I’m fifteen years old, attend a school in Birmingham and am approaching my final year. There are a lot of decisions to be made: what A-levels I should take (if i should take A-levels), what university I should attend and what degree I should do?
Ever since I was small, I’ve been asked what university I’m aiming for: Oxford, Cambridge, a university in London, Warwick or Birmingham perhaps? When I was younger I’d look up and give a toothy smile and say ‘I wanna do English at Oxford like my Dad’ or ‘Bristol like my Mum’ and then toddle of. But now when people ask me, it’s more serious. I have to think about my answer before I give it. Things are no longer as clear and easy as they were.
In school, as I have advanced up the years from 7-10, there’s been an increasing pressure placed on my learning and academic ability. As though if I don’t know what a myelin sheath does, or haven’t memorised the entirety of Frankenstein or don’t know how to conjugate a french verb, I’ve failed. This year I’ve taken about 25 exams, maybe more. Some were end of topic exams and some were mock GCSEs. They’re supposed to position us for our GCSEs and acclimate us to the rigorous exam schedule we’re going to experience when the time comes; I do not feel acclimated.
They’re also attempting to help us explore our career options. In the past, we’ve had yearly careers fairs. Stalls representing companies and the army, all lined up waiting for a stream of children to push leaflets at. Straggling behind the other flashier stands are those like the NHS, who are desperate for more nurses, doctors e.t.c. Unfortunately, most of us just went for the pens and occasional candy.
This year, teachers have been steadily working through the list of 400 plus students to interview about careers. I haven’t yet been drawn out of lessons to talk to this careers advisor and find myself quite curious about what they’re going to do. In form there are thick packages in large envelopes handed back to students who have done it, some who care and some who don’t. I’m hoping that they’re going to manage to inspire in me some sort of passion towards a career, or pathway; and that they won’t just regurgitate simple well known jobs like journalism or teaching I’ve heard of before. I hope they’ll talk to me about something interesting or wild, a job I’ve never heard of and would love to do. Something that could open a world of opportunities and so that I could have more reach than just across a desk.
They’re also supposed to chat about university and where to go. I’m going to ask about international schooling because (at least for undergraduate level) it sounds like something I could enjoy. From what I’ve read, I’d be able to explore a new culture, penetrate a new, broader job market and also learn a new language. I’ve always been interested in languages, first I fell in love with my native tongue, English, then I learnt a respectable amount of German and in secondary school I’m proud to say I have acquired some rudimentary french skills.
While I’d like to take it a step further, I’ve also learnt that the key to any language is repetition; which is difficult as in England I can’t really immerse myself in the language. When the summer holidays come around my knowledge vanishes into the gulf of lazy days and parties and this makes it hard to ever truly claim fluidity in my speech and master it. This of course makes an international school even more appealing academically, I could learn my chosen skill in addition to a new language, but with relative ease compared to the efforts I’d have to make in England. I’ve also heard that some universities recommend you take a year of pre-study to learn and attend lectures on the language, which is incredibly appealing.
But it’s not all about academics, I also love the idea of gaining more resilience and independence, which despite the bus trips to school and the train trips across England, I don’t have enough of yet. Going into it I know I wouldn’t be particularly confident, but I also know that having to stand up for myself and look after myself would improve that. Granted my mum wouldn’t be able to do my laundry - she’ll be devastated - but it’s about time I started to learn practical things as well as how to stand on my own two feet. I doubt I could do this is England, there would be too many people looking out for me and gaining independence is an important milestone of becoming an adult.
On the other hand, I’m also aware of the cons. If I went to America, I would have to carefully consider my economic position , as a student I would likely be skint and given that plane tickets home would range from £410 up, I’d have to seriously consider starting to save up and have to reign in my impulsive buys. Plus, even if I studied in Europe (which is far closer), I wouldn’t see my family and friends as much as I would if I stayed at home. I couldn’t just hop on a train and arrive for a cup of tea and (as I’d be a student) to do laundry.
That also got me thinking about the journey I’d have to make to even find out about a university abroad… would I have to fly out to their open day? ...and then what if I didn’t like it? Not being able to do this easily feels like a bit of a barrier.
Thankfully, while I was poking around on the internet, I found out about International Education Week, which runs events in the UK to help connect UK students to International universities. They organise for lots of universities from all over the world to come to England and tell you all about themselves and what course they offer rather than you having to make your way to them. This was great because I was about to give up on the whole idea but (luckily!) it stopped me from doing that. They even do it in my home city of Birmingham! They’re going to Leeds, Bristol and to the south and East of England, but Birmingham’s so close that I don’t imagine I’ll go to those too.
The events are happening in March next year - so lots of time to get booked on and decide what it is I’m going to do next… who knows, it might just be going abroad to study.