The College Playlist: Freshman Year


This post is 2nd in a six-post series.

This is not the first time I am boarding the bus alone but for goodness’ sake, this is Manila— filthy, anarchic Manila (as I have seen T.V. news programs paint its picture). I could easily get lost! Or worse, robbed. Or mugged. Or abducted. Or, seeing these almost flying vehicles, run over when I get down from the bus.

Who would believe that my mother, the woman who kept her dear children out of bicycles for fear that they might hurt themselves and used to take them with her wherever she went, is actually sending me out here alone? She used to tell me that Manila, even in broad daylight, is never safe. Now she is making me tackle this wilderness on my own. I am scared.

Before leaving the house at five in the morning, I almost asked Mommy if she could take me to school instead and then pick me up when my classes are over. But I am already seventeen — old enough to take the daily commute, they say. After all, I am in college now.

Fat raindrops hit my bus window and I watch the tiny waterfalls they make.

I love the rain. When it rains, both the streets and cars are washed. Flowers usually bloom soon after. The earth is wet, the rice fields are majestically green and gold. And there is that peculiar but relaxing smell produced from the mingling of rainwater and foliage. Rain is a gift.

But looking through my bus window, I see rain here is an annoying, unwelcome guest. Everywhere I see people with sour faces, holding on to their umbrellas. The streets are muddy, not cleaned, and pedestrians have to dodge puddle after puddle of mud. There are no flowers, only wilted plants and misplaced trees. It is a sad sight. Not even the rain can cheer Manila up.

The driver starts cursing. It has started to flood so the traffic is getting worse. I sigh. This is going to be one long ride.

**********

It is now a few minutes before nine in the morning and I am still in the bus. I have missed my 7 A.M. class and given the traffic’s pace, I am lucky if I can still attend even just ten minutes of my second class. Another missed quiz again. I wonder how I will be able to pass History1 if I keep on missing quizzes.

Miraculously, the bus inches forward, its wheels almost useless in this flood. I have seen floods worse than this but I cannot understand how streets can be flooded when the rains were not too heavy. Only in Manila, it seems.

After two Pinoy comedy films (Praybeyt Benjamin and Here Comes the Bride), the bus finally comes to my stop — Padre Faura Street. I have missed my second class but there is still enough time to get to the next. I walk through the flood, dreading manholes and pissed that I forgot to roll up my jeans. The usual five-minute walk to the school gates takes fifteen minutes.

As I walk towards a comfort room to dry myself, a professor (I could no longer remember who), seeing my wet jeans, asks, “O, hanggang saan any baha?

Embarrassed, I answer, “Hanggang tuhod, po.” He laughs.

“Well then, welcome to Taft River!”

**********

Thank God, I can be home before dark.

The bus is nearly empty and I have managed to have a window seat. This is a good day.

We are halfway through towards my destination and people starts filing in. A bearded, hefty, old man sits beside me. Every now and then the bus halts to let more passengers in. As there are no more seats, they remain standing, holding on to the back rests of the seats. I could have pitied them but after spending countless bus rides standing up throughout the entire journey, I ignore them. They are fine.

Then, the seat starts trembling. Ugh, I think, why do old men do that? It is bad enough to see them jerking their legs for no reason. It is so much worse to feel its effects. Just ignore him. You’re near your stop, I tell myself. He’ll get bored doing it anyway. They all do.

But he doesn’t. I turn sideways to glare at him, just to show my displeasure and…

… he smirks at me. I cry.

I sob and close my eyes, not knowing what to do, as the old man laughs maniacally, masturbating. The seat keeps trembling. So does my entire body.

I keep crying, muttering a prayer to the Holy Spirit under my breath. What else can a girl of seventeen do?

**********

No one expected that the exam would finish so late in the evening.

“Bye!” My classmates wave at me as they headed out the school gate. I wave back, wondering how they could walk through the eerie, unlit street. Padre Faura looks like a seedy, deserted alley after the sun sets. Why are there no properly functioning lamp posts? My lips quiver. I start praying again.

I drag my feet towards the gate. The sooner you get out of here, the sooner you get home, I tell myself. Once I am out of the school, I hug my backpack in case of a pickpocket lurking somewhere near. My phone vibrates — a text from my mother.

Anak, hintayin mo ‘ko. Sunduin kita.

Thank God! I sigh. Thank you, Mom, and I love you.

 

Shit.

I curse under my breath as the twentieth person says this is his pre-med. That is exactly half the class.

What am I supposed to tell this people? If I say I won’t be going to med school (yes, I’ve made up my mind and no one can convince me now), they will surely ask what I plan to do then after this. Should I be honest then and say that I took this course because

  1. when I was thirteen, I signed a contract that I cannot afford to breach;
  2. my father, the breadwinner of the family, died this summer so I badly needed the scholarship; and
  3. with the new scholarship, it now makes two contracts.

