My University Experience: To Hell & Back

It took me EIGHT years to get my degree. Here’s why.

Just Another Dumba*s

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I’m going to be completely transparent here: I have never, ever considered myself “smart” growing up. I was always failing a subject or two. A delinquent straight out of high school, the people I hung out with outside the school halls were concerned about street cred, not school cred. I barely passed grade 12.

Anyone could’ve told me I was smart and brilliant, and it wouldn’t have made a difference in how I saw myself.

Two nights before I turned 19, I finally learned my lesson when I came face-to-face with two police officers.

It was at that moment I realized that my life would blow up if I continued spiralling out of control.

That was the kind of person I was before I ‘cleaned up my act’, and the only way I knew how was to get into post-secondary and work towards a career. After all, my parents both went to university and they’ve worked hard to get where they are now.

Turning a Delinquent into an Academic

2010 – 2013

…is like asking a dragon to be a cute bird.

I celebrated the end of my first semester by going to Vegas with a little bit of my pay check, and a lot of my student loans money.

I only knew how to hustle at this point (street cred, remember?), so even though I was a full-time student, I was more interested in earning money on the side. I worked a total of 12 jobs while finishing my undergrad and 2 when I was in high school. I have worked many funny jobs in my lifetime. For example, I remember shivering and napping behind an old slot machine at 3 a.m.


Safe to say, I was not a stunner in university. I was good at making friends, though. My specialty was elbowing them to keep them awake during lectures. I was never NOT snacking. I made people laugh and feel heard. The patients loved me. Old people wanted to knit scarves for me!

The instructors? Not so much.

Three years into my Nursing degree, I flunked my renal/internal med rotation. The instructor gave me a 2-day ultimatum, and failed me on the last day of the practicum. Brutal? I think so.

The thing that broke my heart was that I didn’t know how to speak up for myself. I didn’t know how to express complicated thoughts and emotions in English!! I just didn’t talk much!! It’s like a frog was stuck to my throat and I was terrified of speaking up.

Giving Up

2013 – 2014

I waited another 8 months to retake my practicum. After a month of being back, I decided that Nursing wasn’t for me. Two words: Mental Breakdown. This time I knew it was permanent and I was never coming back to finish it. I also quit my hospital job.

And that’s when I dropped out of University. I thought… maybe I just don’t have the emotional bandwidth to handle this kind of stress. Maybe i’m just not smart enough to get through this. 

The Year Off

2014 – 2015

I reflected hard on what led to the failure situation, and one of my biggest downfalls was my lack of communications skills. I decided to live in Australia for a year to work on myself.

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2014. Busy street, even busier outfit!

Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi

I worked as a server at a cafe, and was the only Asian on the floor. I didn’t talk a lot. haha. I met so many amazing people, fellow travellers from L.A, Mallorca, Japan, NZ, Ireland, Mauritius, Chile, Alaska, Nepal. Locals.

It wasn’t until the 10th month of my Australia trip when I started to see a drastic improvement in my communications skills. We were backpacking on Fraser Island and after a long day of adventuring, I was sat with a group of women and we talked about refugee camps, politics, and other lived experiences. It suddenly hit me that I could articulate and even facilitate a conversation in English! I was slowly coming out of my shell and teaching myself to not be so shy about speaking up.

University: Round Two

2015 – 2018

I got accepted into the Public Relations program at MRU and the Communications program at UofC. I wanted to work full-time so I went with UofC as it offered more flexibility in scheduling.

I worked reception at a car dealership while I was in school (around 32 – 40 hrs/week for two years). I was the only female Asian on the floor. My listening and talking skills were improving, but I was still pretty meek overall. In school, I kept pushing myself to speak up in class. My heart would race at the thought of saying something out loud. I started contributing to group discussions, asking questions, talking to my seat mates, and presenting myself as someone confident.

I learned a lot about hierarchy and dominance while working at the car dealership. I looked at how the “closers” talked, their discipline, how they dealt with others. In school, I learned about power relations and neoliberalism. Communications made so much more sense to me.  I was becoming more analytical, business-minded, and I started to place a really high value on relationships, which really changed the way I approach life.

Reaching Outward

I began to seek more experiences that would take me out of my comfort zone. I traveled to countries where I couldn’t speak their language. I volunteered as a writer, which gave me the opportunity to interview some very accomplished people. I attended community events and networked. You have to realize how crazy this was for me, as someone who had very low self-esteem, crippling social anxiety, and language barriers.

I also did other life things while in university like buying a car, moving out, getting engaged, breaking said engagement, moving out on my own, dealing with unemployment, and now, figuring out how I want to make a living.

Through the years, i’ve worked really hard to undo the damage of my messed up teenage years, failed nursing career, being bullied and spoken over because I wasn’t speaking up for myself, and letting my fears stop me from becoming my definition of great.

Taking It Back

Taking back power is a huge theme in my life.

I’ve just told you the story of how i’ve worked to rebuild my self-confidence and self-respect. It’s been really hard work undoing years of depression, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy. The one thing that has made the biggest difference has been removing the people & things that were toxic in my life. I only invest time in people that add value to my life.

Toxic activities? Bye.

Toxic people? Bye.

Toxic career? Bye.

A World of Difference

Exhibit A: Chelsea’s Grades in Nursing

Before traveling, developing self-confidence, and work ethic:

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CR- Means ‘credit’, by the way. The practicums were pass or fail.

Exhibit B: Chelsea’s Grades in Communications

After a year in Australia, gaining work ethic, and self-confidence:

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Don’t be discouraged, Find your courage

When I finally walked the stage to get my diploma, it wasn’t about getting a piece of paper. It meant earning my own self-respect, and controlling the narrative of my life. I’m no longer the delinquent or the university drop out. I’m the girl who persevered.

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The Will to Live

Notice that I didn’t say “the will to succeed” because success is not the end goal, it’s a byproduct of a good life. When you love yourself, you’ll start to love life, and naturally you’ll want what’s good for your life.

The will to live comes from the deep belief that you deserve a good life.

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The Takeaway

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

-Albert Einstein

A career in science was never meant for me. I kept pursuing it and failing in it, to a point where I thought I wasn’t capable of getting a degree! If you find yourself in a situation where you’re doing your best, but feel like you’re going nowhere, it’s time to pack it up.

Seriously. Pack it the f*ck up and take your talents elsewhere.

It’s our job to recognize our strengths and weaknesses. They can be so painfully obvious, but we tend to ignore them and trust other people’s opinions instead. It’s time to listen to yourself and do what’s right for YOU, sacrifices and all.

This is your one shot at life (You can read about my near-death experience here). You have to do everything you can, to get what you want, AGAINST ALL ODDS.

I hope you find what it is you’re looking for, and I hope you persevere through the tough times. You can do it. x

-Chelsea

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  1. July 26, 2018 / 12:43 PM

    Love this!! Thank you for being honest and raw. It took me 6 years in university ๐Ÿ™‚

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