Obtaining a Postgraduate degree is not an easy feat, and it all starts with the confidence and conviction that you have for the major you want to delve deep into for the next 1-2 years. It might be easier to just stick with your comfort zone – with what you have learned during your days as an Undergraduate student. But Sistia Dinita made a different choice when she decided to shift from doing English Education to doing English Literature for her Postgraduate degree at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom. For her, it was not easy, but definitely worth the struggle as she could expand her knowledge and study something she is deeply curious about.
When one considers of pursuing a master degree, the first thing one must settle on – apart from the funding – is the subject (or the major) one wants to take. This decision could be a decisive turning point, a start of a journey that is beautifully challenging.
My Undergraduate degree is in English Education. I was taught to be a teacher; to deal with curriculum construction, manage learning objectives and gradually rearrange the lesson plans. I learned about the cognitive development of children by Jean Piaget and the jigsaw technique from Elliot Arronson which basically help teachers apply the best methods in teaching. As I learned, being an English teacher is never an easy task. It is not only about improving the students’ English skill, but also encouraging them to maintain a high motivation to learn English. To keep the lesson alive is the challenge. There is nothing more exciting than seeing the hands of enthustiastic students quiver in the air to answer the question you asked or just listen to them speaking out in English. At school, on your desk, you have the English syllabus laid out in front of you. You have to teach spelling, vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, composition, and sometimes, literature. The latest mentioned had always attracted my attention. I did not know much about Shakespeare or Jane Austen, but always wanted to know about them – the famous authors who can produce magnificent works in English. I find myself asking the same questions over and over again, ‘What if I take English literature if I have the chance to continue my degree?’, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if you just learn more about something you know little about, yet most fascinates you?’.
That was the beginning of everything. When I got the chance to continue my master degree in Scotland, UK, I decided to take English Literary Studies at the University of Aberdeen. There were steady stream of challenges. The first challenge was when I realized I have missed out on a lot of (great) classic novels. Being a literature student, for sure, you have to read A LOT. You are expected to have read Dickens, Thakeray or George Eliot. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, reading becomes your source of energy. For a while, my poor knowledge of literature deprived me of self-esteem and made me feel unfit around my classmates. Usually the course requires you to read one or two novels a week, with several further readings from online articles or book chapters. This made me constantly anxious, disrupted my sleep and also ruined my time management. Fortunately, I received advice and suggestions from my friends and classmates who (surprisingly) also faced similar problems.
Another challenge I encountered was this constant demand from our lecturers to showcase our critical thinking skills, which is generally what is expected from postgraduate students in the UK. More often than not, students are asked to express their critical thinking in written form (essays), and the topics are usually dependent on the student’s preferences. In other words, we have to come up with our own essay questions. I am puzzled by the fact that we had to learn so many subjects which demand different intellectual registers and background readings. Take Agatha Christie for example. We know that she has written a lot of novels. We know that some are written with a first person narrator, whilst some others are in a third person narrator. We know that she lived in the twentieth century and wrote many mystery and detective stories revolving around money and justice. Yet, if we dig deeper with a variety of different perspectives – feminism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, etc. – we uncover many more elements of her work. For one, we uncover the intriguing fact is that not all fictions are fiction. Literature students should understand the gap between telling stories and disclosing the truth.
I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to study in Scotland. Beautiful Scottish nature has a way of luring me, but that is not the only reason why I love Scotland. It goes much deeper as I feel connected with the many famous authors who were born or lived in Scotland for a period of time, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of famous detective figure, Sherlock Holmes), J.M. Barrie (playwright of Peter Pan), Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein), and J.K. Rowling. I need no persuasion when my friends asked me to go to Elephant House, the cafe where J.K. Rowling used to write Harry Potter stories. I had been utterly seduced by the tales of a boy attending a famous wizardy school since I was a child.
Scotland made me long to be a writer too. Teaching English is wonderful, but learning literature is not only about learning the linguistic skills, but also the culture, history, civilization and imagination. New things are always worth the struggle.
Photos provided by author.