Today I am here to talk about a deep belief that has been shaped by my studies and my experience as an independent student. You will not find a real piece of advice in this post, only something that I feel worth sharing with you from the bottom of my heart.
As many other students here, I first chose the BA English because I love reading/literature/books. Many of you have experienced the thrill of having a gazillion of doors and windows to other worlds, and in some measure, it is that thrill which has driven you to choose these studies.
However, after my first year with the University of London (back in 2014, gasp!), I realized loving books was not enough. The first modules I chose were ‘Explorations in Literature’ and ‘Approaches to Text’. Many students feel these are two of the tougher modules because they teach you to think critically about the literary canon and, to achieve that, you have to debunk many myths that we create as a society in which reading is part of the entertainment industry. Suddenly, you find yourself thinking about what is left out in a work, and not only about what is inside it. Or you need to read “microscopically”, focusing your attention in seemingly innocuous details that in reality conceal ideology, presuppositions and assumptions.
Overall, I learned that in order to pass my modules and potentially do well I would have to read what I would have never read on my own. I realized that I had to fight against some books, despite having considered books as awesome friends all my life. Suddenly, reading was synonym with ‘struggle’ and ‘hardship’. Up until then, I had firmly believed that books were friendly, not demanding or complicated, rather a refuge. The doubts about myself and my beliefs became inevitable: “Maybe I don’t like reading that much” “Maybe this is not my thing” “But this has always been my thing, then… What is my thing?” And so on.
In spite of all these doubts and misgivings, I decided to brave the bad weather, if only because I had invested time and money in my studies, and I was determined not to waste either of them. Luckily, the first examination results I received were not bad, and that gave me a bit of hope. Even if I was struggling, at least I managed to cope with decent results, and maybe, if this was “not my thing”, it would help me uncover what was my thing.
As years have passed, this strife has invariably repeated itself. I would love to say that it gets better, but it does not, or not completely. There has not been a single year where everything I have read has been pleasing or easy. The first year it was literary theory vocabulary, the second year it was linguistic terms (specially from semantics), the third year was Paradise Lost, and last year I had a good deal of struggle: from chaotic Augustan satire or long-winded Victorian novels to philosophical Modernism. You name it. But with the years I have also learned to see these “battles” as part of the beauty of my studies. After each battle I have come out with something new or interesting. Maybe I did not love those books after the efforts and time spent in them, but in the end something of each book had grown on me, and I felt like I was the better for it.
With each year facing examinations, a new impression has emerged in my thoughts. For the first time in my life while studying, I could honestly say that, whatever the results, I was proud of myself. I felt a strange inner peace, despite the nerve-racking experience of examinations. Of course, everybody prefers that feeling accompanied by a nice mark, let’s not fool ourselves, but at least I could sincerely feel like the mark was not the only thing I was going to get from my studies, that I came out with something more important, even though as of today I am not completely able to pinpoint and describe it. It helped that I gradually became more confident in my opinions and in my way of expressing them, that I had new means to interpret and convey reality. After all, this was my thing. It is my thing. I did not make a mistake in choosing these studies.
So these words are for all of you, the ones just starting (feeling daunted by the amount of reading), the ones continuing your studies and the ones like me, who are in your last year and are still wondering at this thrilling adventure that is independent study. I hope you keep these words in mind whenever you are feeling downcast and are asking yourselves why you decided to study in the first place. While it can feel a little too much, it all pays off. Trust me.
Ana is studying the BA English by distance learning in Luxembourg.