I’m about to graduate with a first class degree in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University in Wales. I think I have to repeat this sentence in my head because I don’t quite realise how special this is. As I’m writing this, a voice in my head is already telling me that it’s not that special. But I guess I can at least say that it was unexpected.
In the summer after my graduation from secondary school, my family and I toured across the UK. Amongst other places, we visited some of the universities including Cambridge. After we’d been inside and walked through some of the parks we walked back past one of the main buildings. I remember that mum said she could imagine my sister locked up in a college with a pile of books surrounding her and my sister agreed. It was some sort of bittersweet dream though, as it felt like common knowledge that it’d be way too expensive to study here. Yet, I definitely knew that I would never study in the UK- or at a university for that matter and my heart sank. I felt stuck in the system where going to university was unattainable.
I have tried to explain the Dutch education system before, but I’ll try and go through it again as briefly as I can. When I was in primary school, we had to do a final test in our final year (11-year-olds) which decided which level of education I’d take during secondary school. I ended up doing VMBO (preparatory secondary vocational education), rather than HAVO (school of higher general secondary education) or VWO (pre-university education). This meant that once I finished (at 16-years-old), I could only access secondary vocational educations. So after I graduated I started a 4-year long secondary vocational education in Multimedia Design. I was interested in media design as video editing had been my hobby for a long time, but if I had the option I would have chosen to pursue something related to writing, which was only available in higher education.
The vocational education did not challenge me. I was bored and became a little demotivated. I kind of demanded to finish the course in 3 years, rather than 4 (which I was granted) and after this, I started looking for HBO bachelor’s degrees for which I’d be eligible after graduating. This seemed like my way out of my self-proclaimed ‘demotivating’ situation and like my way into the higher education system. However, even after finishing a secondary vocational education, it is not possible to study at university level in the Netherlands. It’s possible to get there by completing another course first- but simply put, reaching university seemed impossible to me, whereas my sister did VWO and could attend university straight after finishing secondary school.
This is why my heart sank when my mother mentioned that she could imagine my sister in one of the rooms in Cambridge University. I wasn’t as ‘intelligent’ as my sister and the road to university seemed impossibly long. However, I was happy to simply attend an HBO bachelor’s degree. They are more or less equal to a university bachelor’s degree and the Netherlands offers an HBO degree in Creative Writing. I applied for the course and had to attend two selection days after which I was rejected (they only accept 12 people a year). The walls of my world collapsed. This was it, my future gone, or so I thought. My only other option at the time seemed to be to study for a degree in Journalism, which I then quit after a month. I wasn’t happy and I couldn’t be happy here. So finally I decided to see if other countries offered my desired program and to my surprise, universities in the UK do accept students with a secondary vocational education.
‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ – ‘Are you sure you can handle this level of education?’ – ‘If it goes wrong, you can always come back,’ they all said (including some of the voices in my head).
I went to university with the aim to pass and I was scared that I might not be capable. As it turned out, I had nothing to be afraid of. I excelled in my very first assignment and then realised that I didn’t have to settle for what I had initially believed: to be incapable. In fact, as it turns out, university is the first educational environment in which I feel like I’m in the right place. It feels like a place where I belong and could (if I try hard enough) potentially excel in my chosen subject.
Additionally, I remember feeling like I didn’t belong here at the start of my second year because I felt too anxious to speak up in class (See my blogpost on this: To belong or not; anxiety) and therefore, logically, I thought I should quit. Thankfully I managed to work past this anxiety and met the right people to help and encourage me. If I’m quite honest, I also wasn’t sure if I was going to make it due to my sleep deprivation this year, but here we are.
So now I’m graduating, with a first (the highest achievable grade) and I’m so happy. I’ll even get to wear a gown and a cap (this isn’t usual in the Netherlands), and I’m going to study an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of St. Andrews in September. (For those of you that are unfamiliar, St. Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland and the Creative Writing course is supposedly really good. I guess anything is possible!
You can watch my graduation live online! Click here to watch it. Or you can watch the recording later if you want to. (You will likely only see me for about 2 seconds though so yknow haha)
Update: Now that I have graduated, this is how I feel about Graduation: The benefits of attending Graduation
Posts in preparation for University:
Posts about what University was like in my first year:
Acitivies week and exploring
Nadolig Llawen! Merry Christmas!
My struggle at University
What freshers week was like
WE WON SUPERTEAMS!
Living in university accommodation
Summer Ball 2016
Goodbyes are not forever goodbye’s
Posts about what University was like in my second year:
Posts about what University was like in my third year: