Dark Blue (Da Ba Dee)

Yes, the title of this post comes from the Eiffel 65 song. Yes, I apologize in advance for getting the song stuck in your head again. No, I do not feel too terrible about it. In fact, because the song is stuck in your head, and before you read the rest of this piece, please watch this video – and the rest of the series explaining how viral songs have been made.

As always, I have a story to tell. However, I’m not fully sure about the shape it will take. You’ve chosen to embark on this journey with me though, so I am hopeful you will read this all the way through.

The first time I heard the word Oxford was actually in Grade 3, because one of the textbooks we used was published by Oxford University. I can recall looking at the typeface that said Oxford and pronouncing it, the word rolling off my tongue. I remember finding the same word in my School Diary, specifically on the pages that outlined the curriculum our school followed. I remember laughing at how odd the string of letters “GCSE” looked, and muddling it up as “GSCE” when I relocated to India and tried to explain to my friends that I too, had studied a foreign board prior to receiving education in India.

When I was in Grade 8, I was introduced to this idea in more concrete terms. I never really understood the connotations of curricula, or Oxford, or Cambridge, or what these boards meant. I do remember that my parents and I spent a long time discussing the value of pursuing an education with the Cambridge International Examinations board. When they took that decision, with a little bit of my own input, I spent a lot of time on different forums on the internet reading about whether I would be missing out on some learning that the Indian boards offered. My Science teachers in high school assured me that wouldn’t be the case, and I’d end up learning the same stuff, but in a different form – a form that meant I would retain and process the information given to me differently as well.

As Grade 9 and Grade 10 passed on, Oxford and Cambridge became a more frequent part of my vocabulary. Those were years I spent indulging myself in my education, but also trying to figure out what to latch on to next. When I decided I wanted to study either Law, or Economics, and I made the decision to pursue my A Levels, my parents and I had a bit of a sit-down, where we discussed what I could do next, and where I could study. Abroad, Oxford and Cambridge stood out in both disciplines. The London School of Economics featured highly as well. My academic ambitions at the end of Grade 10 were basically that I wanted to apply to these Universities, and do my very best to try to become the first person from my high school to go study there.

My high school offered minimal college counselling. In Bangalore, this whole college counselling business is a very serious affair, with high school students spending large sums of money to ensure their applications are prepared in advance, but also meticulously to ensure they get into the University of their choice. Naturally this places individuals who have financial backing at a competitive advantage, but financial backing doesn’t mean everything. Those college counsellors eventually end up telling you the same stuff, academically: the kind of track record you have in high school matters to the University, and thus, in your final two years, keeping up good scores matter. Given that my high school was young, we had few alumni abroad, and we were figuring things out for ourselves. I was particularly fortunate to have a mentor at school who had awareness about education systems in the UK. That, coupled with my own research skills meant that at the end of Grade 11, I had figured out I was going to apply to Oxford to study Law.

You see, the UCAS undergraduate system forces you to “pick” between Oxford and Cambridge (at least, it did at the time I applied). You are not allowed to apply to both Universities in the same admissions cycle. I subsequently did a ton of research, and after sitting with my parents, felt like I wanted to study at Oxford a little more than I wanted to study at Cambridge – hence the decision. Nothing personal. I honestly wish I could have applied to both Universities. I loved the opportunities they represented equally. However, having elected to apply to Oxford, and a set of 4 other institutions, I began to tailor my application – my statements, my reference, toward the requirements of that University. At the end of Grade 11, I felt like I was in with a shout. My high school support structure felt that way too. Everyone was incredibly encouraging and supportive of my application endeavours, and I felt really privileged to have that support around me at the time. I look back now with fond memories of that time – and not without reason. My teachers got my predicted grades ready on time, my administration was super efficient in helping me figure out documentation. It was all very, very lovely.

Now the A Level system my school followed made us take board examinations in 11th and 12th Grades. This was where I hit my first snafu. I had scored really well in Grade 10, but come Grade 11, my Physics grades began to plummet. While my results were great elsewhere, my Physics grade was a “C”, and I received this result in August 2014, when my Oxford application was due in October 2014. It was nerve-wracking. I broke down tremendously on the day I received that result. I was really upset with myself: because the grade sucked, but also because I felt I had screwed up all my chances at Oxford. By this point, I had become obsessed with the University. I spent ages on forums finding out details about the University and its constituent colleges. I went to sleep dreaming about waking up in one of the locations the Harry Potter movies were filmed, and I daydreamed about attending bops.  I was super excited to potentially study there, something I felt I had lost all hopes of.

