Gratitude for Leah, My Faithful Companion for Four Exams

LSHTM logoIt’s 4.37pm the day after I sat my fourth of six exams.  I’ve been studiously at work most of the day on my Health Services and Health Policy in anticipation of their exams dawning in about a week’s time.

I’m feeling like I’ve worked pretty hard (not just today, but over the last few weeks…as all those first year Public Healthers doing the core modules will appreciate…exam blast Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Monday…phew…).  Instead of covering another Policy chapter, I think I’ll write a blog post…since it’s overdue by my timetable and, I believe, still a productive use of my time.  :)

One of the things that has made the exams immeasurably more bearable (apart from the protein bars I had special dispensation to bring into exams, as my pregnant belly could now be likened to a bowling ball), was to have a fellow student to ‘post-mortem’ with.

This is the first time I’ve sat exams like this where there was a possibility that I’d turn up on my own and have no one else to talk to about the exam after it finished.  Lo and behold (and gosh, I wish I’d known earlier!), I turn up to Basic Epidemiology last Monday and discover there is a lovely other young woman, Leah from Seattle, sitting the same exam.

I want to publicly thank Leah – four exams together, not unlike sitting in the same hospital room for several days with the same people; not that I’ve experienced this, but people who have have sometimes spoken how quickly you ‘bond’ with those people, if they’re not driving you mad that is.  It is also a bit like the one time my husband and I paid a visit to the US tax department office to get my International Tax Identification Number, the first official recognition by the US state that I ‘exist’…charming.  Coming from teeny weeny New Zealand, I have to confess that the whole experience felt like something out of a sketch… everyone in the waiting room (and the wait, of course, was long…) sharing their life stories, their woes and challenges they were facing (“…and now, I owe a million bucks AND my truck got written off last week…”), the mystery that is the tax system (uhuh…yikes), even the ‘rent-a-cop’ leaning on the cubicle dividers.

But I digress.  (What’s new?)

After the first exam, I was off to meet with a dear old friend from Pakistan who is also based here in Bangkok now.  “Leah, join us for lunch if you like…”  Well she did, and along with my friend (who also did her masters recently and, unlike us in the big pond of LSHTM, she managed to convince the professors that exams were a poor method of assessing their learning and actually sparked a wee revolution in the masters programme she was sitting) we exclaimed, commiserated, consoled and the rest…over tasty Mexican tacos and quesadillas (I know, all the way to Bangkok to eat Mexican?!)

And after the subsequent exams, we’d eagerly ask one another “Which questions did you do?” and rail against what we considered to be GREAT injustices: “Argh, I feel like that question was just SO ridiculous that I couldn’t focus on actually giving a real answer…the wording there was so ambiguous…how are we supposed to give them definitions, graphs, examples, application AND still get that all done in two hours…if I wasn’t a native English speaker, I’d have struggled (which, I would be interested to know, how the non-native English speakers found some of the exams?)…” or assess with cautious where, nodding slowly, “I think I did OK on that one…”

All in all though, I can’t quite explain why, but to be able to digest the exam experience with a fellow ‘sitter’ is something I had underestimated in choosing to study a distance masters like this.  In retrospect, talking it out with my dog doesn’t seem half as powerful. And for those who had no one to digest with, I take my hat off to you – chin up, I bet you didn’t do as bad as you think you did…and big pat on the back (“GROUP HUG!”) to allay the nervous wait for results…!

**** BLOG UPDATE ****

Lucy's exam centreIt’s now 9.10pm the day of my second to last exam…I can almost TASTE the manicure and pedicure (ew! taste?!) I’m gonna shout myself to after Health Policy is done tomorrow (got a wedding on the weekend and these days I can’t possibly reach my own toes…! And come on, this is Bangkok, where it costs little more than a bottle of milk…).  (I’m guessing by the time you read this, we’re ALL done and had our manis and pedis and all the rest…?)

As it turns out, I don’t think I got the right number for dear Leah so…Leah, if you read this post, email Suraya at blogs@london.ac.uk and she’ll put us in touch.

In the meantime… a big shout out of thanks to the lovely invigilator whose name (in Thai) I couldn’t possibly remember off the top of my head (*sheepish look*).  I felt for her today as I turned up for my exam to find all the lights off in the office of the local university, which is normally buzzing with students and activity.  I’m guessing their holidays had already started and I was the only one they were expecting because they posted up my exam notice smack bang in the middle of the reception desk (see photo).  I went down the hall in one direction thinking I’d read the room number right, traipsing through the dark until I found what I thought was the correct room, only to find it was an office clearly occupied by (absent) others. I could only assume that wasn’t my exam room.  I tried the other direction just for good measure and indeed found the invigilator, the only familiar face I’ve come to know (apart from Leah, who I fear may be lost to the ether of Bangkok forever!)…and I think we were both relieved to know we could get on and get this exam done.  Perhaps more relieved was I to hear that, yes, today the bathrooms hadn’t been locked up – apparently some unlucky sod sitting an exam yesterday had to hold on because the toilets weren’t open.

Oh the trials and tribulations…what would a good exam be without a bit of an Indiana Jones mission through intrepid, darkened local university rooms in order to find that sweet spot where the sacred exam papers are lain…and the threat of no toilet breaks?!

Lucy is studying the MSc Public Health by distance learning in Bangkok, Thailand. She is originally from New Zealand.

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