Many people are familiar with the phrase that adults tell children – “You can be whatever you want to be.” And so it was that my parents encouraged me to find my passion and follow my dreams. It comes as no surprise, then, that I grew up to become a very ambitious person. As far as academics went, I was doing well in my early years, scoring straight As in school and even getting accelerated. Middle school was a different story having just moved to a new city, into a new school, and suffering from culture shock. My desire for social acceptance meant that my studies had to take a back seat, which they did, and that resulted in the lowest grades I’ve ever received in the history of my formal education. Little did I know that it would also be the last year of my formal education. After completing the eighth grade, life took an unexpected turn and I found myself out of school at the age of thirteen.
My first job came along when I was eighteen. After three and a half years of working, life had become a routine, and though I’d felt it many times before, I could no longer suppress the feeling that I didn’t belong there. It was a good job with a decent salary and great perks, but my days began to feel like a chore and I was basically unhappy. However, year after year, I stayed because I knew that nobody else would hire me since I was not a college graduate, let alone a high school graduate, and so in their eyes, it meant that I was automatically not qualified. It saddened me to realise that truth, but at the same time, it gave me the drive that has been fueling me for the last decade. I couldn’t understand why so much value was given to a piece of paper, and why that specific piece of paper had the right to judge one person more qualified than another. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to prove anyone wrong, but more so, I wanted to show that people can be capable of performing a job, excelling in it even, without the formalities.
High school came around a year and a half after my resignation. I tried to apply for other jobs, but as expected, was turned down because I was not a college graduate – though one time, I nearly made it past the initial screening stage until the woman interviewing me realised that my middle school was not a university. The job that did hire me, I turned down (refer to post #1 in this blog). I earned my high school diploma piece of paper through an accredited, online, self-study, American school from Pennsylvania. High school opened the door to CELTA and I had incredible expectations from that Cambridge piece of paper. It promised international acceptance and employment opportunities – it was the perfect solution and I was ready to pack my bags and teach my way around the world. Unfortunately, in my excitement and haste, I failed to take into account the requirements for obtaining a work permit to teach abroad – a university degree.
So I was back at square one in what seemed to be a very vicious cycle. My goal was DELTA and that required work experience. Experience required a degree. A degree required finances. Finances required a job. Repeat cycle. I was frustrated, to say the least. I found it extremely unfair that I was now a fully qualified English language teacher with no way of getting hired. I felt like I was being punished for not studying enough – something that was out of my control. That’s when Coursera came into the picture.
Coursera offers university level courses to the public at absolutely no cost other than time. It started out with one class, a literature course from Brown University, which soon doubled, then tripled, until I found myself enrolled in four classes simultaneously. Suffice it to say that I became very busy keeping up with schedules and deadlines and it was probably as close to being a university student as I could get, except instead of going to campus, I was learning at home, in my pajamas. To date, I have received fourteen Statements of Accomplishment, eleven of them with Distinction. I now had fourteen pieces of paper to add to my portfolio, along with several others I had received from taking other online courses and webinars (seminars that take place online). I was on a mission. It was my hope that taking these courses and webinars would make me more qualified in the absence of a degree. I hoped that it would show dedication and perseverance. I hoped that it would land me a job in a classroom.
It did not. What it did do, however, was catch the attention of someone at a local university who happened to be the head of an accreditation program that awarded qualified individuals a college degree based on work, life, and scholastic experience. I went through the application, screening, and assessment processes, I wrote essays, I attended seminars, and I completed all the requirements. And then I crossed my fingers and waited.
Two weeks ago, I received that coveted piece of paper and officially became a college graduate. Through all the frustrations and hardships I experienced after dropping out of school, all the waiting and all the wondering, all the hard work that always seemed to be for nothing, I can see in hindsight that everything seems to have happened exactly when they needed to happen. True, it was a slow process, but one thing always led to another, to something better.
Journeys are rarely completed alone. I know that I would not have been able to get to where I am today without the help that was given to me along the way. To those who believed in me enough to give me an opportunity to work for them, to those who offered words of encouragement and endless support, to those who kept me sane, happy, and grounded – I thank you, each and every one of you, for being an invaluable part of my journey and my growth. Words are insufficient to properly express my gratitude, but I hope that some day, once I’ve found my place in this world, that I will be able to give something back. For now, however, please accept my heartfelt words and thanks as the journey continues.
Next step: job hunting