Onwards and Upwards: 3 years and 1 journey later

Are you even a blogger-aspiring writer if you don’t write about your personal growth and experiences to share with a barely existing audience? I don’t know if I am, but this is something I am going to look back on, a few years down the line, and I’m putting this up on the internet, if you want to read it and draw even an ounce of motivation from it.

Graduation from an institution where one completes their undergraduate studies is not the greatest accomplishment in the world, nor is it worth endless appreciation and applause. It is an entirely different experience for everyone, in every generation of college students. But it is worth something — perhaps, a recognition for transitioning into adulthood and cultivating the ability to at least try to overcome the challenges life throws at us.

Three years ago, my choice to pursue an undergraduate degree in a place far from the comfort of home (but still incredibly comfortable), gave me the opportunity to turn over a new leaf and create an identity for myself — an identity that was still true to myself but past the trauma of my early adolescent years.

Campus Green, Jacobs University Bremen. Photo by: Haseeb Ahmed

In the beginning, things were more complex and volatile than I had ever imagined, and my deliberate, desperate attempts at changing my personality for the better were failing miserably. I was not going anywhere I wanted to be, I did not have a promising group of friends and my over-the-top university romantic comedy dream was nowhere close to being fulfilled. Top that up with advanced level organic chemistry no one prepared me for, a literal plethora of people and sentiments from countries I couldn’t even name, a constant homesickness and a sprained ankle that confined me to bed for three weeks. Quite naturally, within five months of being at university, I plunged into a kind of profound, confusing sadness; one that made me lock my doors and windows and hole myself up for hours on end.

But that, I can proudly say, is a thing of the past. With the understanding that only I could demolish the romanticised university experience I’d constructed for myself, I took a step back and realised that this here, was a group of people who knew nothing about my past and that they saw only what I showed them in the present. I could, in theory, be unabashedly myself and no one would know if I’d changed from the past or not. It took me a while to completely implement this: every time I made any sort of mistake, I felt the need to explain myself to someone, to show that I could do better, that I was better. I didn’t have to. We all err, and we all ask ourselves “why did I do that?”, but that’s an entirely personal conversation.

And that epiphany, I think, was really the turning point of my short university life. I did what I wanted, I liked, loved and disliked anyone I wanted, I pursued whatever and whoever I wanted — all of it, without hurting myself or the people around me. My unapologetic and somewhat fearless expression of myself brought me closer to the people I appreciated and needed, and took me away from those I didn’t. And today, I’m extremely happy with the people I am taking with me beyond the gates of the university.

During this process of learning about all that I was capable of and all that I wasn’t and throwing myself to things I loved, I fell in love with planning and organising, networking and applying. I fell in love with what my career could bring me if I prioritised, planned and executed. Some extremely ambitious friends and my professors propelled me further. This newfound appreciation and ambition put me on a path that is beautifully tailored for me, and even though traversing it is not going to be easy, I am truly and madly excited to do so.

Nearly everything about the intercultural and competitive environment that my university is set in, accumulated over time to make me the person I have become. And wherever I go next, I don’t think I’ll have to try so hard to ‘turn over a new leaf’ anymore.

And who thought we’d graduate amidst a pandemic? Photo By: Usharvi Basu

At this point, I don’t want to give out unsolicited advice; I am no motivational speaker and I haven’t conquered anything much in life. However, I do want to say this: university is a little crazy and lots of wonderful. It’s difficult, without question. But what’s on the other side, doesn’t matter for now, because it’s important — imperative, almost — to take, understand and cherish every day of the journey. And the worst of times will get better, if you work for it. You truly have to be the change you want to see in your life and also the world.

So, in conclusion, through many conventional and unconventional firsts, waves of confusion and sadness mixed with ecstasy and love, unspeakable (false) rumours, buckets full of all kinds of tears, high school like infatuations, grades that I’m proud of and not proud of, and, finally, odd amounts of spontaneity, I made it. It’s a bittersweet feeling: the past three years have given me space to fail, learn and grow and has kept me unscathed by the brutal world outside, but now, and rightly so, it’s time to move on.

Oh, and I found my rom-com dream, in case you were wondering.


P.S. This is what I wrote when I first moved to University: https://themisfitssite.wordpress.com/2017/09/02/the-unusual/ (cringe)

A Pandemic, Digitalisation and Us

So here we are — in the 4th month of the new decade, a year where we all thought we had 2020 vision. But things couldn’t have possibly gone anymore astray. We’re caught in the middle of something that is spreading by leaps and bounds and will undoubtedly change the course of our lives, society and the future.

The first wave of COVID-19 news came in January, after having been identified in December 2019. But in January, we were worrying about the Australian bush fires and discussing Brexit.

And before we knew it and at a speed we are all still trying to fathom, the virus was everywhere. Literally everywhere, resulting in this global health emergency. It was declared a pandemic by WHO on the 11th of March.

