This post is part of our new series, in which students and young adults tell their own stories of discovering, nurturing, and pursuing their passions.
My English lesson at my all-girls school in London was the highlight of my day. While everyone else trudged up the five flights of stairs to classroom, Tilly and I strode, our heavily-annotated copies of Shakespeare’s Othello under our arms. While the teacher presented essay plans for us to use on the national exams we would take at the end of the year, Tilly and I would write notes in the margins of each other’s books about double meanings, foreshadowing and rhetorical devices. But none of these ideas showed up in our essays, because the correct answer to the questions asked was decided by an exam board long ago. I felt that Othello, Desdemona and I deserved better.
My dad, who was American and had taught at Phillips Exeter, suggested that I apply to boarding school in America. The system there, he explained, allowed for much greater creativity and original thought.
I started at my boarding school in Pennsylvania as new sophomore. There were many reasons I didn’t fit in – I didn’t dress in pastels and khaki, I didn’t come in knowing anyone and I was unfamiliar with the masculinity-based social hierarchy that results from having boys in the classroom. But the main barrier was that most of the students were from rural America and had never met a person with an English accent before.
I couldn’t introduce myself without someone demanding that I say bottle or Harry Potter or pip-pip cheerio (which is not a thing any English person has ever said of their own accord). People who had never spoken to me would yell ’ello! in the hallway (even though I pronounce my ‘h’s. For the three years I attended that school, those mocking impressions never stopped being hilarious to my classmates. Then again, they never had to hear them multiple times a day.
I began thinking through sentences before I said them, not for content but for sound. I avoided words that ended with an r sound or that had a tt in the middle. I skirted banana, tomato and butter. Class not lesson, study not revise, field not pitch, soccer not football, math not maths, college not uni. At the round table in my new English classroom, I listened to other students discuss Macbeth’s downfall.
One day during my second year, I wandered into the Writing Center for help with an essay for a teacher I was determined to impress. Mr. Reid, who ran the center and the school paper, recruited me right there to join the editorial team.
I wrote op-editorials about sexism in the student body, an unhealthy obsession with political correctness in the administration and a scandal on campus. My writing was not perfect and my arguments left plenty of room for refutation. It didn’t make me any friends, but it did make people listen. They were responding what I was saying, not what I sounded like.
Ultimately, these editorials led to my recruitment to the University of Pennsylvania for writing, where I majored in English and concentrated in creative writing. This pre-professional and finance-oriented environment challenged my passion for writing, but I had learned that it was worth fighting for. I studied coming-of-age novels and began writing my own that drew on my experience of isolation in boarding school. After college, I moved to New York to be where the writers are. I’m applying to get a Masters of Fine Arts in Fiction in the next few years and will likely become a teacher, continuing to share and pursue my love of writing.