Coming of Age – Abdellah El Ouastani
Coming of Age
“Body fitness is mind greatness.” – Unknown
“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” ― William Faulkner
My first year of apprenticeship at the Catholic University of Paris has not officially concluded as I have the re-sit exam to contend with later next month, but I can already feel this journey paying dividends in terms of my personal development. Sincerely, at the beginning of this year – my first year in France, Paris – I have to admit to cultural shock and a major reality check. Not only in terms of life mechanisms per se, which I have found first-hand to be entirely and completely different from those of where I pertain – considering I come from a small town in Morocco, but also, the entire experience opened my eyes onto the fact that I needed to work on myself; simply, I have come to realize the extent to which I needed to work on myself, to push myself and my limits; to adapt my ways in order to fit into a society, in general, and a system of education where the modus operandi is supremely competitive and challenging, in particular. In the first semester, after the first round of exams, at the unveiling of the grades, it finally hit me that I have a long way to go; that to right the wrongs, I must go out of my way, analyze the situation and look for ways to compensate for my lack of results. Not to sound like an individual with an inflated ego, I have always trusted my ability to get the job done since I can boast a respectable record of fine grades in my previous academic pursuits. Nonetheless, as I failed to earn reasonable grades by my own standards, I started questioning myself and doubts started creeping in. Naturally, disappointment ran through me, knowing that I underperformed and underachieved. That is why, I had to dig deeper into my soul to find the necessary strength within so as to turn the situation around on its head for the subsequent semester (second semester). I was at a crossroads: I thought to myself I could grit my teeth and study through the pain barrier to study late into the nights or close my eyes to the facts and probably risk failing my semester and my future by extension.
Going forward though, I knew it was not as simple as merely desiring or wishing to do better, as such, measures had to be taken, so I stopped worrying, and committed myself and dedicated every ounce of my energy to the cause. The improvement had to come from getting together my personal life, and striking a right balance between study and entertainment. Invest more of my time and energy into turning a negative situation into a positive one. Indeed, when I became of aware of my marks, I went straight back to the drawing board, more determined than ever, to salvage the situation. In fact, I put myself under scrutiny and filtered out a list of pros and cons, listing my strong points and above all, singling out my weaknesses, the things I did wrong, tried to work on those accordingly and eliminate my shortcomings in the process. Finally, I came to the conclusion that I needed to work harder overall. I proceeded by undergoing some grueling exercising routines to improve my concentration levels when studying. Therefore, I made it of jogging a habit of mine knowing all too well and keeping in mind all along that body fitness is mind greatness; that if I kept pushing my physical limits, that would work wonders for my mental strength and ultimately enhance my academic performance. So, I put together a training program where I put my body through its paces regularly for the last semester making sure to rid myself of negative energy, accumulated stress, just to have a positive and clear frame of mind which would in turn help me focus on the main objective of achieving success in my studies. Equally, I increased my reading habits and stepped it up a few notches. In fact, inspired by William Faulkner’s quote in which he states the importance of reading anything and everything (see the second epigraph), I similarly started reading more literature material, immersed myself in American and British literature. My reading agenda for the second semester included Greek Mythology, British civilization works such as Mathew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy, and above all, I took particular interest in Shakespeare’s writings readying myself for the big challenge of composing a memoire about the supernatural element in Macbeth. The American literature works that I explored pertain to southern writers, the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Irving Washington, Lillian Smith, Tennessee Williams, Edgar Allan Poe, to name but a few. I even started reading texts in French and I credit that for my improved French speaking skills. When I started my level was basic knowledge of notions to more or less conversational level, which is a step in the right direction. Moreover, this may sound somehow digressive, not to leave a stone unturned, I had also committed to a highly meticulous diet, increasing my intake of food that is rich in energy like rice, just to have enough energy levels to cope and have enough in the tank to confront the challenges of doing homework. I have to say that in the first semester I struggled to eat healthily and properly. I know I had to live like a professional athlete. Indeed, when my friends were going to parties and socializing, I had to set my priorities straight, so more often than not I found myself turning down my friends’ offers and instead stayed home to pursue my targets.
It is fair to say that what is mentioned above is mere fiction; however, thankfully, I have the results to show for it too and to properly back my claims up. In the first semester, I had this tendency to be overly colloquial and conversational in my language use, the result for which I got fairly criticized; in the second semester, I have managed to fight my colloquial instincts, and honed my style closer to that of fully fledged academics, although some rough edges still remain to be sorted out. And what better way to demonstrate my progress than to illustrate my grades. So far, I earned a 14, 14.5, 14, 13; these marks are a far cry from those of five months ago. What is more, I feel that I have made a better job of it in the remaining subjects the grades of which are yet to be announced. Clearly, my overall grades have improved considerably vis-à-vis to those of the first semester. The feedback from my professors is likewise significantly more favorable. In the same vein, in this semester, unlike the first, I learnt I got to experience the art of presenting in front of an audience, whether small or large. Basically, this year, I had to take part in The State of the Art – a gathering of professors and students where participants are expected to deliver their pieces in front of a well-read public – and I was one of the presenters: this was an invaluable experience that will surely stand me in good stead in my future endeavors. In addition, as part of my studies program, I had performed presentations regarding subjects that, I have to admit, I was not in the know about, thus I had to research thoroughly the subjects and discuss them in class in front of my classmates amid the watchful eye of my professors. My professors and peers alike praised the step forward that I have managed to make and I generally earned positive reviews. That is particularly satisfying and speaks volumes of how far I have come since in the first semester I was incapable of seeing through my presentations – I had a habit of failing my presentations, so to finally be able to perform against previous odds, to realize that I made that breakthrough step filled me with a great sense of satisfaction and confirmed to me, more than anyone or anything, that my dedication and hardworking is starting to bear fruit.
Having said that, I am under no illusions that I still need to round off this year by improving on my first semester results, but it is fair to say that I am getting to the bottom of things. I am growing into myself. I am certainly a changed man, and still very much a work in progress; that is why I strongly believe that there is more to come from my side. In a nutshell, this first year has proved a character-building and life-changing experience in many ways than one.
Abdellah El Ouastani