University was difficult since day 1.
Science One was a challenging program. The 27-hour weeks in class and 10 hrs per week on math assignments - and this is just math - were brutal. Add on physics homework, biology readings and chemistry readings. Oh, and the mind-blowing science every. single. week. As exciting and fascinating as it was, it was also challenging - mentally, emotionally, and physically. I wasn’t the smartest kid in class anymore. I was (at best) average. My classmates were smarter than me, more well-rounded than me, more curious than me. They also turned out to be phenomenal friends. And I don’t regret participating in this program, not one bit. In fact, I would probably do it again if I went back in time. This was my Science One experience.
But then add on 2 hours of commuting a day, and 5 hours of student government every week. I rushed from class to lab to meetings to study groups to the bus to bed. And I learned that science wasn’t really my vibe. As a “Science One student” (and trust me, I got a lot of “ooh, how’s that?” looks), I enjoyed my extracurricular activities more than the mind-blowing science.
But continue onto second year, I transitioned into Integrated Sciences to mix kinesiology, nutrition and physiology. But no more Science One! This meant I had all the time in the world. So while taking 4 courses, I juggled involvement in SUS council, AMS committees, SASC, and co-founded a club called Beneath One Sky UBC. Oh, I also worked part-time, maintained a relationship, and lived out for the first time. And I burned out. Obviously.
Second semester, my mental health got so bad that I had to drop my entire course load. My mental health hit rock bottom. Yes, rock bottom. So I flew across the world and spent the next three months in Asia where I pondered my next steps in life on a beach. (Guess what, I wasn’t having the time of my life. Hah!) I decided to go with anthropology, amongst the choices of staying in science, transferring to arts, or becoming a Buddhist monk (yes, this was a legit option).
Third year September, I decided to take it all on again. 8 months of being away from school, I thought “I’m re-energized. I can totally do this!” and registered in 4 anthro courses. Then I dropped 2. Then one more right before the final exam. And finished one course while being involved with just my club. The anxiety attacks before exams got so bad, that one night, I got visual hallucinations - like a ghost - due to the anxiety. Not fun. At all.
I got the courage to go against my conservative Korean parents’ wishes, to go against society’s stereotypes, to study what I truly loved. And yet my mental illness wouldn’t let me. My body refused to get out of bed. I could get out of bed for my club meetings, but not class. I just couldn’t do it.
Second semester. Just one course. Okay, I can do this, I thought. First Nations and Indigenous Studies 100. A course that I was truly interested in. I even let my instructor know in the beginning of the semester that I was ill, so that she knew that I wasn’t just a horrible student for not showing up to class for 2 weeks at a time. So that someone could hold me accountable. Numerous mornings of tears in bed, anxiety attacks and emotional breakdowns in front of the computer, I got through. I finished my term paper that I thought I wouldn’t finish. I took the final exam that I thought I wouldn’t be able to make. I’m done.
School is not for everyone. I love learning. I love to watch Ted Talks, listen to Podcasts, and read articles. But I can’t conform to the system of formal education. And it wouldn’t work with me either. Access & Diversity couldn’t do much for my anxiety and the live-corpse moments in bed. It couldn’t get rid of exams or get me out of bed. It couldn’t change the entire system for me.
It’s not my fault. It’s not the system’s fault. We are just not compatible. And yet, since day 1 I blamed myself. I blamed myself for not being smart enough, for not being able to focus enough, for not being productive enough. The past year was especially difficult for me. I tried science. It didn’t work. So I tried arts. And that didn’t work either. And to this, our capitalist society told me that I am a failure.
But I am not a failure. I’m just different. I’m just not compatible. So I’m dropping out of school.
I refuse to spend thousands of dollars a year on a system that doesn’t work for me. Even if I should be “smart enough” to do it.
I’m going to spend the next few years working, focusing on improving my mental health, and on networking my way to find work and volunteer opportunities in non-profit organizations in the DTES. Because that’s what I’m good at. Talking to people.
I do not have to go to school because I’m “smart.” I do not need to get a bachelor’s degree to become “successful.” I do not need a professional job to be “happy.”
Yes, I’m lost. But I know I’m lost. And I have an idea of where I want to go. I’m going to spend the next few years trying to find my way to get there.
Do not conform to society’s expectations. Do what works for you.