I cannot leave Chapter 1 of UK life without mentioning the people who kept my life sane in the first two years. You see we embarked on tbe journey together as a group of 23 (or 21, it was some odd number!). Our scholarship programme named Skim Khas (Special Scheme) required us to do A levels in a UK boarding school and then enroll in a degree that enabled you to become either a doctor or teacher. I didnt envision myself to be a doctor. I wasnt quite the sciency type and instead took more interest in Geography and History. I was hoping to go into tourism industry!
What a big jump you might think. The thing was that I jumped at the opportunity to get out of the country. I came to visit England after end of Year 6 to visit my aunt and cousins, an all expense trip with my brother, cousin and uncle. The trip was so much fun and obviously the realm of opportunities and adventures beckoned me for years to come. I wanted to jump ship and explore the world, and here was my opportunity to do it.
I knew I didnt have the patience to be a teacher and so I chose medicine. We flew in two groups and spent the first 3 days in London having a crash course of how to live independently in a different country. I was 17, yet to know myself really and none the wiser about it.
We were then sent to our respective boarding schools, mostly in groups of 2-3. I remember being driven with the Bruneian welfare officer and two of the Bruneian girls joining me in Headington. I was shown to my room, the officer poked in the room and said some obligatory well wishes and made his way out. That was it.
Every half term, easter/winter/summer holidays or exeat weekends, we have to leave the boarding house. The local girls will traipse back to their houses, the international girls usually have a place their family have rented for such occasions. As for us Bruneian scholarship students, most of us would go to Brunei hall. I think it was free to stay there for students and the meal was dirt cheap (something like a ridiculous £2 for a home cooked rice/some protein meal).
I cannot fully describe how it was like during these holidays. Its kinda like summer camp. Large groups of students with little supervision (if any), spending ridiculous amount of time in the communal area chatting, socialising and someone playing guitar in the background. Binge watching downloaded shows in our rooms. Close to the exam periods, we would be a bit more studious and sit in the ‘library’ and dining hall books open, pretending to study. But really we spent a lot of time just traipsing around window shopping/actual shopping, drinking expensive coffee in cafes, and every now and then bowling and watching movies. I grew close to these set of friends and they were like family.
I had so much money from the allowance, as I really didnt have to pay any bills and only intermittently paying for extracurricular school activities. My brother advised me to save, save, save. I wish I listened to him more.
For a very long time, I’ve wondered whether it was a good idea to have 17 year olds decide on the fate of their life/career from that young of age. Of course you can change your degree if you really wanted to but there was also a sense of honour and fear of being labelled a failure for not making it through. At least thats how it felt like for me.
It doesnt matter I guess. After all, if I didnt enter medicine, would life still be how it is now? Would I be where I am now?