Veröffentlicht: 07.12.2022 08:40
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Einer meiner ersten längeren englischen Texte, ein personal essay über meine Erfahrungen mit Schule und Druck.


One of the stories my mom likes to tell me about my childhood is about me sitting on our garden bench, in my own little world as a quiet five-year-old and asking her “why am I me”. Their philosophical little girl that still had trouble speaking, with so many thoughts racing in her head.


Growing up, when me and my siblings played, I always wanted to be the smart character. Hermione Granger, Annabeth Chase, Violet Baudelaire, Sherlock Holmes - work smarter, not harder.
It fit perfectly; my sister, the nice and smiley one, my brother; funny, artistic, and caring, me; brainy, calm and thoughtful. A golden trio, three of a kind.
It took me some time to realize that even after being validated for it for such a long time, there should be more to my personality then just being smart. That all those tens* on my report card didn’t have anything to do with my worth.  


It was 2010, when I started my school career. How exciting, how important it felt. A big thing for a five-year old, almost to big to really grasp.

Maybe therefore this thought came to me, a thought I can still remember by how strange and unknown it felt to me when thinking it for the first time, right before my first school day.
My first fountain pen was already bought, my first workbooks and gym shoes. I was ready, ready to be big like my older sister, who already was in second grade and doing “so, so good”. I can remember that I made myself a promise. I wanted to be good too.
I wanted to make my mom proud.
I couldn’t fail.
The thought was so alien then; like a realization that I could, indeed, disappoint. A thought that never occurred to me.
I could be bad at school.
Many people were, weren’t they? Stupid people were!
I didn’t want to be stupid.

So when the big day came, when it was time to bid my mama goodbye, I went in there, head held as high as a tiny first grader can manage. I wanted to be good at school.

And apparently it worked.
My teachers praised me. I was a nice child, quiet, always behaved, and keen to participate in class.
I can’t really remember my first Parents’ Day, but I remember some of the ones that came after.
How me and my siblings sat at home waiting for our mama, so we could jump on her to tell us every little detail of what had been said.
We would sit there laughing, covering our eyes when mama had said something embarrassing to the teacher, and hiding big smiles behind our hands when it was our turn to be praised.


In elementary school, my favorite subject was German.
I attended a tiny school, my class consisted of just nine peers and the whole school counted around 40 children.
So often we were allowed to lay on our stomachs in the assembly hall, our workbooks sprayed out around us, writing stories.
And while most of my class didn’t find much joy in writing, I was thriving, scribbling down page after page in my then (and still) questionable handwriting. It was always exciting to hand my work in - I knew that I would get the praise that I so much desired when I’d get it back.

Probably the biggest confirmation came when my teacher asked me, if I wanted to take part in a certain camp over summer. The camp was advertised for “gifted, motivated and collaborative students” that had to apply by sending in a profile and their teachers’ recommendation.
It seemed like a big thing for an 8-year-old, being chosen to go away alone for a whole week.
In hindsight I’m not really impressed by the camp.
Although I was really flattered when going there as a child, I now understand why my mom looked so doubting on the orientation day, when the founders held a whole presentation about how us 8- and 9-year-olds were special, gifted and the future.

In the end, I couldn’t really enjoy the workshop. I laid awake every night, crying, unable to sleep and missing home. But it was fine. The food was good, I made some friends. But my mom still tells me how guilty she felt for telling me to power through the week, when I called her in tears every evening. I’m glad that she didn’t take me home. I learned some stuff there, that I still haven’t forgotten – even if it is just a few facts about Socrates and how to play a bunch of board games.
I also learned that people couldn’t only be bad or good at school, but also exceptional, even if at this point, I didn’t care too much about it.


Things changed when I got to middle school. With a new class and new peers, and a at this point quite matured ambitiousness, I started valuing the praise I got in school more. And while I was having quite a few identity issues during those three years, one thing stayed clear: I had to be the best in my class.
It wasn’t that hard, really. I didn’t study a lot or invested extra time, I just participated in class and already had an idea how to really study when the time for a test came around (what is not always the case for 11- to 12-year-old kids).

