Tuesday, May 09, 2006 ______________________________________________________________________________

Flying, Falling, Stumbling 

Graduation is in a little more than two weeks. This being the case, I've been thinking alot on how I got here in the first place and I've come to the conclusion that I've had a very favourable gravitational pull.

Let me start from the beginning. I wasn't supposed to be here. I was supposed to stay in Singapore for a little while longer, do my first three months of JC at the least. But within half an hour on a seeminly innocuous interview with a private school I was accepted into 12th grade in the middle of the year. People might argue that I could've thrown the interview, but since my parents were watching, all I did was not screw up. I didn't try to impress them, I didn't do anything. I sat there and nodded while my dad talked me up and I put a smile on when I was taken to meet students and faculty. I realised that I had to settle in Vancouver at some point, and at that time I would need to go to school somewhere. I didn't want to burn bridges I hadn't even crossed yet. This should've been the first sign that nothing from that point forward was going to be on my own terms.

At York House School (which to be fair, is fantastic school - one I wouldn't hesitate to send my own daughters to if it ever came down to it) I was encouraged to apply for universities. Having entered in January I had already missed some key deadlines. Also, I wasn't able to take the SAT and possibly apply for an American university. In my head at the time, seeing as how most of the university rankings are out of America and that there aren't that many Canadian Us anyway, the good schools were south of the 49th. Besides, Canada couldn't have been all that great anyway. They let someone who had just graduated from secondary school into their equivalent of the last term of junior college. Thinking back, I suppose any American school would've done the same. But I was 16, in shock and wanting to get as far the hell away from my parents as possible. If they could swing me like a sack of so much wet sand the way they did, the less of a hold they had on me the better.

Those applications left, returned, were rejected by my parents. "You're too young to go away and live on your own". "One more year would make a big difference, you're not ready yet". I suppose I really wasn't ready yet because I couldn't look into myself to assess my own readiness. I just nodded and accepted the offer from UBC. Turns out, that wasn't such a bad thing. Sure it was pretty bad that it wasn't independent thought or motivation that got me into UBC. Hell it wasn't even my keen eye for 100-level classes, (my dad registered me in all my first year classes. FYI, he registered me in one of those all-inclusive first year programs that claim to ease you into university life, but really just shields you from the realities of being a college student for another year. The dean finally made the decision this year to axe the program because it was so crappy. The program was in its fifth year.) which eventually resulted in me having to play catch-up: I was taking 100-level courses in my third year to fufil degree requirements (Foundations as the program was called, gave you "pre-requisite" credits, which essentially admits you into any second-year classes you might want to take. Those credits, however, do not count towards a degree. Now, isn't that nice?).

Foundations did do one thing, however. In that isolated fishbowl environment, you couldn't help but make friends. Determined to be anti-social, I didn't really make any friends (it was only in the last couple of years that I really started to open up socially), but I did make one. Jim happened to be in Foundations too.

Jim was so many things at once. He was unwavering support. He was someone who I could derive confidence from because he believed I could do no serious wrong. He was a ticket out from under my parents. Was I looking at him to be a long-term boyfriend? Was I even looking at him as something more than a few free movies and nights out? Not initially. In fact, initially Jim was just entertainment. He quickly became something else though, and I don't think I can claim agency for it.

Like Foundations, UBC in and of itself happened to be a rather serendipitous choice, albeit in a different way. UBC has one of the best (if not the best) undergraduate Linguistic programs in North America. It is important to recognize that there aren't that many Linguistic programs for undergrads anyway. Most schools only have graduate programs where they take students from disciplines such as Psychology, Philosophy, English, Mathematics - anywhere really, but rarely from Linguistics because there just aren't that many programs out there. Did I know what Linguistics was when I signed up? Not at all. I totally thought it was the study of languages. Sort of like a compare and contrast different language families and maybe pick up another language or two. Oh and the sociologial implications of different tongues. I don't think I've ever been more wrong about anything in my life. But here I was, already having taken the courses I needed to become a Linguistics major, might as well continue, right?

I did enter Linguistics however, because I thought it would give me an in into a very lucrative career: accent coach. Asian businessmen all clamour to have their accents changed, so that they appear more refined, educated, so they feel more confident, competent. Those indefinable qualities can be bought for very well defined sums of money. Indeed it does, if you are in the Speech Sciences stream - which I didn't know about until the middle of my third year. Speech Sciences requirements are tucked in at the bottom of the Linguistics course planning page. I never scrolled past Linguistics because I didn't think there was anything to scroll to except the outlines for a Minor in Linguistics. It was just one bored afternoon during which I decided to check my requirements again when I accidently hit page down and caused my jaw to hit the desk with a heavy thud. Luckily, much of the requirements were the same and I could adapt to the Speech Science stream without any trouble.

The problem now though, was that I didn't believe in accent coaching anymore. Accent coaching comes out of a very eurocentric view that the only proper varieties of English are the ones that are spoken by people who are vaguely identified as "white". I remember my mother trying to push "British" English on us, making annoyed clucking sounds when we spoke like Singaporeans, which is frankly ridiculous because having a Singaporean accent and being extremely fluent in English are not mutually exclusive. Besides, what is "British" English? The Beatles' English? The English that is parlayed by the Samoan barkeep (or indeed any of the other characters) in Lock, Stock and two Smoking Barrels? How about the mumble-grumblings that Brad Pitt so effectively spouts in Snatch? Worst of all, could she want us to sound like various characters in Frasier? Maybe she would've just settled for the cheap, working class drawl of the ladies in Absolutely Fabulous (which is an absolutely horrible show, IMHO). Accent coaches just play into the public masturbatory idea that white is ideal, no matter how poorly defined "white" is.

"Look at me! I don't speak like I'm from where I was born and raised! Aren't I so smart?" - Look buddy, you won't even make it on Letterman's Stupid Pet Trick segment.

I had two options. I could completely change direction, spend a few more years in school, graduate with something else. Or I could press on. The problem with the former option is that I didn't know for sure what else I wanted to do. If I had so grossly misjugded the study of Linguistics, what other studies had I misrepresented in my mind? I wasn't about to jump in blind to find out, that was for damn sure. So, I resolved to become a Speech Pathologist. So I set about researching the stream and I learnt, that for some bizzare reason, Speech Pathology is incredibly competitive. You need ridiculously high grades, excellent volunteer experience and reference letters that can not only glow under blacklight or in the dark but also in a room with the shades pulled down. So I start asking for volunteer opportunities. In walks Eric.

If I started talking about Eric, this entry would turn into a book. So I won't. I will however, say that he has taught me more than any other one individual or institution in my life. His lessons aren't just academic either. In fact, they are seldom academic. Without Eric, I would not have become a Teaching Assistant, neither would I have completed research that has been awarded an ASA oral presentation.

And so here I am. About to graduate, aiming for Audiology (because I took a class that clearly demonstrated what Speech Pathologists actually do - none of that for me, thanks - and Audiology means I don't waste my education to date), with a decent CV, thanks to Eric and the opportunities he afforded. The interesting thing is that all these things just happened to happen. None of this was planned, or even forseen. So why then does the title of this post read Flying, Falling, Stumbling? Shouldn't it read something like "Gravtiy & Serendipity" or "When You Fall, it Doesn't Have to be On Your Face"? Well, for one thing, the second title is too long. For another, I sincerely believe that Douglas Adams put it best when he said that flying is merely falling and missing the ground.

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Meanwhile, I've noticed that no one is playing the quotes game. Maybe things are too difficult. Well, I've embedded two clues in this entry and there will be more clues to come.


posted by Joie! at 9:00 AM

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