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Sunday, 7 June 2015

I survived freshman year!

It was 9a.m. in the morning and I was in bed, savouring every second of unrestrained liberty before the start of freshman year. I had heard all sorts of daunting myths about the universities in Singapore.

“The bell curve will make it impossible for you to get a first class unless you’re in the top… 2% of your course?”

“Don’t be fooled if your friends tell you that they’re not studying. They’re just trying to distract you so that you’ll do horribly!”

“Reading week, in reality, is hell week.”

I was starting to accept the fate that I wasn’t going to be able to accomplish my dream of studying abroad. I had not received the overseas scholarship that I was vying for – the only hope that I had in making my dreams come true. I lay in bed, drifting in and out of sleep – abhorring the intense glare of the sun, yet paradoxically appreciating the fact that my sleep was being disrupted by its grand appearance rather than the dreadful repetitive tone of my morning alarm.

“Bzzz bzzz… Bzzz bzzz…” The buzz of my iPhone (on night mode) disrupted my daily ritual of lazing around in bed for an hour before finally sitting up. It took me 7 buzzes to finally overcome the inertia of crawling out of my comforter to reach for the iPhone. “Yesss?!” Whoever it was, he was in for it.

“Hi, is this Melody? I’m your group leader for the NTU Sports Camp…” Orientation camps. I never understood why people looked forward to them. I would have preferred to snuggle up in bed with a cup of homemade iced matcha latte and my final book of the Mortal Instruments series. It was a pity that I had to waste my precious off-days from work in an attempt to do what I honestly detest (yet am truly good at) – socializing.

I got out of bed and spent the day tidying up whatever was left to do in preparation of freshmen year – paid my hall fees, paid a visit to the bookstore, and did some research on the societies on campus. Never did I expect my freshman year to turn out to be completely different from what I had envisioned.

At 11p.m. on the same day, I received the usual call from my boyfriend. But what he told me wasn’t so usual (at all). “I have fantastic news!!! I’ve got the overseas scholarship!” My heart sank. I knew I was supposed to be happy for him but the thought of him being away for 3 years was… difficult. (That’s an understatement.)  

“Oh… That’s… Great news! That means I won’t see you for 3 years…?” I replied, feeling apprehensive.

“No what are you talking about?! You’re comin’ with me!”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, c’mon! It’s always been your dream. Manchester. We’ve both got a spot. Let’s go there! We’ll work this out. This scholarship is gonna help with the living expenses!”

We managed to work it out, but only for the 1st two years. We spent the night meticulously calculating the finances that were available to us and even after searching in every nook and cranny, there was no way that I could pay off the tuition fees for my final year. I had saved just enough, over my one and a half years of work, to pay off the remaining fees for the 1st two years of university. (International students’ tuition fees were insane and my local scholarship was only enough to fund half the fees.) I couldn’t pay off the fees for the final year. But that didn’t stop me. That didn’t stop us.

We ringed the university the next day to reinstate the unconditional offers that we had declined. To our pleasant surprise, it was the final day of application. If it had been a day later, we wouldn’t have been able to study in Manchester. It must have been God’s perfect timing.

I withdrew my application from the local university, my hall placing and my orientation camps. Everyone was pretty flustered – it was two weeks before the first day of local university. Yet, I, on the other hand, was filled with anticipation for the next season of my life.

The feeling of anticipation never left me, until 3 days before the day of departure. 3 days. It suddenly dawned upon me that I had only 3 days left to spend with my family before I would be apart from them for the whole of next year. I had never been apart from my family for that long. When I went for a 3-month long exchange programme in China, my family came along. When I enlisted into the army, I was at least given the chance to visit them on weekends. This was going to be one of the most exciting yet toughest phases of my life. My dad had always been my compass and my mom, the one who kept me alive with her aggravating nagging whenever I insisted on my stubborn ways.

I hugged and kissed my goodbyes on the 4th of September, and buried my face in a buckets of tears for the 1st half of the flight. The following nights in Manchester weren’t any easier. Despite having fulfilled a couple of bucket list items (such as visiting the Old Trafford stadium), I cried myself to sleep each night. It was great being abroad with the love of my life but without my family, I felt empty. Furthermore, the burden of not knowing how I was going to pay off the fees for final year never left my mind. I had prayed for faith a year ago and indeed, God was teaching me faith.

Things got worse and I struggled and struggled. Each time I felt utterly lonely, I questioned myself, “Did I make the right decision to come here?” My dad would always remind me over Skype that the point of going abroad wasn’t merely to chase the grades, but to make new friends and to live the experience. I wasn’t making many friends and I wasn’t living the experience. I was paying a hefty sum (of both actual and opportunity cost) to be locked up in my room, feeling lonely and depressed and homesick half the time. When my family was thrown into an even tighter financial situation, I asked myself the same question again and again. I was becoming a burden and my faith was shaking.

Yet, even when I was faithless, God was faithful. As I was settling down in Manchester, I no longer had to worry about my family’s financial situation. God had sent people angels to provide. I no longer had to worry about finding meaningful friendships. God had placed lovely groups of people in my life. I no longer had to worry about feeling homesick. I had found my family in Manchester. Everything became easier and much more pleasant with the community of people that God had placed in my life. Their presence, along with Marcus’ constant assurance, reminded me of why I decided to study abroad in the first place. Unlike most of the freshmen, we could not afford to splurge on good food and good fun. Yet, I’m convinced that it did not make our freshmen year any less rich. We were having the time of our lives travelling Europe on a tight budget, cooking every meal at home instead of eating out, and spending time in church instead of at the parties.

Today, as I type this out while being seated in the flight back home to Singapore, I can’t help but marvel at how blessed my freshmen year had been. It started off with the hope of achieving my dream of studying abroad, only to be dashed by the lost of my overseas scholarship. Nevertheless, I still ended up accomplishing my dream (albeit not in the most ideal way) and I’m happier than ever. I (still) do not know how I’m going to pay off my tuition fees for the final year but my God knows. And that’s all I need to know.

So here I am saying it proud and saying it loud: I’ve (more than) survived freshman year!







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