I applied nonetheless. I secured an interview, which I attended via Skype. Then I got rejected by Oxford. The day I got rejected is vivid in my memory. I had seen on an undergraduate forum that applications had been sent out, so I was quite certain I had not gotten in as yet. The delay sucked. I couldn’t take it anymore so I called up the admissions officer for my particular college and asked him about the status of my application. He asked me to wait for 30 minutes as he was e-mailing out decisions as we spoke. I asked him “does that mean I didn’t get in?”, and he responded with “please wait for your e-mail”. I was certain I hadn’t made it. I got confirmation of this within 5 minutes of putting the phone down – when I was downstairs with my mother. I read the decision on my phone, and then I went and bawled my eyes out for about 20 minutes. I cried into my beanbag. I was distraught. It was very messy. My mom tried consoling me but she couldn’t, really.

About 20 minutes later I decided I’d apply to do my postgraduate studies at Oxford, when the time came. I also decided I would apply to become a Rhodes Scholar – another prestigious award I had been introduced to through my research. All of this happened on January 10th, 2015.

I had received some offers of admission by that time, but having been declined a place by Oxford, I was more convinced of pursuing legal education in India. I was preparing for the Common Law Admissions Test, and I poured in all my energy into that and my board exams – to ensure I met my conditional offer from other Universities. That entire period, I watched the Oxvlog project, discovered SimonOxfPhys, and religiously watched Jake Wright’s videos – all with the sole intention of becoming more determined to get into these Universities in the future.

That determination, at that age, came from a place of anger. I was upset that I did not get a seat at Oxford, and I felt deprived of a learning opportunity I felt I merited.

This year, 2020, is the year I apply for postgraduate education. I am older now than I was then, but my dreams remain quite similar. I want to learn at these institutions: this Oxford, this Cambridge, these venerable institutions that have rich histories and legacies. I want the opportunity to learn what it is about them that makes them special. I don’t want to merely look at them from the outside, or hear from others how being educated there is an experience unlike any other. I wish to go there, to for example, spend an evening walking past the Radcliffe Camera, or in the halls of the Lauterpacht Center.

I want to eat at the Spoon’s in Cambridge one day, and visit all of these places I’ve seen in Jake’s vlogs.

I fulfilled my childhood dream of applying for the Rhodes Scholarship this year. I didn’t get it, which made me sad for a few minutes again. One of my University batchmates did, which made me incredibly pleased for him, as did one of juniors from high school – and I was so happy she did. They are both, as I am sure the other Scholars are too – worthy recipients.

Today, I submitted an application to the University of Oxford. Thankfully, postgraduate applications do not require you to sit and select between Oxford and Cambridge. I clicked submit, and I felt lighter in my heart. I fulfilled another childhood promise I had made to myself. My anger, my disgust, from when I was 16 – I had fuelled and channeled into being determined to give the application another shot later in my life, and I was pleased that I had not let any of that go.

Being rejected by Oxford at the time was the bluest I had been. I didn’t go to school for two days after my rejection letter came, choosing instead to spend time at a friend’s house playing FIFA. He was bunking school too, and we played FIFA the entire day. It felt like it was the end of everything at the time. Remarkably, in a lot of ways, that was just the start.

I hold all these educational institutions in high regard. All of them, every single one. Not just the Oxfords and the Cambridges – which have an air of elitism to them today, but Open Universities too. They perform a vital public function of imparting education to individuals interested in learning, and making people feel enthusiastic about learning things. While I’ve applied to all of these institutions today, at the core of my application, and at the core of everything I want at this point in my life, is the opportunity to learn more. To read more. To get access to knowledge that I feel I will get access to if I attend these institutions. To gain exposure to a network that will give me that access. To unlock my own intellectual capacity, because I know that being in a new academic environment will challenge me – for I have spent 5 years in one academic environment now.

I do not have a preference among these institutions. I know that I will be happy to be given the opportunity to learn if any of the institutions I have applied to deem that my application matches what they are looking for. Completing the Oxford application gave me a ton of closure though. It enabled me to let go of some residual anger and sadness from when I was younger. To look at that entire experience as being so formative, and kick-starting this entire sequence of events that led me to where I am today.

When admission decisions come this time, I will not be letting myself feel too blue. After all, I still have oxygenated blood pumping through my system (this was a bad joke, excuse me).

I’ll just be looking out for more opportunities to learn new things – things I’m interested in learning.

And learn them I shall.

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