COVID-19 is the name that has been coined to refer to the respiratory illness caused by the novel Coronavirus, also known as the Sars-CoV-2. Indicative symptoms include shortness of breath and dry cough, accompanied by fever and fatigue. Whether the disease is air-borne is still under debate, but it has been confirmed to be spreading through close contact and respiratory droplets from sneezes and coughs [1], and is most contagious when the person is symptomatic [2]. As much as we all are vulnerable to the virus, senescent people and people with underlying medical conditions are at the forefront. Not to forget all the healthcare workers, who are constantly in contact with those exhibiting symptoms.

As a result, the scientific community, universities and biological companies across the world have come together at an unprecedented speed to understand the virus and to develop a vaccine that could bring things back in control.

But then again, aren’t so many things about this entire situation unprecedented? It’s overwhelming and just the right amount of chaotic.

And here’s why: the mass digitalisation we’re all subject to. This is our battle not only with a virus (that you can kill with soap, when outside your body) but also digitalisation.

Because of the pandemic, we’re all more connected than ever. Our potential — as creatures who’ve developed this level of connectivity and as organisms who will stay connected with each other no matter what — is being realised at a behemoth scale. With every online class and midterm, with every online homeschooling lesson, with every grandma calling her grandchildren, with every star live-streaming their concert, the world is becoming a little more connected; each of these activities reinforces the fact that no one is too young or old to learn how to use technology. We’re all learning through innovation and creativity. It’s almost Utopian on certain levels. Alan Rusbridger, chair of the Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism, has described this as an opportunity for people to imagine “a world recast through virtual networks.” [3]

We’re all trying our level best to keep up with one another and loved ones; the situation has given me the chance to reconnect with people I thought I’d never hear from again. And I’m sure we’ve all discovered that there’s nothing that we used do on a regular basis that we cannot do online (all those meetings that could have been emails…).


But to every bright and beautiful thing, there is a deep seated ugliness. And this time around, this ugliness is disguised as misinformation and panic. Thanks to the entire internet at our fingertips, immense amounts of time in our hands and uncertainty induced fear in our heads, misinformation is on a rampage.

As if daily updates from the WHO, our work institution and news outlets weren’t enough, there’s unsolicited chain messages on WhatsApp, conspiracy theories (fun to read, not to believe) and our friendly neighbourhood YouTuber ready to inform us of something new and share with us opinions, when all that matters right now are facts, correct scientific facts. In a time where we don’t know how each day is going to turn out, panic because someone couldn’t hold their breath for more than 10 seconds is the last thing we need [4].

Avoiding misinformation may seem difficult — how do you separate wheat from chaff? Almost everything on the internet seems reliable and there is always the looming trap of confirmation bias.

Trust the experts. Trust the experts writing for established sources – The New York Times, The Guardian, the World Health Organisation etc. Trust in science. If any piece of information seems even slightly off, cross-check it with these sources. And most importantly, treat the misinformation like the virus and don’t pass it on [5]. It’s really not that difficult to tell fake news apart — drinking truck loads of alcohol is NOT going to disinfect our systems.

If we cannot fight digitalisation at its worst, we do not deserve it at its best.

It is imperative that we use the means of communication at our disposal in the right ways – to work from home, catch up with friends over video calls, watch Netflix and stay optimally informed – not too much, not too little.

If we cannot fight digitalisation at its worst, we do not deserve it at its best. How we emerge from this pandemic could change how we communicate in the future, and this change is going to be for the better.

Use these mediums to spread positivity, if anything. Emphasize the need to stay at home, share with people how you’re keeping yourself entertained during isolation. Articulate through videos and messages that every single one of us has the power to save the world and that our social responsibility is greater than we can imagine. This is our chance to live our childhood dreams of becoming a superhero, crazy as that may sound. This is not just about protecting ourselves, but also our communities and everyone around us. Highlight the fact that collective decisions we make today will impact millions of people in the next year. [6]

All of this will pass and we will be reunited. None of our brunch mimosas or arcade dates are going anywhere. Everything will fall back into place but in due time. And the sooner we mutually agree on that, the better. And among the many things we will gain out of this, our understanding of human relationships will particularly stand out. We will love each other a little more, hate each other a little less. We will cancel fewer plans and we will worry less.

About a very distant image of the Earth, Carl Sagan said, “…it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” It couldn’t be more appropriate than it is today.

Pale Blue Dot, as taken from the Voyager Space 1 probe, 1990


References:

[1] https://www.livescience.com/how-long-coronavirus-last-surfaces.html

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronavirus_disease_2019

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/29/coronavirus-fears-rediscover-utopian-hopes-connected-world

[4] https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

[5] https://medium.com/@alicefleerackers/covid-19-misinformation-more-viral-than-any-virus-a3b4d3e07890

[6] https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/196496/coronavirus-pandemic-could-have-caused-40/