Hello world! It’s been a while.
Since my A Levels are finally over, and since I've just graduated from school, now is a better time than ever to reflect on this past year. There is no doubt that COVID turned the world upside down and stripped people off of various opportunities and privileges, like travelling, and freedom in general. For students, the biggest thing COVID ruined was our school life - our academics. I don't say this in a way to complain and vent, but to raise awareness on what most students have been facing recently, but most of all, what I have been facing these past two years.
Back when I was getting on with my life as a student in the UK in November 2020, cases started to skyrocket, and I decided to go back to Macau for the remainder of my academic year. Doesn't sound so bad, right? Until you learn that it's all online. Yeah, that was the root of all my problems ever since. And so, I flew from the UK to France, to Taiwan, and then finally to Macau - a total of 17 hours on a plane. It was such a life-changing experience. I woke up at 4am, met my friend at Heathrow Airport, and our adventure back to Macau started. The airport was dark and silent, but something about that vibe gave me peace. We queued up with our luggages, not to mention the countless of COVID documents as well, which were quite the nightmare to organise. We toured around the quiet and seemingly abandoned airport, with the other teenagers on our flight.
Upon our arrival in France, we tried making our way to our gate, but there was one issue: we had to go on a metro in order to make it there. We really had no idea where to go, as one metro would've led us to the other side of the airport. It was a north or south situation. We were stuck and puzzled, and a group of teenage boys on our flight said in Cantonese "Hey, let's just follow that girl who's going to Taiwan as well. It's best to get lost together rather than alone", and all the teens rushed and followed the herd into the metro, eventually and luckily leading us to our gate. Before boarding, I saw an elderly Taiwanese woman who was on our flight, and rather than speaking Chinese, she started speaking the most perfect French I've ever heard in my life. It was insane.
We started boarding on the plane, and the more stops we made, from the UK to France, from France to Taiwan, and from Taiwan to Macau, there started to be less and less people. We eventually made it to Macau, and we were asked to sit and wait in the airport until we were called to be assigned our hotel rooms for quarantine. Luckily enough, my friend was one of the first to be called, whilst I was one of the last. After 3 hours, I was called up, and a group of people who were also on my flight were gathered together, and were escorted to a bus, where we were driven to a hospital to get tested for COVID. We were called one by one to get tested, and we were soon driven to our quarantine hotel. Rumour was that the hotel was dark and old, but to our surprise, it was newly renovated. We were assigned a room, and we all parted ways, each expecting our insanity to appear in the following days.
Whilst walking down the corridor, and before I opened my room door, I prayed to myself, "Please be a nice room." I breathed in, and yet again to my astonishment, the room was new, clean, and bright. One out of the four walls was a large window, which extended from one corner to the next, and outside was the airport, where I could see the departures and arrivals of airplanes. The best part was that the TV had my favourite channels, and the desk was huge, and it came with a desk light which extended along the shelf, providing me with a bright workplace in which I could work for the next 14 days, which was particularly important since I had online lessons. The difficult part was the time difference of 8 hours. Morning lessons in the UK equates to afternoon and even night time lessons over here. And the cherry on top? Jetlag.
From sleeping at 4am to sometimes not at all, I was finally let out of quarantine after 14 days. Ever since, I had my lessons online, with the time difference still in the picture. It didn't seem too bad at the start, but it gradually became more draining and exhausting, emotionally and mentally. I'd start my day catching up with classes from the day before (which I was not able to attend due to the time difference), then I'd have lessons online from 16:00 to 21:00, and repeat. This lasted for a year and a half. In addition, I had the worst teachers ever, who didn't bother the slightest to edify their students, and would spend the first 15 minutes talking about procrastinating marking their students' exams to watch a Netflix show they were addicted to, to talking about their dog, and then about beer. Strange, for a teacher who should be teaching and cultivating the talents of their students, but is rather promoting laziness and alcohol in school. The holidays would flash by and suddenly evaporate into thin air, too soon for my liking. And I was back at it again, with the same old routine. I didn't have much hope. I was predicted an A*AA, but got ABC during my end of year exam - not enough to meet my dream university entry requirements of ABB. But surely that's alright. I still have one more year to prove myself.
