As I sat in the car on the way to the big scary chapter of my life that is university, I dreamed about all the fun things I could do. I have had a cosmopolitan lifestyle, having lived in four countries, studied in many different schools and rowed at a high level. Yet I was not complete, I had lots of gaps in my personality and I had no idea what my goals or aims in life were. I felt I was like I was in a river, drifting with the current and the path of least resistance. Not knowing your aims is a disadvantage when you enter university but over time I begin find them.
So what were the gaps I referred to regarding me as a person? Firstly I lacked general confidence, when I was young I had lived in Holland and I was happy and popular. But halfway through my childhood, due to my fathers’ work I moved to Germany and then England. The changing environments unsettled me. I did not learn to speak English till I was nine, and the strong American twang made it awkward in England.
The second gap would be girls. My mother took a job to help fund my move from a fairly rough state school to a laid back but excellent independent school. But it was an all boy school (it would later become co-ed) and this lack of female exposure is not that great in fostering social credentials. Yeah sure I had a few dates from other schools but overall I did not understand girls. I recall as a teenager literally shaking in fear when I asked a girl for her number. I had no time to improve on this with house parties or clubbing as during my teenage years I was a rower. I was dedicated to the cause, training 6 days week, night and day, during holidays, wind, rain, you name it. The early nights instead of fostering social skills meant I would look in disbelieve and slight envy on how some guys had this swagger and girls would irresistibly be lulled to them. I figured being the nice guy would be enough, but in reality this is not so. Perhaps I hoped at university, this would change.
The third gap is not taking risks. To put it bluntly, I was a bit of a pussy. I was referred to as the nice Chinese guy and I played the script perfectly. For my interview to become senior monitor at school (and indirectly head boy) I was too soft, too nice, I showed little policy or ambition on wishing to become head boy. I got a more junior position, an honour, but not the crown I wanted. That sparked my ambitions but had no understanding on how to climb the slippery pole. For A levels I knew I loved politics but I chose bog standard science subjects because I feared trying something new. This was no different at university as I stayed with the same subject I did at GCSE and A level, not necessarily because of passion but because I did not want to take the risk in doing a different subject. For university choice I feared London because it looked big and scary and chose Durham because my family friends recommended it. Even when I failed to get placed in the college that I wanted I was too scared to change university because Durham gave me a lower offer.
However, I recall clearly my former headmaster at the time saying:
‘’It is not where you go that matters; it is what you make of it’’.
I took that to heart, and thank god I did.