Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I'm glad I took a break from university.

Throughout high school and university, I was always a bit of a laissez-faire student. Didn't pass that math test? Meh, there's always another--final mark be damned. Slept through my 8:30 AM class because I was up all night gaming? Wouldn't be the first time. I was that one cringe-worthy student that no one wanted to be paired up with for a project--unless, of course, it was one of the rare projects I was actually interested in doing.

I graduated high school and made a beeline for Université de Moncton in 2004, not really knowing what to expect. I stumbled through a few years of skipping classes, dropping out of classes and, occasionally, failing classes. It may not be a time I'm proud of, but it was an immensely important learning experience for me. I'm the type of person who, sometimes, has to learn the hard way.

In 2007, I finally finished my required English courses, minus one. Since I was an English major, this took all the fun out of university. Suddenly, I had to take a number of required courses that weren't at all related to English. This was my own fault. I didn't pace myself over the years, and I got all the fun courses out of the way early because of that. That fall, I failed a linguistics class, resulting in a panic attack--something I'd never really experienced before.

I went back to university in the winter, and I wasn't looking forward to it. I signed up for a full course load of five. Within the first few weeks, I had dropped two courses that gave me so much anxiety I couldn't stand to even attend class. One of them--oddly enough a drama class--had me breaking out in hives. Another class I took, a three-hour long ethics class with a lot of homework, forced us to read our answers out in front of the class. I left half-way through the class one day, tears rolling down my cheeks at the mere thought of it.

I also had enrolled in one English class, and it was one that I had failed in the past--the only English class I've ever failed, and my very last requirement for my major. When I got my midterm back and saw that, despite my best efforts, I had failed it, I lost myself. I handed the exam back and ran from the administration building to the arts building, right up to my mother's office. She saw the look on my face and I'm sure she must have known what was coming next. "I'm leaving university," I blurted between my sobs. "I can't do this anymore". She looked at me for a long moment, then nodded, and said "okay". I went to my doctor in the days that followed and asked him to write me a note so I could get out of university without suffering failures in all of my enrolled courses.

I didn't really know what I was going to do. Brad and I were living together at the time, and I hated our apartment. I would be going back home for the summer in a few short months, so I couldn't get a job. I visited my Nana in the hospital; I drew; I sewed; I wrote. When summer came, I went back home to work at the general store. I told people I was taking a break from university, and they advised me not to take too long a break. Some people told me I'd never go back. But my closest friends, my mom and dad, and Brad, all knew better. They were always supportive.

Brad and I moved to Moncton permanently in late summer, 2008. We got a new apartment--coincidentally on Alma Street--and got a cat. I spent the next five years working a few different jobs: waitressing at a Tex-Mex restaurant (I lasted four months), being a barista at a Second Cup kiosk in the mall (a year and nine months), and going from regular employee to assistant manager to store manager at DAVIDsTEA (three whole years).

While managing DAVIDsTEA, in winter of 2012, I found out that I could take the English course I had failed previously, and I decided to get it done. I went back and shocked myself by achieving an A overall in the course. I wasn't just pleased, I was ecstatic. I had overcome a hurdle that had been in my way for years. I wouldn't take another university course for a year and a half, but it was an event that put the option of going back to university back on my radar.

In the summer of 2013, I enrolled for an evening course for the coming fall. The course was with a prof I had in my second year and really liked. I started to realise that I was getting a little too close to the ten year mark. I was 27--inching ever closer to thirty--and wasn't really sure where my life was going. My job was taking up most of my time, and while I liked it, it wasn't what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life. It was time to make a decision, and my choices were: 1. to spend the next few years taking one or two evening courses while continuing to work full time, 2. to let my credits expire and never finish my degree, or 3. to take a leave from my full-time job and go back to school. Option 3 ended up being the one I wanted the most, but after looking into it, I discovered that it wasn't an option for me at all: my workplace would only provide one month of study leave, but I really wanted to finish things off. If option 3 was really what I wanted, I would have to step down from my position, and drop to part-time. So, with that big risk in place, I did, and I went back to school full-time in January 2014.

Was it easy? Absolutely not. I worked so hard from January to April that there wasn't much in my life that wasn't school-related, except my part-time job. I re-took the ethics course that I had dropped five years before, and while it was still a stressful course, I found that I got far more out of it the second time around than I had the first time. When the winter semester was done, I felt so much relief. That was the last time I would ever have to take a full-time semester. I had two intersession courses lined up--one spring and one summer--but they would be nothing compared to the insanity the winter brought.

Near the end of the winter semester, I attended the Annual Atlantic Undergraduate English Conference--something I probably wouldn't have even considered doing when I was in university before. I was more of a shut-in during my previous years, and I wouldn't even spend time with people on campus. This semester, I was hanging out in the English Department's Reading Room, making friends and studying with others.

In May, during my spring course, I discovered I was pregnant. At first, I was terrified! What if I didn't get my degree finished on time? Then, after calculating my due date, I discovered that the timing was actually perfect. My exams for my two fall courses would end in December, and the baby is due in January. This fall, I am taking my two final classes while pregnant, and so far it's not a whole lot different.

Do I recommend breaks for everyone? Absolutely not. Some people really don't go back--which is fine, too, as long as that's what you want. I'll always be glad for that five years away from university, though, and I will never regret it. I learned so much during that time, and it prepared me for going back. In a big way, I actually feel that those five years away from university were for me to figure out why I wanted to finish my degree, and to give me the skills I needed to complete it. When February 2015 arrives, I will have a baby in one hand, and a completed bachelor's degree in the other. I always have done things a little differently, so I guess with university I have just taken a bit of a detour on the way. My life story isn't linear, but I like it that way.

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