I had an amazing art teacher in middle school. We only had Ms. Greif for one year, during which we saw her twice a week, but she still had a big impact on me.
Ms. Greif made us feel special – something that every teenager longs for so deeply.
I still was into writing, like in elementary school, and as one day Ms. Greif gave us an assignment, where we should talk about “otherness”, I wrote an essay about it – and Miss Greif praised it, said she was impressed.
And there it was, this warm feeling of validation. She called me exceptional. “Keep it up”, she said. Don’t stop writing.
So now I believed I had to be an exceptional writer. All those 100% in German and my favourite teacher’s praise had to mean something, right? It wasn’t that I really thought that I was that good. As it always is with new skills you learn; you first are so confident in your self, feel so good, until you learn more about what you are doing and realize how much you still have to learn. But I wanted to believe that I was special so badly.


I was thirteen when I came to high school. I chose a school that focuses on science, after all it was one of my best subjects in middle school and all the smart kids went there, right?
My high school is a nice place – an old hotel, Hotel Emma, with high rooms and windows that still open to little balconies in each classroom, a small ballroom as an assembly hall and laboratories that have walls decorated with old frescos. According to my history teacher even Franz Kafka spend a night there once, in the place where we have to sit through long Italian classes now.
An inspiring place to study, right?
Fighting myself to the top of the class wasn’t as hard this time, as I was throwing myself into the new situation excited to be able to start over, while most other kids took their time to orientate themselves in the new environment.

But then Covid came around and all the sudden the competition, that my life seemed to have become, came to a halt.

I was thriving during that time, I started dancing, drawing, writing again.

I was fifteen when I first participated in a writing contest. I wrote three short stories in the span of one month, handed all of them in. And got rejected. Even if now I still like to read through at least one of them, I wasn’t proud then, no, my ego really suffered from the idea of losing at something.
But nobody knew I failed. I could hide in my bedroom, my little old world with days spent in front of my laptop, or with my head bowed over books or my sketchblock.


When in person school started again, I started to push myself harder then before. For me that didn’t really mean more studying but refusing to take breaks.
My schedule was full; violin lessons on Monday, dance on Tuesday and Friday, Orchestra on Wednesday and I tutored on Thursdays.
This way I was productive, right? I could feel good about just laying around and doing nothing when I came home.

The confirmation that I acted the right way, seemed to come last spring. My chemistry teacher asked me to enter a competition, told me I was promising enough and said he wanted to sign me in. It was thrilling to hear from him.
See, mom, I don’t need a break! Who cares, if I don’t have the energy to not speak at the dinner table, if the news I could finally tell you was this. I succeeded in one of the things, that were the most important to me. 
I really enjoyed science after all, and while the rest of my class didn’t seem very fascinated. Thus the lessons about atoms, elements, waves, quants, bonds, infinities, about the essence of what everything and more is made of were cut short, brought to the point, so that also the moaning and complaining of my classmates could be hold brief.
An endeavour that I completely understand, but I just have so many questions. So, when my chemistry teacher joined our class, there was finally someone I could ask everything. All the “whos”, “whys” and details, and while our second, main chemistry teacher continued his lecture, he would come up to my desk, sit beside me and whisper returning questions and thoughts. When I got bored in class he gave me special work, to get me ready for the competition, but so secretly that it wasn’t embarrassing in front of the others. I didn’t want to be a try-hard, after all.


To get into the competition, we first had a smaller test for just our school and the best three students were chosen to go on into the province-wide one.
I got in.
I had the best result in the whole school, six points better then the second place. I was ecstatic.

I should have known that it wasn’t smart to get my hopes, my ego, up this early on.

When the day of the real competition came around, I couldn’t sleep.

I was laying in the big hotel bed I got assigned to a few hours earlier, after a long day of excitement and new faces, that all seemed to have those questions, that I had been asking since I learned about chemistry, too, just that some of them seemed to already know the answers, seemed so smart.

Not being able to sleep is a funny thing. It isn’t exactly something new for me, but it was 4 am, I was laying around awake for 5 hours and I just couldn’t sleep. Being in this strange place between wakefulness and sleep is disorienting, drives you mad. But it was okay. What had my mom said? Even if I wouldn’t perform good next day, I’d have had the experience. It would be a good lesson!

