Godot's Story: University - "a place you can be confused, make mistakes, and finally explore who you want to be."

Photo by Broken Light Collective, used with permission. 

I am a first-year international student from China in the Sauder School of Business. During the past 12 years, I had to learn many things, whether I liked to or not, for the Chinese College Entrance Examination. What encouraged me to hold on was the belief that I could choose to learn what I liked in university. After the examination, I decided to go abroad for university and I chose Canada. However, it had already passed the deadline for the 2013 entrance and I hadn’t even taken the IELTS or TOFEL. I had no choice but to take a gap year preparing for the application and study permit.

After I received offers for schools and the study permit, I had a problem about choosing schools. I thought a lot about what I wanted to learn and who I wanted to be. When I was a child, I was asked about what I wanted to do in the future. I answered that I wanted to be a businesswoman selling happiness. I love literature and writing, especially poetry and prose. I was the editor of my school magazine in senior high. It was a wonderful thing to see my schoolmates encouraged by my work. Since then, I began to think about using media to convey happiness. I love music and movies as well, which can also touch people’s hearts. That’s why I applied for Rotman and Sauder, but University of Toronto gave me an offer of social science instead.

I struggled a lot and made my decision to go to UBC. In China, people take ranking very importantly, no matter if it is the ranking of the university or the students’ scores. I was fed up with learning just to be the top 5 in class, so I decided to make every second count by experiencing different things instead of just chasing a high GPA.

But things didn’t go well even with my lowered expectations. After I came here, I found that my conversational English so bad compared to my academic English that it was ridiculous. I could understand many of the points in class but I had problems in every single casual conversation. I knew my parents had a lot expectations of me so I simply answered, “I am fine” when talking to them in video chats.

However, I was not fine. Like the answering of daily greetings here, it just meant I was still alive. The only difference is my parents cared a lot about my answers while others might not. I still remember that every time my roommates said, “how are you” to me, I answered in so much detail until someone told me that it was just a greeting rather than someone actually asking you, “how are you”.

Compared with my peers, I feel I was outgoing and took initiative in China. But here, things are totally different. The environment is different; the peers are different; the requirements, in this situation, are different. Much worse, I am in business school, which requires more social and interpersonal skills when I can’t even have an effective casual conversation. Without knowing what to say and how to say it, I felt I was stupid and got quieter and quieter.

Another thing worth mentioning is the LPI, which stands for the Language Proficiency Index. Many students in UBC may have never heard of it. International students need to achieve an LPI score of 5 as permission to take English courses. At the same time, for Sauder students, these English courses are required for promotion to the 2nd year. I was surprised to find that nearly 90%, if not all, the candidates were from China. It’s unfair because I have to prepare for the exam entirely by myself. Obviously, the students who need to take this test have no overseas education background. Some of them have never been to an international high school. It is understandable that UBC has high requirements due to its reputation but it makes my transition period even harder. Seriously, I feel my English writing is not as good as when I was preparing the IELTS. What’s more, I have no transfer credit even though I am quite familiar with the content of many classes. It feels like I have already one step behind, and UBC is still trying to pull me back. I hate hearing that, “You are not the only one in this situation. Many students are facing the same problem as yours”. That’s not an excuse for unfair rules.

During this transition period, I found another problem, that I didn’t like business as much as I expected. I took many tests like the MBTI and the Holland codes career test. They all show that I have an artist’s personality. I love creating, for example music and literature, and focus more on people’s feelings rather than the money they make. I chose business based on my experience of editing and selling school magazines. But I forgot that it’s literature and design in the first place, and then, the business stuff afterwards. As we all know, it is hard to determine success for an artist, which makes it a dangerous career. My father asked me strictly about jobs after university when I told him I wanted to transfer to Arts. He has a strong mindset that I should learn something really essential that people need, instead of something like Arts, which is really unrealistic. At last, I made a compromise. I decided to do business in social media using Arts like music, movie, and literature to help mental illness. I know it still sounds unrealistic. But it is the best thing I can do to balance who I want to be and who I supposed to be.

You may be surprised by the mental health thing I mentioned above. It does come with its reasons. I grew up with a lot of emphasis on ranking and competitions that make it hard for me to share and work in groups. Several of my best friends, who are really intelligent and hardworking, have mental health problems. For my friends and I, Arts helps us hold on, refreshes our minds, and encourages us to chase our dreams. Students may not notice but problems do exist and they can recover by themselves using Arts no matter how long it takes. I was so depressed when my best friend told me she only wanted to live 40 years for her life. I really wanted to do something.

I’m taking many psychology courses. I think it helps my career. But I can’t see the value of business school for me. What’s more, I want to be an entrepreneur and start as soon as possible, which means Sauder and the UBC degree don’t matter that much to me. I have to pay a lot for the degree and I’m not sure if it’s worthwhile. Even psychology I can learn by myself. The thing is, it is almost impossible to start a business in Canada. Maybe the first step for my career is to make something. But Chinese is fading away and it’s almost impossible to do what I want with English.

I realized that it’s time to change. If I follow this path, I will graduate and find a job. Maybe I work hard enough and get a good GPA, then hopefully find a decent job with a decent salary. But what about my dreams? I will be who I am supposed to be instead of who I want to be. This situation reminds me of The Boiling Frog Experiment, which says if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water being slowly heated, it will be cooked to death without perceiving the danger. I’m like the frog in the water, slowly being heated. I thought about changing programs, transferring, or at least taking a gap year to figure out the right path for me. However, we never live for ourselves. My families have a lot of expectations in a separate path than mine. It seems there are lot of possibilities and choices in my life but I always feel I have no choice. I have made enough compromises and I don’t want to be that frog and end up cooked to death. I don’t want to end up like everyone else, as most people in society.

I struggled a lot and I am still struggling, but thank god I didn’t drown myself in it all. I take it as a stage everyone will experience, especially for undergraduates. There will always be problems but that’s life. We will never be satisfied about ourselves; however, it can encourage us to keep reaching for a better self.

I benefited a lot from my psychology courses such as knowing why I have these problems and how to deal with them. I learned about setting concrete sub-goals which are manageable and measurable, and getting feedbacks about myself to motivate me and eliminate the gap between my ought self and ideal self, which is mentioned in Self-discrepancy Theory. I know it’s easy to talk about it than actually doing it, but it does help if you apply these theories to real life.

I found several clubs similar to my own interests, went to workshops, and talked to a bunch of people. I was enlightened from these conversations and the information from workshops. I do appreciate that I’ve met so many excellent people. It’s almost like a magic trick that I could identify psychology theories from others’ experiences when I thought these theories were not practical. A second-year Arts student gave me a lot inspiration and encouragement through her experience. She is a musician with many videos on YouTube and loved by many people. She told me to never wait for the perfect situation to start because it may never come, and to take advantage of all the resources at hand and start small as soon as possible. Instead of being terrified by the finish line 42.195 kilometers away, why not start small and keep increasing the distance as well as your motivation? When I used this approach to get some tiny things back on track, I felt like it wasn’t the end of the world anymore.

And I am here, with WalkAlong, which is a good start for my dream career. Maybe I still have problems with my parents’ expectations and may ideal self but one step at a time, I think I can figure it out. That’s what university is meant to be, a place you can be confused, make mistakes, and finally explore who you want to be.

By Godot