Hello everybody! It’s been a busy week for me at the U. It’s great to be back in what is a break from a seemingly endless cycle of analyzing research papers mixed in with the occasional stupor of staring into empty space and contemplating the meaning of it all, in what is an effective cocktail of scientific education that is my PhD so far. In fact, the busy-ness of it all has molded into a slightly routine affair over the last eight years of my life in academia, and that’s exactly what I’m here to talk about today. Isn’t that great?
At the ripe age of 26, I already feel like an old man running through the wheeling seasons of the years. With each year’s passing, I bear witness and welcome the arrival of a fresh batch (and ready for the picking) of students jumping out of the proverbial frying pan that is high school and unknowingly (but optimistic nonetheless) into the fire that is university. At the same time, I bid farewell and sink into a boat of nostalgia on those good friends who continue onward in their singular adventures beyond university, and wherever they deem life should take them.
University, in many ways, can be likened to a pit-stop. It is not a necessary one, and for the ones who are offered the chance for it and take that opportunity, it may be a short or long-term visit. Some could even consider it to be a rite of passage while for others it may be a trial through fire or as my good friend Zuko would put it, an Agni Kai!
But beyond everything else, university is an experience. With every end that comes to pass, there is the beginning of something new right around the corner, and amidst a plethora of mixed emotions: laughter, sadness, anger, relief, melancholy, love…there endure the countless memories rendered complete in an unforgettable experience.
I’ve had my fair share of adventures over the last eight years, going back to 2009 and all the way to where I’m now in 2017, comprising my time at university. I can relate various stories in what would be a compendium of tales to share since then. But that would be too long of a story to tell so in my own liking as your “griot”, I will share what I can of what was (and to a certain degree still is) my life as a student at university.
YEAR 1: In search of “One Piece,” the grand adventure begins.
Embarking on an adventure was really what it was. I left my family, and set foot in Canada in 2009, beginning the first year of my studies at the University of Alberta. It all started with me getting lost on my first day of classes, and running about the streets trying to find my way to the right building, before eventually settling into a class only to realize it may not be the right one. An adventure that began with a misleading compass, but eventually finding the right pinch of curiosity to spur me onward to an endless horizon that sprang forth ahead of me in the dreams that I wished to seek. That was pretty much my first year: coming to terms with the fact that the journey was real.
YEAR 2: Facing my first COLOSSAL obstacle.
An adventure without any obstacle is quite boring, and as the second year of courses came around, I would finally face the first of my many challenges, mostly revolving around balancing my studies while working part-time. I would learn that the world is bigger than what I had previously thought. I would meet others of great intellect in my field, and at many times feel dwarfed by my own inabilities. But most of all, I would learn to never give up. No matter how colossal the problems felt in the heat of the moment, I would strive to be strong for the sake of achieving my dreams.
YEAR 3: Sinking In Self-Doubt
With the progression of every year, university grew into an endless stream of assignments, and I struggled to stay afloat. Bearing the brunt of my own personal struggles in an identity crisis that followed in the wake of a lost friend, I began to view the world differently. Where there were dreams and a never give up attitude, I began feeling the fatigue of it all, sinking into the tediousness, unable to connect with the original purpose that had brought me to university.
YEAR 4: Getting Back On My Feet By Letting Go
You can always count on family to be there for you when in trouble. I had my father on that day when I just needed to let go of it all, and while there wasn’t much to be said, I realized that the doubt that seemed to plague me was nothing more than an elusive catalyst that motivated me to keep pushing, and understand that there is nothing wrong with redefining myself and my dreams. I would soon find myself sitting in a packed auditorium of students waiting to receive my undergraduate degree. I can’t say I was happy. Things hadn’t gone the way I had hoped in the years prior, but the spirit still remained in me to keep seeking an answer beyond the persistent questions. University, in that manner, was as much about asking questions in class, as well as about myself, my dreams, and what really made me happy. I found my answers by letting go and taking a break.
YEAR 5: Trying Something New
Learning to let go was difficult, but I eventually got my way about doing it. Doing so, I redefined my road, trying something new in my life for a change. I found a partner to join in my adventure, meeting as we did in the crossroads. Moving forward to the future, I reassessed my dreams, thinking back to what I had lost and what I had gained through my experiences over the last four years, and finding new purpose in making my own path I decided to pursue graduate studies in a field and topic of my own interest.
YEAR 6 & 7: Reinvigorated Purpose
The following two years would pass in bliss as I engaged my Masters degree (which was VERY different from doing an undergraduate degree). There was a measure of intellectual freedom and space that followed with my graduate studies which was quite unlike the hectic lifestyle of my undergraduate years. I made the most of it. Of course there were ups and downs but for some reason things just didn’t seem as difficult as before. In retrospect, I could attribute this to the fact that I believed that nothing could seem to phase me worse than my own self-doubt, something that I had learned to overcome and master. With that being said, the road only stretched ever forward, inviting me to reach for the stars.
YEAR 8: From Our Last Summer To A Little Bit Of Everything
And so, I arrive at where I am now. Finding a particular love in writing, I push forward to a bigger goal to be a science communicator, and toward a long-term goal in retiring as a writer and mangaka. I chose my PhD to be a platform for that dream, and in the grand scheme of things that is what motivates me. In this vein, university, FOR ME, has essentially been a proving ground of sorts to find my place.
My journey here is yet to end, with three more years ahead during which I hope to finish my PhD degree. I look forward to it. I say that not because the story will end soon but rather with the realization that as long as I keep pursuing my dreams, wherever they may take me, the journey is itself the destination. With that thought, I find my own resolve to put my all into what I love, reminiscing every once in a while happily on the memories of our last summer, and enjoying a little bit of everything that life has to offer.