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My zeroth year at university

Maybe my biggest accomplishment to date—maybe my only real accomplishment, if your glasses are so colored by society’s standards—has been to be accepted to the University of Groningen as a fulltime biology student. To apply, I had to send my curriculum and a letter of motivation. Which motivation? I wasn’t so sure that I’d like to be a student. Actually, I had been quite certain for most of my adult life that I really did not want to study and waste all that precious time for a few crums of knowledge.

But, I overdosed on spacecake and was having a bad trip. I was already depressed. My life hadn’t worked out. I hadn’t turned out to be the type of person that I wanted to be. None of the success. None of the happiness. Little satisfaction. Just some stubborn fantasies about how cool me and my life would be if only…

The physical and mental stress caused by the fear that underlies most major depressions overtook me, so terribly afraid of what others—that’s you—might think of me. This sensation wasn’t new. What was new was a lasting awareness about the extend to which this social anxiety directed my life and a stronger sense about how this might have affected my major life decisions. I felt (more than that I thought) that, maybe, I could try the normal life of a college student.

At the same time, I was very doubtful, because I had occassionally tried to fit into the constraints of society. It never fitted. I had to always give up on the straight path. So why would this work?

I did know that I was interested in biology and—by myself—I never really dug into it, apart from enjoying a Attenborough documentary or two. So, I investigated my options and decided to apply for university.

The next couple of months are a blur of learning, intensifying bouts of depression, despair and the occasional glimmer of hope. Never having finished even one of the lowest level of high-school, I had to face a colloquium doctum, where my knowledge of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology would be tested.

During the first examination, only my understanding of biology was sufficient. My math, physics and chemistry were terrible (a 2.5, a 2, and a 1 (out of 10) respectively), just above elementary school level.

I had only two attempts left to be in time to start studying after the 2011 summer break. The year after, I’d be 30 and no longer eligible to state support as a student.

During the next attempt, I fluked all remaining three subjects (although physics had turned into a 4). Then, the last attempt approached. I was nervous as hell, and felt ill-prepared at best. I was high on sleep-deprivation during the physics part. Yet, I was confident. Mathematics went terrible. It was mostly calculus and the statistics part was also much harder than the practice exams that I’d used.

So I resigned in my head, because I was certain that I had failed math. I decided I wanted to know how much chemistry had improved since my last attempt, though. (It was so bad then that it wasn’t even graded.) Surprisingly, chemistry went somewhat okay. At least I had made a somewhat informed attempt at an answer on most questions.

Came my grades for math and physics: a 5.5 and a 5.9. How was this possible? I was already planning to go back to France to work with my brother. A 5.5 was exactly sufficient to meet the requirements.

The first semester would start in a week. But I’d have to wait a week for the chemistry grade. This was thrilling, in a good way and a bad way. Finally, the grade came in, just in time for me to know if It’d make sense for me to come to university the next day for all the introductions that would take place.

The next day I was sitting in a lecture hall, filled to the brim with hundreds of 18-year-olds. In just a couple of months I had gone from a 0 (that’s a zero) on chemistry to a whopping 7.8!


    3 Comments ( Add comment / trackback )

    1. (permalink)
      Comment by halfgaar
      On December 22, 2012 at 15:03

      And not a mention of your physics tutor :)?

    2. (permalink)
      Comment by Rowan Rodrik
      On December 22, 2012 at 15:28

      Indeed, I should mention my physics tutor, mr. Half Done himself. 😉

    3. On Mar 14, 2015 at 16:26

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