Following on from my post on leave of absences, I thought I would share my own story and experience of why I took a leave of absence this year and what I have been doing with my time. After all, it’s no use being told or advised by somebody about an issue they have no experience with and what better than a student in potentially the same boat as you?
Now this is the story all about how
My life plan got flipped, turned upside down
I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there
I’ll tell you why I took a LOA this year
. . .as it’d become pretty clear just how hard a decision it was for me and for any student to take a leave of absence this year.
I’ve had a life plan since the age of 8 and knew I wanted to become a journalist pretty much straight away after watching the old reruns of Superman, with Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane, my idol. It was also determined I’d study English Literature at university from a young age (hell hath no fury like those who thwart my ambitions).
When I sat my AS Levels I was pretty disappointed with my grades getting BBCD when they were drastically far from my predicted AAAA. In the end, I had a reality check and did not apply to York at all. It was a pain staking process and I was devastated with my final choices of universities I was forced to list on my application. Everyone who knows me knows I am always ranting or raving about something, what with my motor mouth laughing manically in the face of energy sources, since it ALMOST never requires its battery to be recharged; so it was not hard to imagine that York was pretty much the hot topic of the two years. Family and friends were telling me not to worry, to keep studying hard this year and try again for the next year and even consider the myth that is adjustment success. That time at high school resulted me in really losing confidence in myself and my ability, as this was the first time like any A Level student, life choices relied on academia.
However, with hard work, blood, sweat, tears and occasional tantrums, I finally achieved the grades, in fact higher than I expected, which surprised me. It gave me that boost of confidence I needed and after being a pushy little madam getting on the phone and ringing the Admissions Office who did not offer English through adjustment, I got my place! That was an epic moment and I’d never forget just how fortune and belief can work together to bring good things.
However, actually being at university was a different story. Social-life wise, I made amazing friends, some of whom have been absolutely amazing at supporting me throughout my leave. As I am hearing impaired, I required note takers for my lectures as I did not always catch what the lecturers were saying. My note takers were not provided until nearly a month into the course and I was livid at this. This made a really good friend suggest I take a stance and apply to be the Access Rep for my college; this was the first step in building my confidence and realising I could use my experiences as a driving force and influence on certain things.
As time went on, I started to find the academic work difficult. Getting frustrated, I did not always understand what was going on due to poor disability service support, falling behind and not being quite as motivated as I had been during GCSEs and A Levels. All of this was worrying. It actually counted for something this time round, so I could not afford to fall behind. I also began to struggle financially too, bridling myself in debt (typical of a student but pretty worrying as I was thinking of the future). On a personal level, I found myself making choices I’d never have dreamed of doing and that were not me at all. It was hard to admit everything at the beginning as I was getting swept up in student life but just how much are we expected to change and just how much are we expected to stay the same? Sometimes a reality check, a refocus and a change of scene makes you evaluate your choices and wonder if you’re doing the right thing.
I was not treating university as the privilege it was, especially having being granted with the best luck in attaining a place at the University of York studying an English degree. In the summer holidays after my first year, after much resistance and arguments, I started to seriously consider just how much I wanted to do my degree and so thought a break may be good. It’d give me the chance to work, save enough money for the next year and appreciate just how much good fortune I’ve had. Some students may see university as an entirely different experience and may not agree with my decision but at the end of the day, it’s all being happy and if I was not happy at how things were turning out, why should I force myself carrying on in such a way that would eventually end up with me failing my degree, being ridden with debt and miserable? University is meant to be about having a good, enriching experience, getting a degree and becoming a better, accomplished person.
Zohra, did you fail your first year?
Are you depressed or suffering from something?
What happens if you end up not wanting to come back?
These were some of the reactions I got and I was shocked at the assumption of leave of absences. Honestly one thing I’ve also learnt from this year are the attitudes and responses to the idea of LOAs. They are meant to BENEFIT the student, there is no god given rule on how you should complete your degree and by when. My friends back home in London and at York have been hugely supportive and I realise only now, reflecting, the impact this year has had on me. In a way I feel mature (almost) and I appreciate the value of my degree now and what I could do with my university experience to suit my choices.
I’m not lazing around, watching endless re-runs of Jeremy Kyle no siree, or living it up on a beach in Barbados. I’ve been working as a teaching assistant in the English Department of a high school in Maida Vale and it’s been a fascinating experience and an insight into the other side of being in a classroom. Not only have I been doing that, I write for two other publications and have started freelancing, attending press days, taking photos and writing features. As a result of that, I’ve had the chance to taste the real life world of being an adult and just how much hard work it takes to be able to pay your rent. Student loans are a blessing but wait till we start paying them back!
So just to round off what seems like a rant, here are the decisions I’ve made:
I am going back to university this September and I plan to make it the best year ever. I want to prosper academically, try my hardest and get involved in the student experience again with student politics, campus media, charity events, zumba and all sorts. I want to make sure I spend my money wisely, budget and always remember to ask for help should anything happen. I want to make the best personal choices I can and remember I am my own person: this is my university experience and this is my degree and I won’t let anything steer me off that path.
And with that, I’d like to end with:
Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful. – Joshua J. Marine
Featured image from D Sharon Pruitt