University after one finishes their A-Level examinations without first taking time to explore other facets of life results in spurned opportunities. These opportunities come to shape individuals just as much if not more than three years on a University campus ever will. I feel that my own experiences through education and life, which are still on-going, reflect this well.
This is my story thus far, it is a story that has painted an unconventional but eye catching resume.
My academic life did not get well and truly going until I turned fourteen years old when I found myself attending Whangarei Boys’ High School (WBHS) in New Zealand. My family had gotten off the plane at Auckland only a few weeks prior to my induction so to say I felt like a fish out of water was an understatement. I had been taken away from all that I knew back in England and placed in an environment that was completely foreign and somewhat hostile towards me (England has a colonial history in New Zealand). WBHS really was “The School of Hard-Knocks”; Testosterone loaded, sports crazy, socially segregated, and intellectually gruelling. It took me the better part of two years to become properly integrated into the environment after I threw in the proverbial towel and stopped fighting against my adoptive culture so much. In defiance of the problems I faced, both natural and socially, I successfully completed my National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) first level (The GCSE Equivalent). It was here in WBHS that I found my academic calling: History. I found it fascinating to find myself studying the reasons why some New Zealanders had an accumulated enmity for Englishmen, and the more I learnt the more I began to understand the culture and the more I stopped fighting against it – Which in turn I felt led to my acceptance. From this point on things started looking up for me, I had a great niche of friends, I had the path of my academic life laid out for me, and for the first time in two years New Zealand began feeling like my proper home. Then all of a sudden my family moved back to England on account of several pressing and personal family issues.
I was absolutely distraught, this was the second time I had been uprooted and moved in this manner. I had to leave everything behind, everything I had achieved, everything I had come to love about my foster nation, and everyone I had come to regard as friends. I found myself thrust into an English culture I simply could not identify with anymore; Even my extended family treated me with an icy indifference almost to say “What are you doing back here? We thought you had abandoned us.”
I could not take it, I spent the next two years of my life being thoroughly miserable through a severe case of ‘Culture Shock’ even worse than my experiences when first arriving in New Zealand – I was a boy with no homeland to call his own, neither here or there. Everything was inverted and all that I had taken on during my impressionable teenage years was now null-and-void. Once again I found my choices in sport, in fashion, in music, and in attitude and ethics were the polar-opposite of my peers. I am not sure if I sunk into depression or not but I feel I may have had I not found a small handful of great friends who I still meet with regularly to this day. My own A-Level (School-Leaver Examinations) results were abysmal and while I could attempt to make excuses to cover-up my failures I know that the only reason is that I simply did not care and did not try.
By this time I was on the verge of turning nineteen and found myself stagnating in a dead-end part-time job and living at home with precious few prospects open to me, I had run out of ambition and run out of steam. As I saw some of the few friends I had made leaving for Universities I knew it was time I left as well but I could not go to University as I knew I was not ready for it both academically and emotionally. It was time for a leap of faith… I ended up leaving home for the first time and flying back to New Zealand to try and rediscover myself, to find the fire that once drove me.
Back in Whangarei I found myself reunited with most of my former niche, most of which had not changed much during my two year absence. I moved into a rental house with my older brother Arran and together we enjoyed life whilst facing the usual troubles of flatting away from home… three continents and goodness knows how many countries away from home. Despite only spending eight months living with Arran I learnt a staggering amount of life’s lessons from him, I learned to take care of myself, learned what it means looking out for myself and for my friends and family, and learned the skills needed to become independent of parental care. Although I was having the time of my life I could not arrest the feeling that something was still missing, what was it…? Then it came to me, I needed to get back on the horse and get back to education. This was the happiest I could remember being for almost three years but I felt that there was still more to life than this, I needed a game plan. My first attempt at returning to education ended in failure as I could not juggle college, looking for work, a social life, and keeping a roof over my head at the age of nineteen. I needed to move closer to home until I had built my foundations so after bidding what I felt would not be my last goodbye to everyone I got back on a plane bound for England.
Upon my second return to England I hit the ground running with the lessons of life acquired from my hiatus in New Zealand. I quickly found a full time job working at a dental surgery and moved into a ‘House Share’ with numerous landlords, each having varying levels of insanity. Whilst I worked and learned the dental trade from my exceptional colleagues I took it upon myself to rebuild my resume so that I may be finally accepted into a University. I spent the next two years both working at the surgery and studying history through the Open University (OU) whilst flatting away from home. While the OU is convenient and easily accessible it still lacks the authenticity of studying at tertiary level, it certainly helps build character though! Degree credits aside I think the best skill I gained from my OU study is one so many students lack, even at University: Time Management.
I was studying history at tertiary level for about 25 hours of each week whilst working full time at the surgery learning an entirely separate skill set. I had achieved what I had set out to do when I came back from my overseas experience! I took a while to register and celebrate my success before setting my sights on my penultimate goal: University, I now felt I was prepared.
I left my job at the surgery on good terms and applied to the University of Exeter to study a History BA. I chose Exeter because of the content of the course; Exeter’s program placed an emphasis on international history and social/ethnic history. American History, Asian History, Medieval Europe, the Classical World, Industrial History, and the study of cultural integration – It had it all.
Amazingly I received what is called an “Unconditional Offer” for a place at the University. Wow, they must have really wanted me there. Why do I think I was outright-accepted? In my application to them I more or less wrote about a portion of my life’s story much like I am right now. I wrote about all that I have seen, all that I have experienced, all that I have learned, and the experience of studying history in other countries and how it helped me gain understanding of the culture that surrounded me. I was more than happy to accept their offer and I begin the next step of my life there this weekend.
I might be late to the party but hey, I have some stories to share about the detour I ended up taking!
I think I should end this by answering a question that I have been asked by so many of my friends and family: Do I resent my upbringing and all the upheaval that came from it?
No, I don’t. However, I would be lying if I said I did not feel some enmity towards my parents for uprooting me so much. That enmity has dissolved now, replaced by admiration and respect. I know that all I have seen, the places I have been, the friends I have made and lost, the experiences I have had, and the insight of life I have been blessed with have all made me who I am today and for that I love them.
To everyone who has helped me learn the lessons of life throughout the years, both my family and friends, if you are reading this – Thank you.