Hi, I’m An Asian-Canadian University Dropout.
This is not another post-dropout success story — not even close.
D o a quick Google search on ‘Asian dropout’, and you’ll stumble across a plethora of research papers and some entrepreneurial breakout stories.
Where are all of our silent dropouts?
I don’t know—but I’ll start the conversation.
Here’s my experience on dropping out of school.
I’m a few months free from the student bubble and instead of rambling on (very, very tempting) about the many inconsistencies and loopholes of the academic, financial, and social scenes of university — I can say this:
It’s still far better than high school, the true dark ages.
And it wasn’t really until then when my interest in learning began to decline alarmingly quickly. Those sporadic headaches were up to something.
I was the stereotypical “good” student, who easily passed as well-rounded and conscientious, with coordinated outfits and stationery to complement. Never skipped classes or cursed (*inaudible laughter*), completed everything before the due date, volunteered to go first for presentations, and kept a decent bedtime.
I wasn’t always like that.
As a kid, I used to screw around a lot. I co-wrote wild parodies of popular songs with friends, and set grass on fire using a magnifying glass. I pulled a solid number of pranks which led to multiple detentions. My imagination was constantly on the go.
My principals and teachers weren’t the happiest, but I sure as hell was.
One of my favorite memories is trying to figure out how to win free prizes after lifting the side tabs from those Tetra Pak juice boxes (mind you — one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our generation).
The honour rolls and shiny papers had been band-aid solutions all along.
They successfully reassured me of my intelligence, and spoon-fed my way toward the sparkly true-and-tried route.
You guessed it: STEM all day, baby.
Come registration, I received one of the most prestigious scholarships into engineering, after crafting an extraordinarily detailed essay of how I was determined to better the world, as a woman in STEM. This was followed by competitive rounds of on-campus interviews.
(Should’ve joined improv, dang it.)
Two months in, and I knew this hell of a show had been a huge mistake. I pushed myself to do the paperwork for a change in major: psychology—a subject I was sure I loved…
…until a number got slapped on the process. Sure, the material was engaging (kept the textbooks), but the structure was draining, and I was downright miserable.
This can’t be it. Just four years? Count me out.
As part of the Asian community, we are taught to take great pride in our grades and go ham on the studying, with no room for negotiation. Bring back that stellar GPA.
This naturally leads to fixed-mindset thinking, which is unproductive— scratch that — detrimental to learning.
It’s not the number that counts. It’s the understanding.
Switching majors from engineering to psychology had already put me on the bad list with extended family. Lily’s not studying engineering anymore? What a shame, she had potential.
But dropping out? That’s more forbidden than coming home intoxicated. It wasn’t even an option—in theory, that is.
Amidst the negativity and doubts, it was as clear as day: I needed to revive the child in me.
I knew I could carve out my own path and trek alone.
The voices were persistent:
Don’t let them in on your story until you strike lucky.
Brainstorm a flurry of responses you can rely on in case you run into anyone you know back at home.
Keep a low profile under all circumstances, or you’re simply asking to be openly criticized.
Find any timely, viable excuse to explain your extended absence and continue building a world-class acting reel in real time.
(No kidding, I actually considered this route for a very brief period.)
I’d even try to downplay my intentions and let others know that it’s just a break or a gap year.
What I do still believe in wholeheartedly — even after bearing some deep scars from formal education — is the wonder of learning.
I’m determined to reignite that near-forgotten curiosity from childhood. (That’s right, I’m unschooling myself.)
On your own lane, there are no dumb questions to ask.
There are no boundaries to step over.
Most importantly, there’s no set criteria to be evaluated against.
An open mind is your greatest asset.
Dropping out doesn’t have to equate to becoming a full-on bum—that’s just being plain lazy.
It’s critical to be clear on all your intentions for dropping out. That’s no easy feat, and even a tinge of dishonesty will blur said intentions.
Lounging around and whining about how difficult it is to navigate Indeed (which, arguably, is not very user-friendly) does no favors for anyone.
So is jumping on a forum and tearing down every single aspect of post-secondary education to amass support from fellow dropouts.
Save the heated rants for paper. Let it settle, and chuck it out a few days later. It’s therapeutic to let it all out, but not at the expense of jeopardizing your future.
It’s not all gloom and doom now. Far from it, in fact. The heavy stuff has dissipated out with due time (yes, things do get better), and I’m recalibrating my career compass with eagerness.
This means barging through certain doors without knocking.
I thought I was severely unqualified for many great opportunities. That didn’t deter me from applying. Through the process, I came to recognize this:
People appreciate gratitude and honesty. It sings through your writing.
The next time someone asks me where or what I study, I’ll proudly proclaim, with a smile:
“I’m a university dropout. I enjoy what I learn now, where I’m headed, and everything in-between.”
This is a pretty heavy start to my journey on Medium, and I’m excited to share more stories and thoughts with you all.
If you’ve gone through a similar experience, I’d love to hear about it—and where you’re at now!