Gender & Identity, Life

Although flunking my AS-levels shattered me, it helped me grow stronger

All of us want to perform well but sometimes it doesn't work out and that's okay.

For most students, summer vacations are ending and it’s officially time to complain about having to go back to school. Back-to-school articles and videos have taken over the internet giving students tips on choosing outfits or guides on what supplies to buy when moving to your dorm. There’s also a new selection of ‘college dropout becomes millionaire’ success stories that you’ve probably already read to motivate yourself.

But really, some of us absolutely loathe this content because it reminds us of how miserable we are. Besides, not all of us ended up graduating or getting accepted into colleges and universities. There are numerous students who take a gap years to earn their college tuition or retake their exams. There are numerous students who won’t be starting a new school year after all. Sometimes, back to school season can be the worst time in someones life.

This summer vacation, I experienced my first major drawback that I couldn’t get myself to recover from initially. When my AS-Level exams ended back in June, my aim was to find an internship and prepare for the SATs. I started my internship and everything was going perfectly fine until I received an email. A foreign exchange program scholarship that I had applied to months earlier had sent me a rejection letter.

I was absolutely devastated. I worked for months to attend interviews, write essays and got in the top two, only to have them send me a rejection letter stating that I was still lacking. I had daydreamed about studying alongside people from different countries and even started to learn Japanese. However, no matter how much I dreamt about the scholarship, it was out of my grasp.

I cried a lot those days.

A woman looking worried lays in her bed, isolated.
[Image description: A woman looking worried lays in her bed, isolated.] Via Unsplash
I spent a good week or two doing nothing but crying, stuffing my face with food and sleeping. My parents were concerned about me. One morning, both of them barged into my room, lifted the blankets and said something along the lines of, “you look pretty ugly when you cry, let’s go on a field trip”.

Even though I was quite dazed at the time, I’m pretty sure that was what they said to console me. In that moment, I was happy to do anything that distracted me. So we traveled for about nine hours all the way to the middle of the mountains where we spent a few days together. My mood got better; I ate delicious food, went on hikes and befriended some goats and sheep near our lodge.

But then we got back home and another storm hit. My AS-Level result had arrived. Turns out, I had flunked my exams really badly. I had never gotten such horrible grades in my entire years of schooling and I didn’t know how to react. I wanted to weep but I knew I hadn’t worked hard enough since I spent most of my time preparing for the scholarship. I felt like I didn’t have the right to cry. My parents were extremely disappointed this time. It seemed like their dreams had shattered alongside mine.

At this point you must be thinking, wow she’s being quite dramatic. I’m not serious about my grades just because I’m South-Asian but because education has changed our family’s life. My parents, children of farmers and shepherds, were able to make their way out of poverty because their parents put effort into educating them. Naturally, my parents wanted the same for me.

An image of a vast body of water. A hand is reaching out.
[Image description: An image of a vast body of water. A hand is reaching out.] Via Unsplash
Students at school celebrated while I locked myself in my room, unable to face my parents, my friends or myself with the C’s and D’s I had gotten. My parents avoided me and I felt like I had no one to talk to. I was constantly stressed and couldn’t really sleep. That was when I started considering self-harm.

I had never really felt that way before.

One of my teachers noticed my absence from school and asked me to meet her. I cried my eyes out and apologized to her for being such a disappointing student. But then, she said something that relieved me:

Student sitting on the floor in school's hallway.
[Image description: Student sitting on the floor in school’s hallway.] Via Unsplash
“We are all humans, mistakes happen; however, mistakes become failures if we let them drag us down. Everyone experiences some form of major failure in their life. You start blaming yourself, hating yourself and damaging your health and body over these failures. People that you love start losing their trust in you and deviate from you for the one mistake you made. But that gives you a reason to work harder than you ever have. To learn from your mistakes and make your way back up. Hell, I’m pretty sure even aliens make mistakes sometimes. So, it’s alright to have fallen but you can’t give up so easily”.

Sure, I lost my scholarship but I also competed with the 20,000 students that had applied. I lost my friends but that helped me filter out toxic people around me. I lost my parent’s trust but I’ll work on rebuilding it again. It’s going to be tough, but it’s possible.

So if you’re worried about going back to school because you think you’re not as good as other students, put all those thoughts away. Realize that mistakes happen but you can always steadily recover from them. Everyone works at a different pace and it’s perfectly fine to be slow. Trust yourself and sincerely work hard so you have no regrets at the end of the day.

Have a (hopefully) enjoyable new school year!