Let’s do the Hokie Pokey: my educational journey so far.

As I have modestly plastered over social media this past week, I recently accepted an offer to continue my education at Virginia Tech. I will be trying to obtain a PhD in industrial/organizational psychology. For those of you who are perhaps unfamiliar, think of I/O psychology as psychology applied to an occupational setting.

I therefore thought this would serve as an adequate opportunity to talk about my educational journey and where I see myself after graduation.

The journey here has been a long one. As most of you should know, I did not come to America until I was eighteen years old.

Prior to making the jump, I started my educational journey in Hellesdon, which is a village in the suburbs of Norwich. My mother raised me right, making sure I valued my academics and I consequently made sure I always strived for good grades.

My earliest memory of getting a ‘bad grade’ —and for those of you who know me well will know that I still haven’t changed — was in year 1 (Kindergarten). I was only six years old, and we had a spelling test. The teacher asked how to spell ‘because’, but phrased it like this,

“Spell ‘because’…how do you spell it?”

I wrote down ‘because’, having not realized that this was a trick question. The teacher instead wanted us to spell ‘it’. A couple of my classmates spelled ‘it’, and my teacher told me that spelling because was wrong. I remember so vividly crying for getting this question wrong — it was the only word I got wrong, I might add!

Again however, if you know me well, you know things haven’t changed much…

I finally got to high school, and I was socially awkward. Definitely the weird kid…probably still the weird kid. I found it very hard to find my place socially. I could play football, but I was also an absolute nerd. I found it hard to fit in and I ended up just drifting between friendship groups. Academics however remained consistently strong, and I earned good enough grades at the end of high school to attend a prestigious sixth form called Wymondham college.

For the American readership, we graduate high school at sixteen in England, and then have two further years in education before attending University. This can either be sixth form, which is the most academic track. Students can also attend college, which is a more vocational route. Students here can still attend University or decide to go into the world of work. Finally, students can earn an apprenticeship in a certain trade before eventually becoming qualified to work in that industry.

It was a rough year for me. The school was a day-boarding school, which basically meant that half the people slept over and the other half went home. The difference between the ‘day students’ and the ‘boarders’ was the greatest financial disparity I had ever witnessed. To put it in perspective, I was in class with a girl whose dad was the owner of Lamborghini tractors. Rumor had it that her house had a moat…

Every day, I would catch a bus at 7:00am that would then take 45 minutes to get to school. I usually wouldn’t get home until 5:00pm, which at the time was a long day (fully aware that this is now a short day for me!). I was often exhausted; I had soccer in the evenings and it was hard to find the time to study. I remember taking a weird test that would predict your A-level grades and I was told I should achieve A* A* A*.

The reality however, was quite different…

I had been personally invited to Cambridge University for an english literature event, and told that they really wanted me to apply to the school. I was elated, since the school was often muttered in the same breath as Harvard or Stanford.

I knew the transition to my new school was rough, however it was better reflected in the grades that would follow. At the end of your first year, you do what are called your ‘AS levels’, which are firm predictors for your A-level grades and used by prospective universities to see if you are good enough for their institution.

I knew I had flunked my exams, however not quite this bad…I received B C D E. This was the first time I had ever really encountered failure academically. I was distraught.

With my tail between my legs, I transferred back to my high school’s sixth form. Upon my return, I felt outcasted for leaving. Teachers did not treat me like they used to, and my peers heckled me for coming back. I remember one teacher telling me I was going to fail, and with my grades I would struggle to find a University who would accept me.

So I put my head down, and I began to work. I retook almost all of my classes, on top of studying for the new, harder classes in preparation for my final exams.

In the meantime, I was attracting interest from universities in the United States due to playing soccer at a high level. I had paid an agent to contact coaches in America using footage that they had take of me during assessment days. I eventually had around eighty offers, and it was a process of narrowing the schools down to the following criteria:

  1. A small school, that would feel like a second home.
  2. A full-ride, or close to it.
  3. A school that competed in the NCAA and not the NAIA or Juco.

I remember settling on Mars Hill, an NCAA Division II school in North Carolina. They had offered me a full ride and I was excited to join so I signed my national letter of intent. It wouldn’t be until a certain Coach McCarty sent me an email late March that I would consider Seton Hill. Coach McCarty actually cared, and I looked up the university online and it was great academically. It was small—around 1600 students—but the family culture I felt from my very first correspondence convinced me to uncommit from Mars Hill and sign for Seton Hill.

The rest is quite literally history…I ended up achieving ABB in my A-levels. I was one mark off an A in biology. My biology teacher laughed at me when I told her I would get a B, after only achieving a C in my AS level. None of this mattered however since Seton Hill only requested my GCSEs (high school exam grades).

Here I am six years later, completing an undergraduate degree in biology with a minor in psychology and soon to be have my MBA too…

I never imagined at sixteen years old that I would someday be on the verge of starting my PhD, writing my own blog, owning a business and creating on YouTube — all of which in the United States.

As I continue to try and pursue the American dream, I just want to thank you for getting me to this point. Whoever you are reading this, chances are you have had some hand in getting me to this point. Although I may not tell you every time I see you, I want you to know that I value whatever part you have played in my journey.

Although it is not over yet, I sincerely hope you stick around for the ride.

Published by jackwardale

Just a college kid trying to chase his dreams. Seeking to inspire and empower others.

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