Growing up, I’d pretty much sailed through academia, I was even told I was gifted in English, but surprisingly, I struggled through my first year of university.
My First Year
It was 2005– my first year at Warwick.
I remember my tutor at the time; her name was Catia. One of the reasons she stood out to me was because English was not her first language. It was a new experience for me because she was from Belgium… And her English was better than mine.
Up until I got to Warwick I coasted through everything from the education perspective in my life. Meaning that at school, I was considered gifted.
- The upside is that you get told that you gifted.
- The downside of that is that no one pushes you beyond what you can currently do.
I went to Warwick University to study English. The school was considered the best in the country; especially for Shakespeare.
Considering I was far advanced in my English studies during my younger years, both the university and the major made sense in terms of furthering my education.
I soon found that my field of study at the university was populated by kids that had been to predominantly grammar and private schools.
Subsequently, it was during that first year at Warwick that I also found out I hadn’t actually been taught how to write an essay.
I’m Not Lazy
Perhaps I just got by on sheer raw ability without having to attach a hard copy of my work– I’m not sure.
Since I was sort of used to coasting by, I’ll always remember being 18 years of age and one of my teachers, Mrs. Deighton, being pleasantly surprised to discover that I did things outside of school. The thing is I always gave off the impression that I was completely lazy in my younger years.
There came a day when Mrs. Deighton and I were putting together my personal statement for my university application and she said, “Oh, Deepak, you actually do things!”
Of course, I couldn’t help but ask, “What do you mean?”
Honestly, I found myself a bit shocked at the whole laziness impression.
The First English Essay
Eventually, I made my way over to Warwick and there I was writing my first university essay.
I will always remember submitting the essay to Katia– the subject was North American literature. As it turned out, Katia had a love affair with Canada and therefore the class studied a lot Canadian literature.
I went in for one of my mentoring meetings with Catia and right away she said, “Deepak, the ideas are good but the structure is horrendous. Have you been shown how to write structure?”
That threw me off guard.
I gave her the typical ‘an essay should have a beginning, a middle, and an end’ speech.
That didn’t cut it.
She looked at me and she said, “Well, that’s fine from a higher level but when we drop down and look at it from a granular perspective that’s really not just what you need”.
That meeting with Catia– it was a weird experience.
I soon discovered, even in the midst of my other classes, that I was doing very well in seminars where I learned to gather my opinions verbally but when I got down to the actual work of writing… Katia was right.
I lacked the structure.
Learning What I Lacked
The fact is, I lacked the programming to build an essay and I kept making a lot of grammatical errors. I remember one of my teachers asking me about:
I had no clue what they were talking about. It was something else that scathed by me in my education.
Overall, it was interesting to go into an environment where someone tells you that you don’t know what the hell you are doing. In hindsight, it is also quite useful because you discover that as much as talent can take you places, it alone is not enough.
Not the Best Year
Being that I utterly failed at writing essays, my first year at university was definitely my worst year. Since I struggled so much during that year, I went and saw the head of the school a couple times a guy who, ironically, was also a non-native English speaker. He was an Indian chap who’d study at both Oxford and Cambridge.
And yet again, the man had better English than I ever had even though he was born and raised in India.
We had our battles because my attitude at that time was very nonchalant and I didn’t care that I was getting these poor grades.
The thing is when you’re told to your face that you don’t know what you’re doing it can
- humble you
- break you
- or lift you
I think in some respects it did a little bit of all three. Even today, I still find the thought of it uncomfortable.