Photo credit (above): Dennis | Flickr
[First posted on Leaderonomics.com on 23 September 2013]
By NURULJANNAH BTE HJ USOP
Honestly, I was never a top student. I am no Einstein; instead, I am just your regular girl-next-door. Some people around me have regarded my academic track record with condescension.
You see, my certificate was not adorned with A’s, but with B’s and C’s. To be more precise, I only got three A’s. Still, the lack of encouragement never killed my dreams of being a lecturer and a freelance writer.
One of my favourite subjects is English Literature. I especially love the subtle yet eloquent beauty of symbolism in the English language. I enjoy unravelling messages that are meticulously embedded in poems, and marvel at how enchanting words can be. Furthermore, literature is one of the most interesting ways to learn history.
Frankly, I disliked history, but my passion for literature rekindled my interest in the subject. For example, Queen Elizabeth I’s poems depict how her desires and spontaneity were suppressed by the social norms and rigid English social system that surrounded her. I was truly enthralled by the works of writers and poets and how deftly they imbued their stories and poems with symbolism.
So when I received my acceptance letter for the English Linguistics and Literature course at the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM), I was absolutely overjoyed.
Yet, detractors who had a very narrow view of my choice questioned me. They believed that career prospects were all that mattered in deciding which course to take up, and that pursuing literature did not offer many career options apart from being a teacher.
In response, I smiled and turned a deaf ear. If you are really passionate about something, you will not let others influence your decision; after all, you know where your heart lies better than anyone else. Regardless of how unusual or uncommon the pathway you have decided to take is, give yourself the chance to at least give it a try. I chose this path because of my infinite love for literature.
Thankfully, my parents accepted my decision with open hearts and open minds. If your parents object to your decision, do try to persuade them in a polite manner.
Life is not a bed of roses. I have encountered my fair share of obstacles in the course of pursuing my degree. You see, I rarely spoke English with anyone for fear of making mistakes.
In addition, I often paused in between speaking and some people thought I had a strange accent. It did not help that most of my classmates were really superb at communicating in English. Hence, I always depended on my notes when it came to presentations in class.
I also received discouraging remarks from some lecturers. Once, one of them said to me, “Your English is poor!”. Instead of feeling disappointed with myself, I regarded her words as a source of motivation for self-improvement. I tried communicating with my siblings in English, and despite their constant criticism, I learnt a lot and improved my command of the language. As James Joyce once said:
“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”
As for my studies, there were times when I received critical marks, especially for Arabic, a compulsory subject and the fundamentals of which I am not strong in. I told myself I could do it, and subsequently doubled my efforts and consulted my lecturers in spite of my poor communication skills. In the end, I managed to pass and my results have improved greatly over the past semesters.
Contrary to popular belief, my English Literature course is not only about learning Shakespeare’s masterpieces – it also delves into history and society. Furthermore, it has subjects like Novel and Short Stories, Drama, Romantic and Victorian, Poetry, American literature, etc. For instance, one of my favourite subjects, English Twentieth Century and Contemporary, mainly addresses female oppression, war poetry, and the like.
In addition, the subject requires us to read two novels, which are A Room With A View by E.M Forster and Brick Lane by Monica Ali. Both novels discuss society’s rigidness and the paucity of freedom that women face.
Besides that, I have also learnt a lot in this university as I am not only taking English, but also Islam, Arabic, and Human Sciences, all of which have enabled me to be a well-rounded person. I have held onto my dreams in spite of the negative perception some people have of my course, and I fully intend to pursue my master’s degree and PhD.
Simply put, if you think you will succeed in your path of choice, you will. After all, the mind is a powerful mechanism. Once you have set a firm, positive decision in your mind, it will take you to where you want to go.
Nuruljannah Bte Hj Usop is currently pursuing English Linguistics and Literature at International Islamic University of Malaysia after completing her SPM at SMK Merbau and St. Columba. She harbours great dreams, and hopes that her poems and stories will be published someday.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.