Friday, February 5, 2016

I Choose to be a Full-Time Student | A Sonderous Denouement

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." --- Mark Twain

I have been in Oxford, England since the end of December and will be here until the end of March. However, being in a foreign country doesn't mean an extra long Winter break - even if I am skipping out on Upstate New York's extreme snowfall. Today is Friday, which marks the end of my third week attending British school which is definitely the kind of "experience" everyone said I would have. However, before you turn 18, school is the number one place you spend your time besides home and in the 21st century where extracurricular activities seem to be a staple for all... it might even be the number one place; full stop or period depending on what kind of English you speak. 

The Oxfordian school which I currently attend marks the third school I have been to in the past two years. The foundation years of my education were spent at an intensive pseudo-public-might-as-well-be-private school where the demands of the students both in and outside of the classroom were high, the standards were over the top, and receiving four hours of homework in one night as a fifth grader is not uncommon. In fact, when I transferred to my school in Upstate New York, I was surprised and even shocked at the lack of rigidity I experienced. What I can say truthfully is that no amount of YA novels would have prepared me for British school. 

I am fortunate enough to have grown up in an upper-middle class suburb - both in California and New York. Therefore I have never been exposed to the culture of "inner-city life" and the public school education that goes along with it. One of the biggest shocks at my English school is the diversity of both socioeconomic class as well as race. In California, my school consisted of 70% Asian and 29.9% Hispanic without a single white or black kid in my graduating class. In New York, it's around 90% white, 10% whatever else. Here in Oxford, although physical appearance doesn't say it - we have uniforms perhaps specifically for that reason - the majority of attendees come from working class to below the poverty line families. Forty percent of the student body consists of Muslims, 30% some sort of Asian, and 30% other - which includes caucasians. Being new to the school, I could of course be pulling those numbers out of thin air but it's a general guesstimate.

If you had asked me the first week what I thought of the school, I would have said it is extremely chaotic, disorganized, with dispassionate teachers, and reluctant, disrespectful students. While my first impression is harsh, I have come to understand the culture of the particular school and the way things are run and how they have been established. The sharp edges of my opinion have been hewn into their more empathetic, compassionate offspring, but I still am surprised at times with the way classrooms are run. After conversing with one of my teachers, it seems that is the general culture of British schools. 

One of the biggest struggles my sister and I have at this school is the fact that we have already been taught the majority of the material because English schools chip away gradually at every single vein of mathematics and science whereas Americans tackle each separately. Earth Science is for Freshmen. Biology is for Sophomores. Chemistry is for Juniors. Physics is for Seniors. In Oxford, Earth Science is renamed as Geography and is an optional course. Physics, Biology, and Chemistry are taught simultaneously from (I believe) Year 7 or 8. 

I am not going to say I know absolutely everything I'm being taught because that isn't true. What I will say is that the effort put into mastering the material and completing assignments is notably less. Therefore, when I get home every day from school... I have all the free time on my hands that I have always wanted. Without extracurricular activities or friends (seeing as we have been here less than a month and will be here for less than three months in total), there are so many doorways opened. 

A couple of those doorways lead to idleness, but the ones I have chosen to use are ones that I never fathomed. Since starting school in mid January, I have been studying French, Spanish, and Math entirely at my own pace. Science, History, and English are basically waiting until the last minute :) In the past month, I have tremendously expanded my comprehension of language - both French and English and even investigated an area of study I had completely written off for myself and found passion in it. From numerous tweets and snapchats in January, you may surmise that area is Linguistics. I still have two months here and in that time, I am determined to become as fluent as possible - from being self taught and attending class - in French, as well as be ahead of Spanish when I return to the United States. Forging ahead in math is invigorating because I am in charge. 

I have always shrugged off the concept of being a "full-time student" for any age of education. However, the month of January has caused me to reevaluate this. This is mostly because of how eager I have been to return home from school every day and do... more schoolwork if you can believe it or not. This is because I am legitimately excited by what I'm studying and am allowed to choose. I have spent an extra hour and usually more a day on my French studies. My parents have told me to "get a life," and I think they would even be happy to see me waste away in front of the television every once in a while just for the sake of not having me take up half the kitchen table with flashcards, notes, and worksheets. 

I must confess the combination of a lack of inspiration and this new use of my time is what caused me to be so absent from my YouTube Channel in the latter half of January, but I don't regret any of my actions. I recently conquered all 50 of the skills in Duolingo's French tree and immediately after, asked my parents what to do next. 

I am well aware of the need for balance, and I promise you studying isn't the only thing I do with my time once school is dismissed. Nevertheless, the Mark Twain quote I introduced this post with sums up everything I have learned since the year began. I never want to allow school interfere with the pursuit of knowledge and now that I have experienced the joys of being in charge of my education; there is no going back.

What do you think of the difference between attending school and getting an education? What do you do with your free time that some may consider "weird"? If you study any language(s), which one(s), and how do you go about it?

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