Back to School

As I begin my first semester as a second year student – finally – I am reflecting on the last 18 months of studying and the hair-raising juggling act it has been.

I love being a student.
I love learning new things.
I love the feeling of taking a step forward along this path each time I register for new modules.
I love the excitement of study material arriving in the mail.
I love the sense of discipline when I submit my assignments on time.
I love the build-up and pressure to get through all the work by exam time.
I love the butterflies in my belly on the morning of an exam.
I love the serenity that follows as I step into the exam room, and knowing that it will go ok.
I love the anticipation of waiting for results.
I love the exhilaration of finding out I did well – even more so if I got a distinction.
I love beginning this whole process again the next semester.

That is how it was in my first year…

Now let me add into that mix… my life!

I am 33 years old. I am a single mom. My son is quadriplegic. I work full day. I live 65km away from school and work. I am a wannabe writer. And most of all… I am a dreamer.

In my first semester, it was a novelty. I had the notion of making something of myself, being the pilot of my mission, taking control and achieving. I diligently plotted my schedule, adapted my routine and sat at my desk from 8pm to 11pm – every night. My assignments were well researched, my essays plotted, drafted and rewritten several times before submitting my final draft. I was proud of my work and proud of my achievements. I even managed to attend an evening lecture, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

In my second semester, I was over-confident, perhaps too impulsively me. I registered for French (with dreams of travel in mind).  It was exciting at first. I used my 65km morning and evening drive to listen to the cd’s. I wrote my grocery lists in French. I had a colour coded notebook to remember the male and female nouns. I was organised.

Now let me add into that again… my always up for a challenge nature!

In August I worked furiously to finish the book I had been writing for Damian for his 13th birthday.

In our September writer’s circle meeting it was first mentioned…. National Novel Writing Month… the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days during the month of November. ‘I can’t, I have exams in November’ was my excuse. But within a week of that meeting, I had decided I could balance it.

In October I visited the Chaeli Campaign… and left volunteering to do the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay cycle tour in March – after having not been on a bike in 10 years.

I kept up with my studies and wrote my Psychology exam towards the end of October, for which I got a distinction. But 1 November arrived and the NaNoWriMo bug bit. I began writing furiously, and when the guilt of not studying seeped in, I added a French character, who would from time to time use French phrases in conversation. I really did not feel ready for my 11 November exam. I was fortunately writing in the afternoon and had been given the day off work. After taking Damian to school I decided it was too far to go all the way home and come back in to write, so I found myself at Altydgedacht and was given a secluded table among the trees and the waiter kept bringing me tea or coffee while I studied. A deep sense of calm came over me and I did some of the best studying I have ever done. I passed the exam better than I thought I would.

The end to my first year of studying and I was feeling confident and happy with how it had all turned out.

Then 2012 arrived. I registered, again overconfidently for French, and Communication.

Training for the Argus began. I was getting home between 18:30 and 18:45 every day from work. I would quickly hitch up the bike and trailer and we’d cycle for an hour. I would then make dinner, Damian and I would eat quickly and by then it would be bed time for Damian and my usual study time. But, I would be exhausted from cycling and would put it off, thinking I still had more than enough time.

During the Christmas holidays a couple of people had read the story I had written for Damian and encouraged me to publish. This thought had been brewing and I decided that if I were to do so, then I wanted to illustrate the book myself as well. I was determined to have it finished before the Argus and before I really needed to get stuck into my studies. I published it on Amazon for Kindle at the beginning of February and in print format at the beginning of March.

I also started a new job in January, and while it started out quietly in the first few months of the year, by April I was in over my head with trying to adapt an existing program to use in the new business environment. A program written by someone else. I battled through sleepless nights and long weekends, eventually writing a new one from scratch.

By the end of April, with my book published, the Argus over and my work sorted out – I found myself exhausted and in a pit of I don’t know what. Where I had been driven and constantly on the go pursuing all these goals and dreams, suddenly it was all over and it completely threw me. I was miserable, irritable and snappy. I just wanted to wallow and be alone. I did not want to study. I failed my first French assignment and struggled to get the next one in.

I had just decided to not submit it and drop the module, on a Friday afternoon, when I randomly checked my e-mail. There was one from my French study buddy. She told me that I am not a quitter. That I should submit whatever I had done of the assignment, even if it wasn’t complete. She told me that it is not over until the fat lady sings, and seeing as though it would be very difficult to find a fat French lady, my chances seemed very good of making it. I rushed home, finished the assignment and submitted it.

Over the next while, my enthusiasm waned again. I couldn’t study it just wasn’t sinking in. I had so much on my plate. I somehow managed to study enough for my Communication exam. At least that was multiple choice and I felt I knew enough to be able to pass a multiple choice exam. Not the best student mindset to approach an exam in, but in my exhaustion it was enough motivation for me.

I still could not absorb any of the French. I tried to listen to the cd’s in the car, but my mind would wander. The night before my exam I mailed a good friend who was also studying and asked her if it was too late for me to drop the module. I didn’t want to just not pitch for the exam. She didn’t get my mail until two days later.

I decided that I would rather write and fail than not try at all. I’m not a coward. I don’t mind admitting failure, but I will never say I am too scared to try. It was the biggest buzz, I seriously recommend it to any adrenalin junkies – I am not one by the way. All the way to the venue I kept asking myself if I was insane. It is one thing going unprepared into a multiple choice exam, in your own language. It is entirely another going into an exam in a foreign language knowing you will have to write essays in that language. A language you have not learned to speak!

Strangely I felt a sense of peace. I trusted that I would be able to work through it piece by piece and trusted that the hard work I had put into learning the language the previous semester would still stand in my favour. It did. I did not pass fabulously, but I got 60%.

Now all of this sounds like I’m an advocate for winging it, for not taking my studies seriously. But this is not so. Quite the opposite actually. I learned valuable lessons during this last semester.

I learned about prioritising and needing to find balance.
I learned that by messing up this one semester it could have cost me my whole degree.
I learned that I had committed to my studies first, they should have had as much, if not more attention than the other goals.
I learned the value of keeping a cool head and not panicking.
I learned just how much I could draw on the basics of prior learning and my own common sense.
I learned just how far I can push my limits, and then how to go beyond them and push more.
I learned the value of encouragement from others and how important it is to be aware of others in the same boat – I hope I can pay-it-forward one day.
I learned that it is important to form study groups or at least make contact with one other person doing the same modules.
I learned it is important to pace yourself.
I learned it is important to start studying as early in a semester as possible to compensate for any emergencies or distractions that may arise later.

I look forward to my second and third levels of study and will apply what I have discovered during this first part of the journey to achieve to the absolute best of my potential.

To end, I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes:

“There is nothing quite like biting off more than you can chew… and then chewing anyway.” (Unknown)

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