Why I Chose Linguistics

It’s just me giving a shot.

It’s been two years since I’ve made this decision, I didn’t realise it had been that long since, and I’m turning 21 in a few weeks time. But to get to the story, I have to first talk about my life.


Schooling

That period I had just finished my GCE A levels, my ticket to university. You know, it’s kinda crazy but I’ve never really considered what I wanted to do in the future since the past 18 years I’ve been breathing. I sort of have a vague idea, mainly because I lived in an Asian society — so being an engineer, a doctor are my primary considerations.

But mostly I was just trudging along, first going to primary school, then secondary school, and subsequently Junior College. I hadn’t really given much thought for my future career or prospects.

I was just,

following.

I had my fair share of glorious moments. I was lauded frequently for my affinity with science — particularly physics — in secondary school. People looked up to me and wanted my help, and I gladly gave. I was smart, one of the smartest in school. I felt good about myself, empowered, and the world was my oyster.

But I’m not smart anymore.

Following many people’s prodding, I went to one of the best Junior Colleges in the country. My grades didn’t deserve to be in a mediocre school, or so I was told by my friends. So I left them and went to a far-flung school alone, thinking it was the right choice for me.

In many ways, it was — I went to amazing places, did amazing things, and of course made a lot of amazing new friends.

But fuck me they were smart.

I opted to be a small fish in the vast, unforgiving ocean and paid the price for it — tumbled and being jostled around as the currents tossed me, with gargantuan fishes looming above me. I thought I was a smart guy until I stepped out of my bubble and see that I wasn’t as indestructible as I thought I was.

Because I was utterly destroyed.

As a result of low self-esteem and self-worth, my grades suffered. But not just that, my mental health suffered as well. Seeing schoolmates all around me, so intelligent and ready to take on the world, I cannot feel more inadequate in my life. People — my old friends and family — have expectations of me, and I felt like I have failed all of them.

Now some people are gonna call me out on the fact that I still got pretty good grades in the end, that I shouldn’t be complaining so much like a whiny, pretentious prick. And they could be right, but I did suffer a lot in ways not many people know about.


The Choice

So, in 2015, I enlisted into the army (like any Singaporean son) and results were also released. Like I said, my results were pretty good — 82.5/90 — but still below my school’s average.

But if I’ve learnt anything about my time reading Medium in army, and writing my very first post, is that

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
— Theodore Roosevelt

So there is really no point whether I compare myself to the people in my school, or the students in Singapore who didn’t do well. I got what I got and that’s the only thing that matters.

However, it is now that the question I should have been pondering finally came knocking at my door.

*Knock, knock.*
Me: Who’s there?
Life: Time.
Me: Time who?
Life: Time…to choose.

Having decent grades doesn’t mean shit when you have no idea what you want to do.

People whispered in my ear, “You should do engineering, you are really good in physics and math.”

But I don’t want to be an engineer. This sounds so stupid but I really just want to do something different, something unique, something unconventional.

My brother was helping me make my decision (he’s a great engineer), and I asked him what his friends did in university. He was listing off and one of his friends did Linguistics and Multilingual Studies which got me immediately captured.

“Interesting…,” I mused before I got down to research what it was. Turns out, I found it to be right in my ballpark. Now that I think back, language has always been one of my big fascinations — how language works, how different languages function differently, how language shape and tell us about our brains.

I admit I wasn’t very good with languages as a kid. Probably because I was busy deconstructing them into pieces and found out that they don’t make sense — which language mostly don’t. And like many teenagers I dabbled a lot in Japanese anime and Korean music and picked up hiragana and hangeul without even trying much. I started learning French around the time I went to the military and it came rather naturally to me — all the nasals and silent alphabets. For the first time in years I thought, “Hey, I’m pretty good at this.”

I moved on to German and Norwegian and found it alright as well. And it gave me a lot of insights into history and culture which got me so ecstatic just learning about it. I felt alive, I felt me, I felt like this was the right thing.

Most recently, I busted two hours late to a sign language workshop and learnt, in two minutes, what the class learnt in two hours. Even I was shocked at how I just finger-spelled 26 alphabets in sign language just like that.

Because what I realised is this: I value what makes my life interesting and exciting than what can get me a safe job. I never did well in something I didn’t enjoy doing, so choosing a major I didn’t like is going to set me up for failure. However, I do know some friends who are excellent at doing well in what they hate. Me? I can’t do it.

Many would say it was rather stupid of me to go towards something so obscure and uncertain. Honestly, this uncertainty keeps me up at night and makes me question whether I made the right choice way too many times for me to count.

The anxiety I have from thinking about how I did not choose — perhaps a straight-forward life of being an accountant, or a secure life being an engineer, or just going to business school where “the money is” — is soul-crushingly absolute and immense.

But worrying won’t get me anywhere. All I can do now is wait for school to start and see how it goes from there. Even after this whole essay, I might be changing major when I go to school, I might do extremely well and stay with it, I might…, I might…, I might…

But why think of all the “what ifs” when you haven’t even started anything yet? Right now I just need to enjoy the ride and see where it leads me, because I believe the unconventional path will lead me to unconventional stories.

And stories are my shit.


Hey, thanks for reading. This is something extremely personal to me and I primarily wrote it for myself to clarify my own thoughts. Even after writing this essay, some parts are still incoherent and unpolished because I don’t really know how I feel about it and there are a lot of dissonance in my psyche.

I have always prided myself in being able to see both sides of issues, but it is a double edged sword — sometimes I’m so torn between:

  1. “Doing what you love” and “doing what lands you a job”;
  2. “Listening to others” and “listening to yourself”;
  3. “You are an amazing an unique human being” and “you are just like any other person”

You get the idea. It’s hard to really make any decisions with all these polarising conflicts at war in my head, but a conclusion must still be reached. Which often resulted in whatever mess you are reading above.

To turn away from the easy path takes an unimaginable amount of courage and resolve, and I think I frequently sell myself short for that. I switch between the “you are the most fucking talented and amazing guy” or the “you are a fucking failure you will never achieve anything in your life” mode when I stare at myself in the mirror. But unfortunately, recently I am losing to the latter.

Nonetheless, writing helped and thank you for reading.


More of my self-centred ramblings:

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