Cultural Alienation and The University Selection Dilema

Yesterday, my oldest and I went to visit Bath and Bristol University. She wants to study Aeronautical Engineering (she’s a serious plane geek). Both have excellent Engineering Faculties. Bath has one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in the country. The way the course is constructed really would allow her to play to her strengths and they have flying team who have to construct a man powered plane (she ooooooo’d at the prospect of this). Bristol as a city has a rich history steeped in the Aerospace industry, it’s the home of BAC (Bristol Aircraft Company). They actually have a Lynx helicopter in one of the aero dynamics labs.

Prior to her starting Primary School, I considered sending her to prep school, Oakfield Prep to be precise. She is a bright child who deserved the best education she could get or I could afford to give her. After visiting the school, it dawned on me that my child had little in common with most of the child there. Fast forward to my twenty something year old daughter and she would be embarrassed by where she came from. She would be a well-spoken, highly educated black girl who would disconnect herself from her ghetto fabulous origins. I had to re-define what the best education for her meant.

I remember reading Diran Adebayo’s Some Kind of Black years ago. It’s based on his life where the central character was a black guy from inner city London who got a scholarship to go to Oxford. By any standards, this would be considered a turnaround of fortunes, a success. However, upon returning home after his studies, he no longer felt a connection to this pre-Oxford life. He had nothing common with those he grew up with. But he also felt like an outsider, never quite fitting in at Oxford. He had lost his self-identity.

Back to our visit yesterday, this was exactly what I could see happening with Bath. In the two hours that we spent there, all I kept thinking was there is no one here like my child. It doesn’t feel or look like her. I was trying to imagine her in the halls of residence with other students or with flatmates from the second year onwards  and I just couldn’t see who’d she’d have her mad banter with. Bath just felt like a larger version of Dulwich College or JAGS.

University should be a time of self-discovery, where you find those final elements of who you are whilst been comfortable in your skin. All I could see was her spending 4 years pretending to be someone she’s not, trying to fit into a culture and lifestyle that’s alien to her. Either that or she would spend much her time alone. She should not have to comprise on who she is. This is how you lose the essence of who you are, your self-identity.

Before y’all jump up thinking I’m talking about race, I’m talking about more than that. She is currently at Kingston College doing an Access to Engineering course. There are 45 students on the course, only 4 are girls. She is the only girl and only black person in her class of 13. She absolutely loves it. Why? Because despite all the differences, culturally they are all aligned. “The bants is maaaaad” as she likes to say. She knows she’s always going to be in the minority, that’s a given for what’s she’s doing and she wants to be. But as she said, when she went to Kingston the first time, she had that aaaar! feeling like I’ve arrived home. She couldn’t not see herself there. Once she embarks on her career, it won’t matter because she would have already fully defined who she is. She will know how to manage her professional persona separately from her personal one.

With Bristol having a much more diverse population and been a bigger city, there was an immediate comfort for me as somewhere that felt like home. Her comment was, it feels too much like London.  Though the department was more eccletic, unfortunately, we were taken around by a Mechanical Engineering PHD student who specialises in materials. We left feeling like we had little sense of what the Aeronautical Engineering degree had to offer.

On the long drive home, I asked her what she thought about Bath. It was all very positive then she said “er, I just can’t see myself there”. So, I shared the thoughts that plagued my mind whilst we were there with her and she looked at me with that you’ve just hit the nail on the head look and said “exactly!”. This morning she said “you know what, if you could merge both Universities together, it would be perfect”.