A person from the row in front of mine stands up. It is almost my turn. Should I lie instead? It is either I say this is my pre-med, too (then years later, say I changed my mind) or I say I have always loved biology because… because…

Actually, I don’t love biology. I don’t even like it. So why am I here, majoring in pre-med biology? Let’s see. I guess this all started when I was about five (or four, I cannot remember exactly).

For Christmas, little Wencey asked for a doctor’s set. Mommy and Daddy were thrilled, she can’t understand why. They never liked it whenever she asks for toys, like the red toy motorbike (she got it anyway — she’s got a good grip) or that life-sized dollhouse (“What do you need it for? You wreck all your dolls anyway.”). Anyway, Santa must have judged her to be good enough that year (he always does, she wonders why) and on Christmas morning, there it was under her sock — a brand-new doctor’s set.

Oh, how much she loved that play set! She immediately put up her own hospital with all their stuffed animals — because her sister would no longer lend her dolls — as patients. She wondered aloud why her “tetscope” doesn’t work and Daddy laughed. Mommy stuck her picture on the yellow identification card and wrote her name on it. It now said she’s a pediatrician. Since then, little Wencey had set herself to be a “petrishun”.

That is, until she was ten and decided that the world needs better teachers (yep, tween Wencey wanted to save the world). She told Mommy this and she said that’s great but didn’t she want to be a doctor? She shrugged. “I don’t know, Mommy. I’m not yet sure.”

Shortly after, she found that tatty, green, hardcover book in Mommy’s old things. It was musty and mildewed and the pages were already brittle. It did not look promising but being extremely bored and having read their entire bookshelf already, she read it. And again when she got bored again. And again. And again until she knew it by heart. It was beginner’s biology.

She aced science that year, all thanks to her old but new friend. She was so happy and she told herself that she loves science, biology in particular. In fact, she considered being a doctor again after Mommy said doctors had to study a great deal about biology. Little did she know then that this was all just but a parallax,  no thanks to the tatty, green, hardcover book.

The person beside me sits down and nudges me. I stand up.

Shit.

**********

“Mag-shift na lang kaya kayo? Baka hindi para sa inyo ang Bio.”

It takes all my strength to keep from crying as I grip my exam paper. On its upper right hand corner is a big 56. Four points short of the passing score. This is supposed to be the easiest exam, being the first. If I have failed this then what more the next ones? Stupid! I curse myself.

I know I am not as smart as most people in here are but I got here because of the strong foundation my mother painstakingly built for me. When I was a kid, she never gave up on me. When I was failing math, she would drill me almost every night until I get it. We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning when I cannot grasp the new lesson. When I have a really important or difficult exam coming up, she would quiz me and make me reviewers to make sure I get high scores. She helps in my projects and practices me for my oral reports, thinking up possible questions and coaching me how to answer them. As a grade schooler, I had a pretty easy life. My mother sure of that. She worked so much for me — more than most mothers would.

But I am no longer a child now and my mother knows that. She wants me to grow up, especially now that adulthood is just a few months away. She wants me to stop complaining and just do the best that I can. But I am not sure I can do this. Even from the start, it does not feel right.

The professor continues to glare at us. Shamed, I look down. He knows I failed. He has branded me as an academic delinquent already and this is just the first exam!

Maybe he is right. Maybe biology is not really the right path for me. Maybe I made a mistake.

But my conscience whispers to me: Shifting is not an option. Right, mistake or not I have no other choice.

This may be a mistake I have to make.

 

Advertisements

How to Cram for a Biology Exam


Image

First of all, I want to remind you that it needs time and effort to be able to understand biological concepts. So, if you are aiming to get good marks, do NOT cram. But if you really have a hectic schedule (which is a thing common to biology majors) and cramming is the only choice you have, then the following tips might be able to help you.

