Chinye: My University Experience – Doing Things Differently

Chinye (2)

In 2009 I graduated from 6th form and was headed to a top 10 university to study Architectural Engineering. My parents were both beaming with pride and expectation, which was a bold contrast to how I felt. To be frank, I had no idea what I was doing. It was as if I was in limbo with a cloud of frustration over me. My conditional at UCL had been declined and I  loathed the fact my parents were making me go to my second-choice university.

I distinctly remember the journey there, squashed between my suitcases with my dad Lewis Hamilton-ing down the motorway. All I could think about were my shattered plans; I was supposed to live at home, join the skating club and somehow get my hands on an Arsenal season ticket.

My first year was met with misery, I was used to not fitting in, but this time it was exacerbated by all the middle-class, male, non-Londoners that were on my course. I was 1 of 3 black students studying a built environment subject, encompassing over 200 students. Not only were there physical differences, but it seemed as if there was a world of dissimilar cultural understandings too. I wasn’t interested in who shagged who, golf, or drinking…etc. What made it worse is that I’m different in my own respect, and my university at the time didn’t cater to those who were. All this was aggravated by the few individuals who made it their duty to challenge my intellectual capacity with snarky subtle comments, because of course, the way you articulate yourself is the best representation of your IQ. Clearly scientific….

Although I was deeply interested in the course, I couldn’t bring myself to focus. After a while I stopped going to classes and would pass the days sleeping and skating.

February 2010 brought about our first semester exams, and I kid you not I failed in emphatic style. It was like freefalling… I even managed to skip 2 exams entirely (opting to watch Daisuke’s free skate at the Vancouver Olympics instead). To be honest, skating was all that made sense at the time, and my visits to the rink would act as a much-needed distraction.

I’ve always noticed that I tend to react better after great failure and belittlement. I sort of imagine myself like Naruto, with the nine tails taking over. My ego kicks in and I go into focus mode. In March I had decided that failing the year was not an option. For the entire second semester after every class I’d rush to the library and go over what I had learned. I’d sometimes stay there for hours until I had memorised it all. That summer I had to sit 12 exams, 6 repeated from the first semester. Somehow *cough Jesus* I managed to pass them all, not only that; I managed to salvage a 2:2 (since 6 of my repeat models were capped at 40%).

The whole experience left me deflated and extremely frustrated. I was angry at my parents for not listening to me when I said I didn’t want to go, I was angry at my classmates for not getting me and I was angry at myself for my lacklustre approach to the whole year.

In 2010 the recession was in full swing, and for some reason I had this huge fear of racking up debt. My logic was that; if debt is so bad, why was I (miserable at university) entering debt which may not guarantee me a job afterwards? I come from modest beginnings and to be frank I couldn’t properly imagine the £21000 I would have had to pay. It just didn’t make sense.

That summer, after some research, I decided to do my internship year early. I tried effortlessly in the UK, even offering to work for free, but was unsuccessful after hundreds of queries. I stumbled across a real estate internship in Barcelona and decided to go for it. I was going to leave university and work in Europe. (My internship experience in Europe- coming soon).

Telling my parents was the hardest part, but I was unempathetic to their desires, because they had been (what seemed to be) unempathetic to mine. Looking back now I understand they wanted the best for me, but I still believe I had enough self-awareness to realise the best thing for me wasn’t continuing there. I ended up telling them a week before I went in order to minimise the wahala. Both were in shock, I didn’t want to give them enough time to digest it. I didn’t even let my dad drop me at the airport. I had everything booked and ready. I wanted autonomy, I wanted to test myself, to put myself in a setting which would force me to adapt.

After 2 years on different internships from Spain to Germany then Switzerland as well as spontaneous travelling around from ages 19 to 21, I had completed so many fulfilling experiences and life lessons. I ended up finishing my degree in Scandinavia (which deserves its own post – coming soon) I did it all without my parents, and now I’m back in the UK working in (you guessed it) the built environment! Ironically still the only black person in the office! Haha.

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