When I arrived at the international Institute of Social Studies (ISS), I had a very difficult time with studies – I struggled with my first semester essays and in most cases I had to take extensions to complete them. But in all of this, I was conscious of myself – who I was, and what I was capable of. I understood that my inability to cope with studies at the time was not because I was incapable, it was simply because I was in a new educational environment with seemingly different teaching and learning techniques (at least different from what I had experienced in my previous university). Once I identified this, I knew the solution depended on my willingness to learn and adjust.
I became a learner! I was drawn to places and people that could teach me a thing or two. I sought help from colleagues to learn basic things like referencing and academic writing.
So my hard work and determination paid off! Even before the end of the second semester, I had improved tremendously. While I struggled with my first MOD essay (The making of development – General Course), my second essay became the first sign of improvement. I did not only perform better (with a score of 89), I also spent less time completing my work with comparatively less stress.
This time, it was “easy” because I had been learning – writing summaries of every lecture session (in my own words), holding group discussions with friends and going through every required reading before and after class. Given the efforts I had put into my studies, completing a 1500 word essay was obviously a friendly endeavorJ. I must also state that I did enjoy writing the essay as well J
When I completed my essay, I had my colleague read through before I submitted. Interestingly, after he read my work, he asked if I really did write this. As offensive as this may have sounded, I understood that this work looked nothing like my previous essays. So when I responded “YES”! He suggested I join the editorial board (he was obviously impressed). I was the same person who struggled with my first set of essays.
I did not only graduate with good grades in my RP and course work, I developed a valuable skill in academic writing that would be useful throughout my academic pursuits. I have just published an article on BLISS – the official blog of the ISS, and I might soon get into a PhD position (one of my goals).
The morale of my journey is this: Don’t freak-out when you fail a few courses in the first term. And don’t get distracted by colleagues who already seem to be ahead of you with studies. You will be unfair to yourself if you make such comparisons. As you know, this is a graduate programme, for some students, this is only just a continuation of several years of work experience. More so, others may already have a masters degree in the same field (Development studies), and this may also be the first masters study for many others. So, if you belong to the latter, it is completely normal to go through a period of struggle in your studies like I did.
What’s important is that do not stay there! A friend of mine failed in one of his courses during the first term. Like me, he didn’t stay there. He became focused on learning to improve. Later, he became a teaching assistant and his RP was also nominated for best RP in our batch (2019/2020).
The point is, at ISS, you can transform yourself into the best you can be. You do not need prior knowledge to excel. More so, Lecturers are generally receptive and open to address student challenges. You only need to identify your study challenges and reach out for support.-