Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Three years of thoughts

I've been thinking about this the past few months so I thought I'd just post some of my reflections. (I forgot to post this on time so I'm posting it now)

It's regarding my biomedicine degree, and whether it was worth it.
The short answer is: yes.

The long answer...

In my final years of high school, I wanted to go to CalArts for animation. Really badly. I even went to the US consulate here in Melbourne to attend information sessions on education in the US. But I soon realised it was out of my reach as I simply couldn't get together a decent portfolio while juggling the pressures of VCE, in which I was doing subjects such as chemistry, specialist maths and university-level maths. So my next choice was RMIT, for Animation & Interactive Media. I went to the Open Day information session, I did about 1/3 of the portfolio. But again, motivation failed me. I can't really remember how I felt at that point; I feel like I should've been upset, disappointed, completely beaten down. I can't even remember how or why I decided on the courses I did when I put down my university preferences.
Biomedicine at Melbourne. Science at Melbourne. Environments at Melbourne. Aerospace engineering was in there, and maybe some art degree further down on that list of 12.

In all honesty, I don't know why I put Biomedicine first. I don't think I even looked at the university website. What was I thinking? I hadn't put a single drop of consideration into the impact that list would have on the next three years of my life (and possibly beyond). I certainly wasn't interested in medicine or becoming a doctor; I knew that from the start. All I knew was that I wanted to go on exchange to Finland, a dream I'd had since 2008, and I knew that the University of Melbourne could take me there.

In any case, I achieved the required high school grades and was shuttled off into the university system in late February 2011. During orientation (during which I only went to about one "event", which was the introductory lecture to my degree), I discovered at least 90% of the cohort wanting to go into postgrad medicine, and all being extremely driven and determined to get where they wanted to be. On that day, before classes had even started, I realised what sort of people I'd placed myself among. Additionally, they'd actually looked into the degree (as any sensible person would) and already had an idea of what major they would choose. I didn't even know what was available.

There was nothing to be done about it though, so I went along with it. The first year went by. At the end of the first year, I completed my application for exchange, switching my first preference from the University of Helsinki to McGill University in Montreal, Canada at the last minute (a decision I was later very glad I made). The first half of the second year went by. Then I was off to Canada, where I had the most amazing four months. And then I was shoved back into reality and through my third year, which posed its own challenges especially as all my fellow biomedders braced for their future careers and education in the medical field.

But back to the main point - yes, I am glad I did biomedicine in the end.

Yes, I did stagnate in art and I saw very little improvement between 2011-2013, and yes, that did cause a great deal of stress and frustration as I frequently questioned my abilities.

But the university environment taught me a great deal. Looking back, high school was not a great time for me. Throughout the six years I'd become more and more withdrawn and socially awkward, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and most of my teachers seemed like they didn't know what to do with me. Some staff were downright awful towards me as I wasn't the ideal outgoing, chatty student. I had a group of friends of course, but overall I felt an overwhelming sense of disconnect and unbelonging, and that I was held back by the "quiet girl" stigma. By the end I was excited to start university, to have a fresh start, and to get away from the expectations people had of me. In fact, that was probably the reason why I chose biomedicine over science: because a very, very large number of people from my school went into UoM science. I know 1/3 of my year level went to Melbourne, at least.

It was tough going to start off with, as the structure of the degree made it was hard to form a solid group, but I forged many new friendships, and rekindled and strengthened long-lost and existing ones. I gained more self-confidence, maturity, and independence, largely thanks to my four months overseas where I had to do everything on my own. Not only that, but exchange also gave me the opportunity to visit CalArts, Art Center, Sheridan, and Concordia, all of which strengthened my resolve to make the leap into the art field.

And possibly most importantly of all, Biomed taught me resilience, as I had to push through three years of an intense degree that I became increasingly sure I didn't want to do. I didn't want to give up and waste my effort, and my ingrained desire to do well forced me to strive for high marks regardless of my level of interest.

Surprisingly, the week after my results were finalised and I received my confirmation of graduation, when I went into uni to get official transcripts for college applications, a sudden wave of melancholic realisation and loss crashed over me. It was completely unexpected. I'd had no idea how attached I'd become to the university, and what a sense of belonging to the community I'd developed, despite my class attendance dropping to absolute 0 by my last semester and my relative lack of extracurricular involvement. The feeling extended beyond just being able to brag that I attended such a beautiful campus near the heart of the "world's most livable" city. It was in that moment that I realised this chapter of my life had closed; that it's now up to me to steer through the dark and enigmatic waters of my future - a realisation I didn't believe would ever hit me.

And I'm glad it did hit me, as for far too long I've been going through the motions and not having any real grasp of reality; swimming mindlessly through the haze of my days, with the daily grind having little to no meaning for me.

Now it's real, it's almost tangible, and I believe I'm now at least slightly more prepared to face what is to come even if I'm not accepted into any colleges in 2014. To be able to stop saying "I don't know" in response to the quintessential "What do you want to do?", and advance.

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