And oh, it was.


The next day I drank to much coffee, even if I didn’t really feel tired, just a little bit mad.

The morning seemed to go by in a rush, before I knew it, I was sitting in this big classroom with 17 other people, all way smarter than me.

The theory part of the competition went well, it even was fun. It was too hard for me, but I’d already known that before attempting it - I was the second youngest person competing, it had been my first year of chemistry in school and the questions were on university level.
But I managed to write something for every single one of the twenty-five questions.
I remember that I was enjoying it, enjoying how I knew I couldn’t really know the answer, and the freedom that came with just trying, letting your brain run free and just scribbling down whatever your racing thoughts come up with. It feels a little bit like a first draft, where you don’t exactly know where you are going, but you are able to let your brain run on maximum velocity, just running, running, running.
Then I thought that the results wouldn’t even matter, as long as I had this - just like my mom said. I changed my mind a few hours later.

The second part of the competition was a lab test.
I hate labs. It is too hands-on, to precise, to much pressure. You have one try and have to trust your hands and mind, can’t go over it again.
I gave up in the middle of doing it.
Normally during a test that I didn’t like I would just bite through. But what did my teacher, my mom say? It isn’t about winning.
So, I gave up.
I was giddy, laughing about it right afterwards. I told my teacher, almost proud, that I just stopped trying. Like one of the cool kids in my class! I can remember wanting him to say something, maybe “good job!”, laughing with me. But he had just looked confused. Sad, a little disappointed. The rest of the evening turned sour, but there was still this little bit of hope in me.


It was crushed. We got the results back the next day. Everyone around me seemed proud, heads high and smiling, sitting in their chairs.

They didn’t tell us how many points we got, just praised the five best students out of us eighteen.
I wasn’t called up. Why I saw when I was called up and handed the goodies, that every participant got.
I caught a glimpse of the list, that the presenter was holding. I wasn’t supposed to see it, but there it was, my name. On the end of the list.

Place eighteen, last place, failure, disappointment.
I didn’t cry.
 Not even as my teacher showed us the whole list secretly afterwards, with my name next to number 18, for everyone to see.
He praised me anyways, told me I would be in the middle of the list if it was just based on the theory part, how exceptional we all were for scoring at least one point for all of the questions. I got a group picture, new friends. A lab coat.


I brought it here, to Canada, the lab coat, after being too embarrassed to wear it at school at home. Generally, things are better here now. I got over the competition, even if my self esteem probably needs some more time to recover.

But that’s how we learn, right?

I still want to be the smart girl in my books, still want to impress. I even signed up for the chemistry competition of this year. I haven’t stopped writing, even if I don’t really show my work much. I learned that I really enjoy physics thanks to a teacher that instead of praising me in his test reviews, wrote sarcastic comments next to my mark on my tests.

I still really like the validation that those 10s on tests give me, can’t help but feel affirmed by people telling me how impressive that is.

See, even now, writing this essay, I want to give this detail. I write those tens. Look! I’m not stupid!

But I’m trying. And I think that’s something to be proud of. Realizing I won’t always be the smartest in the room is something I had to learn, sooner or later. I’m happy to have made the first step to understanding already, even if there are more to come for sure.

Even if I still don’t really know, why I am me.



*Note to the grading system (& essay title): Grades in Italian high schools are awarded on a 10-point scale; 6 is the passing mark, and instructors rarely award marks on either extreme (1-3 or 9-10)


Am 18.12.2022, Schreiberin
Hi pianizza
Sorry, für die Verspätung und dass ich erst jetzt zum Kommentieren komme.
Erstmals, für das Englisch nicht deine Muttersprache ist (oder?) ist dieser Text wahnsinnig gut. Mir gefällt vor allem der erste Satz extrem gut, weil er einfach irgendwie perfekt ist. Die Geschichte gefällt mir auch, dein Schreibstil und deine Wortwahl und die Gliederung.
Ich würde jetzt gerne noch etwas Kritik anhängen, aber mir fällt leider nichts ein ;).
Der einzige Kritikpunkt wäre vielleicht, dass der Text etwas lang ist, aber das ist vermutlich Absicht.
Mache unbedingt weiter so!