I Didn’t Fail University

jana meerman ubc campus

I woke up to an email that I have been waiting too long to receive:

"Dear Jana,

Yes! We are delighted to offer you your requested change of program at the University of British Columbia."

Some background info: I graduated high school in 2012 as a naive sixteen year-old who very much thought she knew what she wanted in life and what she was going to do, regardless of what other people said. Unfortunately, that was also the year I had fractured my spine (Feb) and then subsequently broken my ankle (Sep). So, the future in the dance world I had been carving out for thirteen years or so was no longer in the cards. This sort of pressure and stress threw my life into a chaotic dance of uncertainty.

Throughout high school, it had been ingrained that, unless you obtain a science-based degree, you wouldn't really go very far in life, with the long-standing joke that a BA was simply over-preparing you to ask "would you like fries with that?".

Armed with a lack of experience and a young head on my shoulders, I entered UBC's Faculty of Science in the fall of 2012 registered for ten courses with the aim of graduating four years later with a BSc in Computer Science. I love the world of coding - this whole blog is proof of that - but I failed miserably in the academic world of it.

It just didn't make sense to me and that feeling was something I had never really experienced before.

My very first semester at university was the first time in my life I had really 'failed' at something. Sure, I had not met some goals in the past or not done as well on things as I could have - but this was pure disaster. Math 180 (or "the calculus course for the fools who had opted not to take Calculus 12 in high school" as it was so fondly known) was the first breaking point of my academic science career.

I knew from the get-go of the class that I had no idea what I was doing. Ironically, all throughout high school, not only had math been my favourite subject, but also my best. I scored 96% in Math 11. So failing Math 180 was a shock.

Not surprisingly, I spent the first winter break home from school in a permanent slump of sadness and tears. I had failed the final exam which automatically meant I failed the class. After lots of parental comforting and "it's just one class" from mum and dad, I returned to campus in the new year determined to do better.

Well, wouldn't you know it, but I failed two more classes that semester. I finished my freshman year miserably; no longer the bright, excited little hopeful who thought the world was her oyster, but rather a disgruntled student with severe depression. I thought that I just wasn't good enough.

Naturally, that's when I started wondering if I was even cut out for university. Those who know me, or have read my recent post about my career-ending injuries in the world of dance, know that I never really intended to go to school - it was always just a backup plan. I literally handed in my UBC and SFU applications a week before they were due "just in case" - thank god I did.

I made the decision to keep living on campus during my first summer and attempted three courses to make up for the lost credits of first year. I had managed to pass differential calculus in my second term so I joined an integral calculus course in the summer, determined to stay on the up-swing. But, I made the mistake of registering for the engineering stream and promptly failed it with a shocking final grade of 26%.

It was at this time that I finally admitted that a degree in computer science wasn't for me. Unfortunately, I still had that high school mantra stuck in my head and was determined not to give up, so I stayed in the science stream but entered second year with a different focus. I declared a major in Cognitive Systems after a house mate convinced me it sounded like an interesting degree. It was a relatively new major at UBC combining linguistics, psychology, computer science and philosophy - so I registered for all the appropriate classes.

By the end of first semester of my second year, I had my fifth failed course under my belt.

I had some serious thinking to do that second winter break. I decided, perhaps too late, that what I had been raised to believe was not really a widely applicable truth. I looked for subjects in the course manual that sparked some interest, regardless of their faculty. Finally, a step in the right direction. I returned that new year and successfully completed my very first semester without a single failed course.

That summer, I optimistically decided to apply for a transfer into the Faculty of Arts where I could try for a BA. My GPA was below the cut off-line to be accepted so, though I was upset, I was not surprised. What with the mounds of bad news I had already received from UBC, this certainly wasn't the worst. I booked a spontaneous trip to Europe for the four months of summer to get away from school and refresh myself.

I returned for my third year focused on International Relations; I was undeclared, but I enrolled myself in the appropriate courses - political science, history, economics and languages. I tried to appeal the decision to not let me into the Faculty of Arts, which was denied. Then, I received an email in September letting me know that I had failed to meet the requirements to be promoted to the third year of a BSc meaning that, should an alternative faculty not be declared by the end of my third year, I would be asked to withdraw from the university.

Well, sh*t.

This effectively put a 'strike' against me and, in combination with my first rejection from the Faculty of Arts, meant my chances of applying to transfer a second time round successfully were slim.

But slim as they were, the chances were still there, so I worked hard to increase my GPA during third year, ending up with a 12% increase in my overall average (!!!). Just before the end of my third year, I nervously put in my second application for arts. If I was rejected again, my time at UBC was done for good.

All of a sudden, things clicked.

After three years of stress, misguided paths, serious doubt and complete failure combined with serious hard work and determination, I successfully transferred faculties.

Heck, I was even awarded an academic scholarship for my excellence and proficiency in Germanic studies.

So I'm going into my fourth year, damn proud to be here and ready to prove to everyone that I deserve my spot here. I will walk across the stage next year with my head held high and a degree in hand.

The TL;DR is this:

To soon-to-be high school graduates: apply for the faculty you want to be in, not the one you think you should be in. There is no 'right' faculty.

To first years: declaring a major is not a permanent choice; you can always change your mind.

To second years: get through this year, it is undoubtedly the hardest.

To third years: be sure you're doing what you really want to be doing and if not, change your path.

And to everyone: failure at one thing does not mean failure at all things. I am literal proof of that statement.

Jana Meerman

Hi! I’m Jana, a British-Dutch-Canadian with a dream of seeing every country in the world. I am a storyteller, photographer and adventurer passionate about documenting and sharing my travels.

Find me on: Instagram | Facebook

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