My final year of school came along, where most of my challenges started to appear. Initially, things went well, until I was informed that there's a law stating that I had to either go back to the UK to finish off my school year, or drop out. And so, I dropped out. Well, not completely. I was still affiliated with my school, but I was unable to have lessons online with them. My teachers willingly promised to provide me with study materials in order to prepare me for my final exams, the grades of which are the entry requirements needed to be met for me to get into university. Something got me thinking, there's no such law which states that I'd need to drop out if I don't go back to the UK, and in the end, I did get confirmation that this rule doesn't seem to exist. But why would they possibly do that to me, unless someone complained and got me kicked out from both online lessons and the school as a whole. But who??? I have my suspicions…
Either way, I still had hope, and yes, my teachers sent me materials, apart from two who didn't, who also taught my weakest subject. Weeks passed, and I thought to myself, "It's okay, maybe they’re just gathering the materials and then they'll send them to me." No reply. The first month passed, and I started sending them emails asking them whether they could update me with what the class has been learning recently. No reply. The more days passed, and the more I'd reach out to them, each time with a bigger ounce of desperation. Weeks. A month passed, and still no response. One day, they actually did reply. But guess what? Their reply to my email didn't even answer my question or issue in the slightest. So I had to ask them again, and the cycle repeated. Another month. In the end, I only received materials for the new content in March (mind you that my high-stake exams, which determine my acceptance into university and my path from then onwards start in May). So yay, I only had two months to fully prepare myself; two months to catch up with what my classmates have already thoroughly learned 3 months before me. Great.
I was given the choice to either do my exams in Hong Kong or Macau - Hong Kong being the more experienced exam centre in terms of conducting Spanish speaking exams, but it came with a disadvantage. If I were to choose Hong Kong, I would have to get three doses of the COVID vaccine, I'd be banned from most if not all venues in the city, such as restaurants, and I would have to quarantine on the way back to Macau after exams. Most importantly, if I were to choose Hong Kong over Macau to do my exams, I wouldn't be able to change my mind and go with Macau if things go south. So, to stay safe rather than sorry, I chose Macau.
One week after making that decision, there was an outbreak in Hong Kong, and the city remained in lockdown for almost two months. Just imagine what would've happened if I chose Hong Kong and actually went there. This isn't the craziest part yet. We were still hunting for a Spanish teacher or professor who had experience conducting speaking exams, but we failed to find any, until we received a message from a friend, telling us about a professor in a nearby university, and we managed to get him onboard.
Fast forward to exam season, my first ever official A Level exam was Spanish speaking, which I was extremely nervous about, but was glad to get over and done with. I didn't have much confidence in myself, even when I was told by my teachers that I should have it, and when it comes to exams, there are a ton of doubts and fake scenarios of you failing running through your head. I was so nervous I started to not feel well, but that wasn't a huge deal. We did the exam, it went so smoothly, and I absolutely LOVED the questions. Hallelujah!!!
Days passed, and the next exams in line for me were Portuguese and Business. Both exams' total duration was 4 hours and 30 minutes. Portuguese started at 3pm and Business started at 7pm, meaning that I'd only have an hour's worth of break in between to have dinner and only go home after I finish my Business exam at 9pm - a bit of a mental challenge, I see. I went in, feeling anxious as ever, not knowing what questions would appear in the exam, and with only two months of preparation for the new Business content that would appear in the paper. I did one exam after the other, gracefully knowing I aced Portuguese since I prepared for the essay question multiple times. Business then came around, and by the time I started writing, the sky was already turning black. It was a strange thought, knowing that my classmates in the UK were doing it in the afternoon, where it's all bright and sunny, when your mind is awake, alert and concentrated. And here I am, sitting the exam of my weakest subject, at night, quite mentally tired from my previous exam of 2 hours and 30 minutes, still digesting my dinner, and wondering whether my weaknesses will show through this paper. But who would even know that a girl like me was disadvantaged? Perhaps only you who's reading this, but the examiners? Forget about it. They'd never know. They'd just think I was any other regular student. Isn't it funny how an exam paper is the only way the examiners get to know us? No backstory whatsoever, without knowledge or insight into the nights when I'd cry, worrying whether I'd fail and not get accepted into my dream university, but most of all, feeling like I was just trapped in an abyss where, no matter how many times I'd cry for help, no one would answer. No one would lend a hand. Just silence.
After having such a long day, my mom picked me up and we left the exam centre, which was quiet and dark, although there was a certain peacefulness that came with it. My brain and my hand were strained after all that writing, but hey, we got home and watched the Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard trial for the remainder of what we called a night. It was quite entertaining to be fair.
What I had left to do was Spanish Paper 1, Portuguese Paper 2, Business Paper 2, Portuguese Paper 3, Business Paper 3, and last but not least, Spanish Paper 2.
