As I sat down to write the post about the importance of making your own choices in studying, I realised that I should start with a little history of my own studying. “Why does she want to talk about herself?!” – you may think, but what I’m going to tell you about the choices was heavily influenced by my experiences as a student. I believe that you would be more likely to make the same connections I did when you get to know and understand what shaped my current attitude toward studying.
In primary, junior high and high school I was your typical model student. Not straight As, but I never did worse than 1-2 Cs on my school certificates (funnily enough, except for English classes – I had a very strict and demanding teacher back in junior high and I had a D in his class for 2 years straight! He let me graduate with a C in the end). I’ve always liked studying, it gave me satisfaction, yet I was something I would describe as “dumb learner” – I learned everything by heart as it was. I rarely made my choices when studying. I studied what the teachers told us to. Yes, I did read extra stuff I wanted to get to know more about (e.g. I liked and still like to learn more about space, stars and planets), but when it came to the classes’ content – I studied everything we covered and what was necessary to perform well in tests. Regularity was also the key, I studied every school day, did homework right after school. I used to walk around my room with a notebook and explained to myself the material we did in class. In this regard, I was never much of a fan of typical learning by heart. I preferred (and still do) to comprehend the topic and then try to explain it in my own words, often aloud (and while doing that walk around the room thing). It worked great while at school. But I later realised that it wasn’t going to work as great in academic environment.
If you have ever entered university, you know that the amount of material is impossible to master in full. There simply isn’t enough time to learn and research everything as deeply as you would want – unless you want to become a studying robot who doesn’t do anything other than sitting at their desk with a bunch of textbooks. Obviously, that didn’t work for me – I wanted to enjoy my university years as much as possible, make friends, gain some working experience perhaps.
As far as my first year was concerned, I was able to keep my old studying routine. But when I made it into my 2nd year and heavier and more difficult subjects kicked in, I had to quickly learn to make choices and sacrifices: what to focus on or if to study at all. Here’s a confession I have to make: there were times when I postponed studying as late as possible, there were exams I passed by sheer luck when I studied for them briefly before the exam (even just a few hours before it) or didn’t study at all. Here’s another confession – I’m not making it to boast, it’s simply important that you know – I have a very good memory and over the years I learned to use it pretty effectively in my learning process. Hence I was able to memorise the crucial points for an exam while most of my peers believed I spend DAYS preparing for the exam. The truth is, I was as lazy as other students. I just could pick stuff up more easily and quite skillfully predict what was most probable to appear on the exam.
In total, I spent 9 years as a university student (half of that time I was working full time as well) at 3 different universities with 3 different majors: finance and accounting, law and English philology. I only hold a degree – both BA and MA – from the last one, I dropped out from the first two after finding out it wasn’t something I want to do for a living. What’s more, the first two were my parents’ ideas, only English was my own choice, so it had to result in finally graduating and getting a degree. It’s one of the reasons I believe that, ultimately, YOU should be the one making the choices about your studies and future. You can be inspired, you can be given advice, but it’s YOUR CHOICE to make. It’s also fine to change your mind and dump something completely if you feel that pursuing it just isn’t worth it anymore. It’s yet another experience that affected my current attitude toward studying.
The years I invested in those majors made me a very experienced university student, but on the other hand, heavily affected my drive towards studying in general: it plummeted so deep I couldn’t see the bright side of it anymore. I started to find it bothersome and frustrating – not because of poor results, but because I was so desperate for freedom in my studies and more free time to delve into my private studies (namely, Japanese). As I grew up as an adult, I discovered that I’m a very independent person – and that feature also passed onto the way I study. I could barely make any choices as a student and that fact began to suffocate me, little by little – the content to study was imposed, textbooks decided for you and you also had to take the lecturer’s favourites into consideration, which rarely lined with your own. There were tons of, what I call it, “bullsh*t studying”, that is material that you either don’t need to learn by heart, because in normal circumstances you would check it in reliable sources (e.g. as a lawyer obviously you’re going to read that legal act and check for any updates and/or changes rather than relying on your memory) or material that doesn’t correspond to your interests or future career path. Not to mention you had to take “bullsh*t subjects” shared by most university majors (at least that’s how it works in Poland) like I.T., logic, economics or history of something you don’t give a sh*t about or of something that is totally outdated (I still remember that I had to LEARN BY HEART info on FLOPPY DISCS back in my 1st year. Come on, it was already late 2000s, nobody used or cared about them anymore)!
All those experiences resulted in a very frustrated and demotivated learner who couldn’t wait to finally graduate. I’m still proud that I actually managed to accomplish it – though I know I have to be grateful for my master thesis’ promoter who acknowledged my passion for Japanese and let me incorporate it into my MA thesis. It was the only thing that pushed me forward over that last year at university, making that MA degree possible.
Now here comes a good question: leaving the university so unmotivated, so genuinely sick of studying, how come I’m able to study again and I do it with pleasure (and also every day)?!
The answer is very simple: I knew I had to wait for some time and I would finally miss studying. And I wasn’t mistaken: in January 2019, I returned to my beloved Japanese, this time on my own, with my own rules and choices. As for how that happened in that period between my graduation and last January as well as what conclusions I drew, based on the experiences I described here, I’m gonna include that in my next post, as I promised. Let’s say the topic of making your own choices in studying is a two-part discourse with this way too long introduction I’ve just written. See you in part 2!