MySELF-ish Story

One day in June 2015, Dr Katie asked me,

“So how do you feel?”

“I feel like I am in the darkroom where I could see neither a door nor a window. And I am double-blinded by a mask over my eyes. I am in total and complete darkness. All I can do is walk around and touch the walls, hoping to find a way out with the ever-pressing fear that I am trapped in a room with no exits,” I replied.

Dr Katie smiled and said, “Don’t worry; I can assure that the room has many doors and windows. Tony and I know that. We had both been there before, but we will not tell you the solution. You will discover the egress on your own, and we are here to help.”

I added “My world has turned upside down; my trust is challenged and my mind is full of doubts. I am afraid that I am looking for something that doesn’t exist here. And that I am searching for a fish in the sky and I will never find one.”

Dr Katie responded with a bigger smile and said, “I like that. It shows that you are a thinker. Have you ever read, “Fish is fish” by Leo Lionni?”

I am completing the third year of my PhD journey. In retrospect, I realize I have gained so much and have been changed in many ways. You see that before I arrived at UQ, I expected to be much more intelligent and would have all the answers.

But here, the more I read, the more I get confused. There are too many conflicting ideas. Sometimes, I get terrified observing the way those ideas collide and seem to fight with one another. Instead of answers, however, I now have so many more questions.

Although I have more questions, I charge on in confidence knowing that doubts and colliding ideas are all part of the never-ending process of learning, that is, questioning the new answers, brings about new questions.

Before coming here, I viewed the world in a simpler way. I solved day-to-day problems based on that perspective, and so I was content. But UQ teaches me to develop my own frameworks to view the world in all possible angles.

In this journey, there have been hundreds of moments that I feel I am completely lost. But there are also hundred times that I start to see those disparate ideas come together into a rational whole. And that is the nature of lifetime learning.

Among my intellectual resources, I am particularly thankful to my intellectual mother, my supervisor—Dr Katie.  Without her, I would not be on this journey. She cured my fear of not belonging, soothed my feeling of being thrown into the deepest sea and needing to learn to swim with little hope of surviving.

In 2015, I came to the school with the feelings of being disadvantaged. English is my second language; I only had a weak research background and seldom spoke.

The word of my supervisor was my real inspiration. Dr Katie once said to me, “I don’t want you to be like us, I want you to be you.” Indeed, I want to be the best of me, a child that my intellectual mothers would be proud of.

I grew up in the least developed region of Thailand, a region with limited access to higher education and paternalistic-parental attitudes towards girls striving for higher education. My parents, however, went against the grain; they told me the only way to overcome poverty was education. They constantly reminded me,

“If you don’t want to be a farmer like me, if you don’t want your daughters to be a farmer like me, if you don’t want our family to be farmers forever, you must study hard.”

But we did not have much money, so we lacked hope and opportunities.

From the time I was 13, I worked on farms after school and on the weekends to earn money for my education. Sometimes, I felt embarrassed when I worked hard on friends’ farms while they played. Sometimes, I hid myself from my teachers and friends when they came near. I was uncomfortable and felt lower than others, but never wanted to quit. Why? How could I ever think about quitting when I saw my parents work harder than other people? My mother hated seeing me hide myself like that. And, I promised to myself, one day I would make my parents proud and equal to everyone else.

In spite of these obstacles, I completed a baccalaureate and master’s degrees with the full scholarships from Thailand and America. Having overcome challenges in my early years, I have displayed a positive attitude with fortitude in achieving academic and professional successes while serving my province and related communities.

Many children are still in the same situation as me. Though I was in the position that enabled me to serve and inspire others at some degree, I strived for more impact. While I felt that my capabilities were insufficient to do so, I did not let my doubts stop me. And I decided to come to UQ as I strongly believed it increase my capabilities.

UQ gave me an opportunity to broaden and strengthen my transferable, professional and research skills by admitting me to the PhD program and through Dr Katie’s dedication that makes me feel welcome and vital to the community. Her encouragement and sacrifices really touched my heart and increased my drive to become a better agent in the field of education.

Local gossip said I was selfish for not helping at home by continuing my education, but I was honouring my parents’ dreams. It is myself-ish story. I am a fish that wants to evolve. With another year left, I often wonder what this fish will become and how the story will end.

Nantana Taptamat