Caution: Uncomfortably personal memory shared in this post.
In September 2016 I visited England again and the person I spent half of my summer working with, Nick, an Oxford native, took me around his little but beautiful city for a day trip. We started off “climbing up” the Oxford Castle remains and enjoyed some nice view under moments of sunshine. We went to a cozy pub with a terrace on the river for some food and politics-talk, the best ice-cream place that sells unique and unforgettable flavours, a cafe for some, well, coffee, and of course, the colleges and buildings of the University of Oxford.
For those high school kids in Hong Kong who don’t hate studying too much, know little about what’s beyond school life and so have “going to a good university” as a “life goal”, top unis like Oxford, Cambridge, Ivy League unis are undoubtedly the ultimate dream (of course, the dream of all Asian parents too). I as someone who actually applied to Oxford twice, was no exception. I applied to read law (jurisprudence) both times, and I got rejected both times.
When I received the second rejection letter, I was of course disappointed, sad and a bit angry. Who likes to be rejected? On a piece of paper where only the signature is handwritten and everything else coldly printed? And this piece of paper will forever serve as your certificate of life failure? But more so, I was secretly relieved. This seems a pretty odd feeling to have being rejected by Oxford, but to me, it was much stronger than the feeling of disappointment.
Law was a subject that didn’t really excite me. I had little interest in learning (no offence to my many law student friends) the most mundane use and egoistic creation of the unnecessarily long and complex sentences in a contract of whatever nature in order to protect legal interests of including but not limited to myself, or reciting court cases. It would be too boring for me and the opportunity cost would be too high. Still, the high school me did a lot of research, met with “mentors” from the legal industry, had law school campus photos pinned on my cork board … because there was nothing better to aim for at that time, I thought.
Because my dad, who I still regard as an intelligent man, had been saying since I was little that he knows my personality very well and strongly believed that being a judge would be the most suitable career for me;
and because he is my dad, he must be right, I thought.
I don’t remember telling my parents about the many interesting law courses I could take once I got in, but I remember every time I look at the Oxford Law webpage I felt so inadequate. Every time when I sit down, turn on the computer, open MS word to draft my personal statement, my brain just wanders around and I always end up watching YouTube or playing Geo Challenge on Facebook. The time I finally had a first draft, it felt like a shitty piece of homework and I was just mortified in advance of how many negative comments my father could make because of his high standards. Since then, every time he helps to polish my personal statement, I was just so disgusted, bothered and tired of all his comments and corrections. He would think that I am ungrateful, I would think that he is controlling, and we always, always end with heated arguments.
So when the second rejection letter came in, which I already expected, I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to study law. It also felt like a victory that even the tutors at Oxford are with me to prove my father wrong. He finally gave up on the idea of me becoming a judge, but not for the reason I expected. Instead of reviewing his opinions on my personality (which he assumed he knows so well because I am his daughter), or just accept my growing-up, he simply said, “You didn’t get in because you are not good enough. You have to take this as a lesson, and work harder.”
I wasn’t bitter when my first application was unsuccessful, I was just disappointed. However, it was very hard for me to hear those comments of his. Until recently, I had been very bitter that I missed my best opportunity to study at Oxford (which would have been doing a degree in Politics/ Political Theory, something that I absolutely love and can achieve) because I fucked up my personal statement by starting it with “ever since secondary school my father advised me …” in the very first sentence. If I were a tutor at Oxford, I wouldn’t read on. Ever since then, I have never asked him to read anything I write for a formal purpose (i.e. uni or job application). I have little intention to tell him I have this blog although I am not hiding it from him and he reads English perfectly (I am not writing in a language he doesn’t understand). I wanted to own every word written under my pen, and I shall be responsible for any consequences that comes with it. I made sure my brother never make my mistake when he is writing his personal statement. I pushed him to think, not write. I only helped when he asked me to. All I did was polishing his grammar and wording, not his ideas.
Walk around the University Parks was my favourite part of the Oxford day trip. It was a lovely place where friends and couples picnic, punt, have a walk and I did enjoy a good conversation with Nick. Because it was so beautiful and relaxing, it actually became a part of the self-healing process so I could let go of the bitterness I have with my past. I wasn’t jealous of all the happy students chilling in the park, I was just enjoying the peace of the environment and the company of a friend.
I have always appreciated the good intention and effort my father invested in me. But self-resentment is so strong that it covers the gratefulness you have for others, hence transferring the negative energy to the people around you. This incident was the starting point of the deterioration of the relationship between me and my father (like in many Asian families, divergence and arguments usually emerge when the kid grows up and starts to have his/her own opinions). Although I am no longer bitter about it, it still takes times for me to let it just be a part of my past. I want to make sure I am not relieving the bitterness simply because I graduated uni and started working. I want to internalise it properly. Visiting Oxford was a pretty good way, and writing about it too. And because Oxford was such a beautiful place full of knowledge and intelligent people, I am actively considering to apply for the third time – for something I am really passionate and curious about.
Shout out to Nick who was a very good guide, and unexpectedly, a person who opened up himself to me (for a day) and so inspired me to be more open about myself.