My, my. What a roller-coaster this year has been, phew! I see myself now in a very different place from the starting point of my journey. Throughout this year I have reconnected with myself, learned one or two new things and basically enjoyed getting lost in books. If you are anything like me, you probably spent the two weeks after your last examination cursing yourself because relevant ideas for your essays kept popping up in your head. We went to Spain to visit relatives and to enjoy the warm weather there (warmer than Luxembourg, at any rate) and I still could not shake off this feeling of having lost the opportunity of getting a better grade.
To get the much-needed closure on this year I canalized my energy and my concern for my studies in an evaluative effort, trying to ascertain how realistic I was in my initial appraisals, how I have adjusted to changes and how everything turned out in the end. I think it is wiser to do this before getting examination results, that way the evaluation is less mediated by the final outcome. You know I am a firm contender for focusing on the process instead of results.
As always, my initial appraisal was a bit too optimistic. I thought the four hours I had in the mornings could be packed with study and that they would always be productive, and also thought that since I was already familiarized with some concepts in ‘Introduction to English Language’, I could do with less time devoted to it. In hindsight, this was a naive perspective, more so when you have a four-month-old baby going through a sleep regression. In the first months of studying I struggled with getting down a good timetable and, more importantly, a good reading list. While we tend to emphasize the importance of planning ahead, I feel like sometimes we may be overlooking the usefulness of elaborating a complete reading list and sticking to it.
My main setback this year was that I started fairly late for my taste, I started reading by the beginning of October. While I was familiarized with concepts in ‘Intro to English Language’, ‘Renaissance and Restoration’ was a different story. I was reading many of the authors in that module for the first time ever, and dealing with unknown texts always bogs you down a bit until you get your head around the plot/issues of the book. This also meant that I could not focus on doing many close-readings of excerpts, which is an invaluable way to get a good grasp on issues and topics of a book. I had to focus in the few well-known parts of the book, hence losing an opportunity for originality of approach.
In fact, by Christmas I had read a bit more than half of the primary texts for each module, and the remaining texts had to be rushed in order to get to the 1st of February with all the primary reading done. This in turn also limited my formative assessment choices to those texts which I had already covered. In addition, when I started with the secondary reading, I had to revisit some of the books because I could not remember the points in the primary texts that the essays mentioned. Crucially, this approach did not let me re-read the books a second time to make a more focused and purposeful reading. Instead, I had to be very selective and could not explore topics as leisurely as I had wanted.
On the other hand, this year I learned to be flexible. I used to be very rigid with my plan-making, but rigidity and a baby do not pair well. After Christmas I had to objectively gauge my progress, and then I decided to drop one or two texts from my reading list. I tried not to dwell much on the feeling of failure, and instead focused on getting everything else back on track. When I let go of those texts, I could focus better on what I had at hand, and in the end managed to get a better view of the texts that I studied. While the ability to select and focus is important to our studies, I could have made the most of it if this narrow selection had taken place in the planning stage of my reading list, instead of halfway through the reading.
This year, again, I experienced that “turn of the tide”: when things finally start to make sense and you do not feel like a complete newbie. I always fear that this long-awaited turn will never happen and I will face the examination feeling totally lost, but this has not happened (yet). I always hold on to this feeling of understanding as soon as I perceive it in order to keep my spirits up, and it becomes a very good source for internal motivation (as opposed to external motivation, i.e out of your control).
Despite the setbacks and problems, I still managed to practice writing essays under examination conditions (no access to study materials, time limitations). Doing this was important not only because it helped in developing my own ideas about the books I had read, but because it also helped me to get a feeling that I was somehow in control of the material and not the other way around (see previous paragraph). However, I would have liked to practice outlining more, something that other fellow bloggers do with success. This remains a challenge for the next year.
Towards the end I also started to realize that thanks to my studies I am slowly getting back one feeling I thought I had lost: sheer joy at the act of reading. I am basically having a feast of books right now, and just devouring many things I had been putting aside because they were irrelevant to my studies. I can predict that the digestion will not be easy, but for the moment I am just concentrating on getting more than one help of page-turning… As if I had not read enough this year! I really cannot explain this book starvation, but I am glad to enjoy a feeling that takes me back to the carefree days of childhood.
After pouring out all these words here, I feel better and I am slowly getting that long-sought feeling of peace I was missing. One more course year is over, and there is nothing you can do about that, but there are certainly many things you can do to make the most of the forthcoming year. Do not forget to evaluate this past year before planning your next move: self-knowledge is a powerful tool for the International Programmes student.
Ana is studying the BA English by distance learning in Luxembourg.