What it takes for Young People to Pursue their Passion?

Weekend and holidays give me time to review and reflect of me and the society.  These extended holidays, going through the Fourth Edition of “The Druk Journal” on “Youth Matters” introduced me to the challenges confronting Bhutanese youth and opportunities that lie before them. The narratives were so compelling that it inspired me to reconnect to and recount my  experiences as a teenager…

Conversation in this entire encounter was in Tshangla (my mother tongue). I might have diluted its essence in the process of reproducing it in English (my third language).

Some decisions in life are tough to take; not because one does not choose to, but because it goes against the interests of the people so close to you. Nonetheless, things do not stop there, and it should not!

Personally, the year 2006 was an epoch making year, particularly in the area of decision making, which subsequently shaped the course of my life. The academic result of tenth standard significantly determines the future of Bhutanese students: what stream to take for those who qualified; and what alternatives are left for those who did not. Generally, the former is not as complicated as it may appear in this anecdote.

For an illiterate agrarian parents, to see their child qualify to study in state-sponsored higher secondary school was a huge success and even more, to see him/her eligible for science stream for which the job was almost secured in the first decade of the current millennium. But I have different tale to tell.

Relieved, accomplished, I felt when I knew that I qualified to continue my higher secondary education in state-sponsored school with 69% in Bhutan Certificate of Secondary Education Examination conducted in December 2005. I studied Class X at Gyalpozhing HSS. Herding cattle, fetching water and collecting firewood in the village in the midst of fast approaching Orientation, I gave a random thought on which stream to opt, a popular choice in Science or passionate choice in Arts. Nothing was conclusive back then. I did not want to take Commerce solely because of my dislike for Mathematics otherwise Economics was one of my favourite subjects other being History.

Until the orientation, we (I) did not know the cut-off marks for respective streams: Science; Commerce; and Arts. I attribute this, partly to remoteness of my village where latest information and news were too late to be reached on time. Without it, I could not consult my parents on which stream to choose, at least they would have told something, however innocent they be on the matter. On the day of orientation at Mongar HSS, Apa and I started our journey at around 0400 hrs and he reached me at my friend, Tashi’s place with whom I proceeded to Mongar.

Students from three schools of Gyalpozhing, Mongar and Tangmochu have come for the orientation. The District Education Officer delivered a speech, inter alia, with emphasis on and importance of science. And the criteria for respective streams were announced: for Science one should have 55 in Science and 45 in Mathematics; for Commerce, 40 in Mathematics; and those qualified but failed to secure 40 in Mathematics was to be automatically placed in Arts. With 60 in Science and 52 in Mathematics, I was eligible for Science and my name was in the list. But, my instinct had some reservations!

I had forgotten to bring pen. My friend Chimi filled my form. As I told my choice, he reluctantly wrote/filled ‘Arts‘ as my first option. Was it because of lack of seriousness on my part not to bring pen and more importantly to let friend fill up my form? Or was it because of my poor hand writing that I requested him to do for it would be life-long document concerning me? Registration was done based on academic merit. The Registrar on seeing my first option, communicated with my Principal. And, the Principal made some harsh remarks, “…Stupid, while some of your friends are requesting to take Science, you, having qualified, are dropping it…” I had no response. Even if I had, I would not have dared. Friends commented, “…You made a mistake…” On reaching home, triggered by public opinion and of course, considering the job prospect, Apa had some words stored for me. I had to go to bed early!

Only person to whom I could share my concerns at that point in time was Ama. The next morning, I told her, “…Let me study what interests me…” She must have communicated the same with Apa. But, I knew he was not satisfied and happy with my decision.

I got a chance to rectify it, provided, I believed,  ‘It was a mistake’. On reporting at Gyalposhing, we had to undergo another round of registration, I suppose, it was a confirmation. Our registration forms were also tabled. The Registrar, Ms. Sonam, my History Teacher for Classes IX and X, enquired, “…Do you want to change your stream?” She would have taken by surprise, if I was to say, “…Yes Madam…” Instead, “…No Madam…” was my response for I was thoroughly convinced that Arts will serve my interest though I did not know what my interest actually was? More than my longer term career aspirations, it was her advise that she would give in between classes, “…You (sic) should decide your career by choice not by chance…” which convinced me to pursue my interests. Otherwise, with the score of 69, my History mark was not so convincing to make such an unprecedented decision: against the will of Father, Principal and popular will in friends.

Comments continued! My new classmates in Arts stream would tease and some would go on to mock, “…You dropped Science for Arts to top here…”, Teachers would say, “…You made a mistake…”. Out of anger, to some I replied, “…You need not have to nauseate when I am the one climbing on the tree…” the philosophic argument I learnt from my Mother. It was quite harsh though but I could not help. Looking back, I rejoice in my firmness of having withstood such heightened level of societal pressure – familial, teachers and peers, in pursuit of my passion.

Although, Apa’s, Teachers’ and friends’ advise and recommendation did not bode well with my interest, their proposition was based on the ‘popular belief of realities’. Apa wanted me to become a health worker- attend the sick.  Of course, presumption for secured job influenced by public also triggered his thoughts. Principal, as the custodian of the School and a mentor wanted to see his student get a decent job and secure livelihood for he would come in our dormitories before 0500 hrs to wake us up to study. Beside these reasons, students that time held ‘pride‘ in pursuing Science, I belief it is still existing, of course not as strong as it was 11 years ago. Friends, as I see it now, wanted me to be in that perceived ‘academically elite group‘ when I had just 69%. I would categorise the preceding popular belief as their ‘Social Construction of Reality’.

Whatever may be, the pursuit of one’s passion must not be equated with proving somebody, particularly those opposing camps, wrong. If one does, the very definition of passion – synonymous to love, interest and preference will have negative connotation. And yes, to pursue it, young people or anyone else, for that matter, needs do it with firmness and conviction.

Dechen Rabgyal

I am from Drepung, Mongar, Bhutan.