I loved the idea of becoming a college student in my dream school. Unfortunately, my dream school did not love me back.
I was turned down for admission after failing the entrance exam. I resolved to accomplish my freshman year in another university, build up good grades and then take the entrance exam again. My parents, siblings, friends, even current professors and classmates were all rooting for me. It was an epic comeback story in the making.
The admission test results were out and I was about to find out over the phone if I had qualified this time around:
“Admissions office. Good afternoon.”
“Good afternoon. I’d like to check if my name is in the list of entrance exam passers.”
I give her my name. “Please wait a moment,” she says.
She puts the phone down and walks away. I hear her muffled voice. It seems like she’s reading out my name to a colleague to check their records.
I hold my breath.
My eldest sister graduated from this university. She’s 18 years older than me and I look to her as the epitome of success—fulfilling job and breadwinner to our family, all the while having a happy family of her own. My dad was 1 of 20 students handpicked from 200+ applicants for an exclusive Master’s Program in this school. Over the dinner table, he always told me about his glory days as a student, how graduates of this school had a distinct well-refined character, that the training from this school was special.
Getting into this school would be my moment of validation—that I, too, am capable of greatness.
A thud on the other line pulls me back from my thoughts. The lady picks up the phone again.
“We regret to inform you—” Nooo! “—that you did not qualify for admission.”
Nearly 12 months of anticipation reduced to this woman’s detached, matter-of-fact voice as if she were telling me the sky was blue.
I retreat to my room, intent on maintaining a composed face in case my dad sees me walk by the hallway. I’d lay on my bed the rest of the day, wallowing in my failure. I’m not good enough. That’s that.
But minutes later, my mom slowly opens the door, followed by my dad.
With my best effort to contain my emotions, I say, “I didn’t pass,” but my voice breaks as soon as I open my mouth.
Out comes the flood of tears—groaning and half-yelling out of frustration while lying flat on my back as my parents sat by the side of my bed. Not only did I fail the same exam twice, I was an 18-year-old crying like a baby over it! To my surprise, my parents did not look at me with any hint of disappointment. Instead, they look at me with warm smiles, quietly listening as I vented out. Most of the pressure to get into that school, it seemed, was self-imposed.
I don’t remember much of what my parents said to me then, but I do remember this:
“No matter which school you go to, you will shine.”
I take my parents’ words to heart and with it hope. But getting over my failure did not take one moment of epiphany; It was a gradual process. As one door closed, another one opened, as it did in another top university in the country. But the joy from this achievement was mixed with a tinge of disappointment in myself.
My dream school had the shiny, air-conditioned facilities and exclusive atmosphere. Meanwhile, my “reality” school was the opposite: scorching classrooms, kulob and dimly lit hallways, droopy ceilings and a diverse student population.
The disparity of my dream school and my reality school pointed back to the contrast between myself and my accomplished father and sister. In my insecurity, I wondered if I also lacked the sophistication my family had.
But over time, the underlying feelings of discontentment for my school turned into fondness.
The diverse crowd meant newfound friends and acquaintances of various backgrounds, personalities, and worldviews that broadened my own. The shabby school facilities reminded me of the resilience and optimism that students develop from such conditions—values that I turned out to have all along, which carried me all the way to graduation.
It all tied in perfectly with my parents’ words of wisdom from years before that I, or anyone for that matter, could shine wherever we find ourselves in.
I started my college life thinking that I would only find success by living up to my family legacy. After all, the only path to success I had known back then was the one forged by my father and sister.
But failing the entrance exam to my dream school taught me that there is more than one road to success. And in forging a new path, I found my own strengths and passions—and the realization that dreams can be found outside one’s dream school.
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