In a nutshell, Portuguese Paper 2 was chef's kiss, especially the essay questions which I totally predicted. Business Paper 3 was THE worst exam I've ever sat in my 18 years of being a student. It was the most bonkers paper to ever exist, since it was designed and built not to test our knowledge and give us room to show off, but to completely and utterly DESTROY the living life out of students who thought it would be the best paper of the three (aka me). I still can't get over it, but I won't say much. Hopefully that better portrays my feelings towards whoever wrote that paper…
Each passing day, I'd gracefully cross off the exams I had already done as a symbol of me getting closer to my last day in prison. Spanish Paper 2 came around the corner, and it was my last. I didn't know what to expect, especially when this paper was one of the exams I had worked hardest on and spent the most time for. But I kid you not, it was so beautiful. The essay questions about the play and the movie we studied were amazing - questions I practised constantly; questions I was most confident in and had most knowledge about. I finished everything 30 minutes early, perhaps because I was so excited about the questions, but of course, I still spent the remaining time going through my answers. Time went by, and suddenly there were just 5 minutes left. I couldn't help staring at the clock as it ticked. 5 minutes - the last 5 minutes of A Levels. The last 5 minutes of suffering. No more online lesssons, no more tears. I say this without any sort of exaggeration whatsoever. I just sat there, speechless. The time ran out, and the invigilator collected my paper. And just like that, I was done. I would always remember this day: 17th June - the day my exams ended. We went home to celebrate, and I never felt so happy and relieved. Even my pimples started to clear up.
The next day we had a small family dinner to celebrate the ending of my suffering, aka exam season. We had some Korean BBQ, and when we were eating, my mom said "Thank God there wasn't a COVID outbreak during your exam season." We talked about what the exam coordinator of the centre I did my exams in said to us. He said: "Just to let you know, if there is any sort of COVID outbreak in Macau, we would have to lock down and turn into a COVID testing centre. Your exams would get cancelled and you might not be able to sit them again."
Now, remember what I said: my exams finished on 17th June, we had a family celebration dinner on 18th June. And guess what? At around 11pm on 18th June, just hours after our dinner, there was an outbreak, and lockdown started on 19th June. The exam centre actually did shut down and turn into a COVID testing centre, and if the outbreak happened just even a few days earlier, my exams would've been disrupted. Can you believe it??? If it isn't the grace of God, I don't know what it is!
We did undergo a lockdown, but as a family, we enjoyed it quite a lot. Many more things happened which was very coincidental, but that's a story for another time. Either way, we enjoyed each other's company, and it was quite relaxing. Fast forward to 18th August - the day I was most looking forward to but also dreaded: A Level Results Day. There was a lot of news circulating, stating that grades this year were particularly lower than previous years, and that there would be an increase in competition for university places between students. I started to get anxious. My mom printed my results and put it in an envelope, and we went to the 70th floor to have afternoon tea, which overlooked the whole city of Guangzhou. When we were all seated, she handed me the envelope and started to quietly sing 'Congratulations' by Post Malone (one of my favourite songs). I closed my eyes, knowing that my future depended on this envelope. I slowly opened my eyes along with the letter, and to my astonishment…
BEST EARLY 18TH BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I couldn’t resist the tears. They started pouring and streaming down my face. Like, I did THAT???!! I scored higher marks than I usually did, and for Portuguese and Spanish, I was wayyyyyyyyy above the grade boundary for A*. B for Business??? WHO CARES??? I did it all on my own and I expected to fail. I was only 6 marks away from getting an A. Imagine if I got A*A*A? I could've even got into Cambridge (which I almost applied to, but that's another story). Heck, I could even get into Oxford. Either way, I'm very satisfied. What's even more insane is that a friend of mine (the best in Business in my year) got a B and was 1 mark away from getting an A. But what does this mean? It means that I was 5 marks below her, and she's the best in my year. She got the best teachers at her assistance, benefitted from face-to-face education and received materials months before I did, and we were only 5 marks away from each other. Isn't that crazy? Unfortunately, my other friends who also benefitted from face-to-face learning whilst being in the UK didn't do well in their exams and didn't manage to secure their place in their firm university choice. I'm just so grateful.
To top it all off, the best part was receiving an email from UCAS, saying "Samantha, congratulations, you're in!" I guess this is the beginning of another chapter I'll update you on soon. All I can say is that whenever life may seem like it's sinking before your eyes, you will forever be more than capable to be your own captain. Don't EVER let little interruptions determine and undermine your strength and your power. God is good.
You've got this,