Before entering college, one of the goals that we usually set for ourselves is to maintain a regular student status until graduation, to not have a hard time figuring out which subject to take during enrollment since we could easily follow a block schedule, earn a Latin honor if we worked and studied hard enough, or spend our college life facing new challenges and making fond memories. Then something shifts, and you find yourself different from who you were when you first started college.
There are several reasons as to why a student becomes irregular. Be it because you had a change of heart and realized that the path laid out for your current degree program is not the path that you are meant to walk or run on, or because you, unfortunately, failed one of your major subjects, or because you came from a different school and most of your subjects were credited, or it could also be that you took a year off from school because of personal reasons.
Either way, there comes a moment in our lives when everything becomes clear and possible—that despite the struggles, we are not afraid to dream, and we are confident that we can accomplish it because it’s our ‘personal legend’.
Realizing that my degree program no longer aligns with my passion and interests
Have you read Paulo Coelho’s book, The Alchemist? It’s about a man – Santiago, who always wanted to travel the world, but since he can’t afford to travel, he became a shepherd instead. After a while, he let his flock go and searched for the treasure that he dreamt about and went on a journey to find his ‘personal legend, the thing that he had always wanted to accomplish.
When I passed the college admission examination and started my first year, I honestly thought that my degree program then was it, you know? That feeling when you are sure enough to make it through the finish line, but then somewhere along the way, you realize it just wasn’t your field. The tracks look familiar, but it feels different than when you first ran on it. Somehow, each pebble can make you stumble, and each step feels tiresome. When you reached the first lap, you looked around and saw friendly smiles cheering you on, and you felt guilty because you know that you can still run but your heart is just not on to it anymore, and stepping out of the field felt more right than to finish it just for the sake of finishing it. So, like Santiago, I sold my flock and pursued my ‘personal legend’.
“When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.” - The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
The Shift: Starting Anew Alone in a New Department
It was hard at first when I started my new degree program; like Santiago after selling his flock, he struggles to navigate life without his sheep. I struggled without the comfort and familiarity of my old department. Everything was different, and all the faces and names were new to me. I did not have anyone to turn to; I did not know anybody in the department save for my academic adviser, who was like the alchemist who helped Santiago reach his ‘personal legend’. It was the start of online learning, so getting acquainted with my new classmates was hard and almost impossible.
The challenges faced by irregular students in adhering to the regular student schedule can be a daunting experience. Coping with time, going from one class to another, and adapting to a new environment can be overwhelming. At the back of your mind, you hope that you’ll have the same fun as you did during your first year and meet the same kind of people as you did once, until you realize that you’re on your own now—you always have been.
One of my struggles then was when one of the tasks should be done with a partner or a group because they already knew each other. Asking to join felt like I was intruding on uncharted territory, and it set me off a little. It was a lot easier when the new normal started and when we were permitted to set foot on the campus to learn our lessons in person. It was when group chats became a necessity, and I must admit, it was easier to ask to join a group chat in person because you could easily approach the student in charge without the trouble of waiting for them to see your message requests. You need to exert extra effort to be included; there are circumstances where you will miss an activity, a group practice, a copy of PDF notes, or an announcement because you weren’t in a certain group chat. It can drain your social battery, but you need to thrive to pass.
“... no matter how many detours and adjustments it made, the caravan moved toward the same compass point. Once obstacles were overcome, it returned to its course, sighting on a star that indicated the location of the oasis.” - The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Embracing Being an Irregular Student
Being an irregular student has its ups and downs, just like being a regular student. In my case, it has its perks. I have long vacant hours before each of my classes that I can use to study and/or take naps. Between conflicting class schedules and numerous activities, I realized that it’s not so bad. The fear of falling behind can demotivate me some days, but I always thought that delays are a natural occurrence in life and how we respond to it makes all the difference. Not graduating along with my batchmates, by society's standards, may be unusual, but who’s to say someone’s late and someone’s on time, right?
The real battle is on the state of mind. Even though I made my peace with it, it cannot be helped that sometimes I think about the ‘what could have beens’ or the ‘what ifs’. What if I stayed where I was? Would I be waiting for graduation along with my batchmates? What if I continued running despite the lack of passion? What if I didn’t wander off as a shepherd and just went straight to traveling? Would I have made it?
But then, what seemed like a lonely journey does not seem to be lonely anymore. There’s peace in traveling alone, where you can hear yourself think and do things of your own accord. It all comes down to whether or not you regret or dislike where you are now. Do you? I don’t. This journey shaped me into who I am today, despite the mishaps and a handful of regrettable actions that could have been avoided had I known better. Still, I like this version of me. I met new people who inspired me—people who I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t taken a different course. Being an irregular student doesn’t make us less of a student. We can still achieve great things as long as we put our hearts and minds into it. We’re not behind, nor are we delayed. After all, everybody has their own timeline, and just because you took longer than others doesn’t mean you failed.
Regular or irregular, we will all get there. We will accomplish our ‘personal legend’, because as per Paulo Coelho, “... when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”