  • Stay away from distractions. I think this is self-explanatory. Turn off the television. Put away your favorite objects of recreation. Log out from Facebook and other social networking sites. Focus your attention to your studying and nothing else.
  • Keep everything you need in your study area. This will save you time and energy from getting up often to find a particular book or to sharpen a broken pencil. Also, keep a water bottle and some food near you in case you get thirsty or hungry.
  • Read the lecture notes first before touching the book. A class lecture is usually a mere summary of what is discussed in the book so it will be best to study your notes first as these will give you an overview of the lessons. Having prior knowledge of the topics will give you a better chance of understanding what the book says.
  • Do not try to read everything. Remember you have little time to spare so reading and understanding everything will almost be impossible. Instead, get the main idea of every section and make sure you understand all the important concepts, especially the basic ones.
  • Take note of the emphasized words. Those words in boldface are boldfaced for a reason. List them down and look up their meanings. These words will be mentioned repeatedly throughout the chapter and sometimes, throughout the book so know them by heart.
  • Pay attention to tables, graphs, and pictures. A single figure is a good summary of what may have been discussed in two to three pages. They will save you time and may be easier to recall than the text.
  • Answer online self-help quizzes. This will help you give an idea of the type of questions that teachers may formulate. You will also be able to evaluate your knowledge and go back to those sections that you have not yet completely understood. Be careful though for you may be tempted to click on other sites that may divert your attention.
  • Get some sleep. Pulling an all-nighter will only make you tired and sleepy on the day of the exam. You will find difficulty in focusing on the questions and you might fall asleep. You do not want to ruin your chances of passing, do you?Image
  • Ditch the coffee. If you really have to stay up late, at least do away with the coffee. Coffee is addictive and you will develop a tolerance for it if you drink it too often. Have a chocolate instead. Chocolate has lesser amounts of caffeine but that will be enough to keep you alert. Besides, who does not want chocolate?                                     Image
  • Listen to your classmates’ discussions before the start of the exam. This is my favorite technique. It will give you a wrap-up and remind you of the things you might have missed. You may also ask your classmates about things you are not sure of. Just hope that they will be willing to help you.                                                    Image

These tips will not guarantee you with a high score. Remember you are just cramming. From the start accept whatever mark you will get. After the exam, start studying for the next. You will need to catch up. And, try your best not to cram again.

Time vs. Learning


Many people would claim that the workload given to college students in school is way too much for their bodies and brains to handle. To this, I disagree. As young adults, we are actually capable of doing heavy school tasks as we are stronger and healthier. Our strongest opponent is actually the clock. We can do so much but we have too little time.

I am a person who hates running after time so I panic when given just a week to master three chapters of a biology book. Biology, unlike chemistry and physics, is a heavily conceptual discipline so therefore, in order to fully understand it, one must take time to read and reread not only the lecture notes but also the books — the more textbooks you read, the better you grasp the concepts. So, needless to say, studying biology requires much time as it requires much effort. Sadly, time is a limited resource for us biology majors for we have only eight semesters to tackle the vast scope of the science of life and nature.

Most of times, when I read my book in preparation for an upcoming exam (likely, three to four days later), I get too engrossed with the things I am learning so I take time to digest the material properly, chewing slowly and savoring every bite. By the time I finish with one chapter, the exam will be in a few hours and I still have two to three chapters left. I often end up just swallowing those chapters, trying to get as much as I can without really having to focus and give much time. When exam results come, disappointment swallows me in return. I always get marks much lower than what I know I can get.

People will say that grades are just numbers and they do not define who you are. Sure, that is true. But for me, grades are important for they are indicators of how much one has learned. Every time I get low final mark, I become disappointed because I know I was not able to maximize learning. I think it is even better to have failed the subject. At least then, I can get a second chance to study it again.

For other biology students, good grades are important because these are one of the factors that may be able to secure them with admission to the best medical schools. I see my friends pulling all-nighters just to get at least an encircled 1.50 in their class cards. They need it for medical school, they say. So they go without sleep for days many times so that they can go to med school where they will be, again, chasing time. So, the vicious cycle repeats.

We are always reminded that the time pressure is necessary for us to achieve academic excellence. I see it oppositely. Time pressure implies cramming on the part of the students and, as we all know, it produces half-cooked work and limits us to little of the great knowledge that is available for us to explore. For me, time pressure jeopardizes our education. How can that achieve academic excellence?

Writing Again


At the start of 2014, I made a promise that I will quit planning and start doing. This blog is a part of fulfilling this promise.

Being a bibliophile since birth, I have always wanted to write. I wanted to create worlds the same as those which has fascinated me and share them with other people who breathe books like I do. But mediocrity became my tragedy. You see, I am not really a gifted writer. So, I gave up writing and decided to major in Biology. Unlike being a writer, being a biologist seemed to have a solid image to me and thus, was a safer choice. I realized lately that I made the wrong choice.

I do not regret choosing to major in Biology. I may have difficulty in my subjects but I truly enjoy learning about science. What I regretted was quitting writing. I realized that writing is not just for those who have a talent for it. Writing is for everyone who has something to express and there is so many things that I want to say. Writing is the only way that I could make them known. It does not really matter that my ideas are not interesting or that my poems are terrible because they are me and I can never be ashamed of who I am. This is the only person I can be.

So, here I am, writing again.