I pressed “Register” button after some hesitation and there i was, enrolled in university level chemistry courses. There were five of them, two dealing with general chemistry, one of organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry and chemistry of the environment. I looked over the syllabus and i panicked. Just to be clear, i did have some basic level chemistry while in school but i skipped most of the classes because i was not into it at all. I didn’t see any purpose in studying chemistry when i was enrolled in a humanities class and i was planning to study in a humanities field further on.
But now i had to find a way of studying the whole five courses of high school chemistry they teach in Finland because otherwise i wouldn’t manage to get even through the first course of general chemistry. I bought the books second-hand (here new high-school books are insanely expensive) and i discovered a great channel Opetus.tv which had very detailed chemistry lessons (a big thank you to the persons who created it and put effort into it). So, during August and September, i spent most of my time watching videos, reading books, taking notes and most of all, solving chemistry problems. Things i’ve never heard of in my life became now very clear to me or at least somehow clear. The most difficult part in learning alone, was that i had nobody to ask when i was confronted with difficulties in solving the problems. Some of the solutions i found online, accompanied of good explanations, some i had to struggle to find a solution for days.
And then i had my first class which started with chemistry of the environment. I remember well up to this moment, i was so nervous about it, i had a knot in my throat and i felt like puking. I was so afraid that nothing will come out of this and i will just give up. This fear of failure made me sick although i promised myself not to come to this point because the whole experience was supposed to be educational and fun.
Then it came the first course in general chemistry, we usually had those on Friday evenings from 17 to 20 and Saturdays from 9 to 17. So, if you wonder how did most of my weekends go last year, there you have it. I’m also really grateful for my work colleagues who covered sometimes my Saturday work shifts when i needed to be in the chemistry class. Of course, it was not compulsory to attend the Friday seminars where we solved problems or Saturday lectures but for me it was crucial to be on set as i was a beginner.
After the first course in general chemistry i found out that all my colleagues had actually a strong background in sciences. I was the only one who had no background at all. All of a sudden, i felt myself so little and out of the place. And after the first lectures and seeing our first homework, i left the class…crying. Yes, i cried half of the way home and a good part at home and asked myself: what the fuck did i get myself into?!
But i didn’t give up. All my free time went into studying chemistry. I re-read the lectures, i took notes, i drew schemes and tried to solve problems. I checked online the things i didn’t understand and even if the result was not correct i tried solving the problem for hours on end and even returned to it before the seminar, trying to solve it one last time. I tried to understand the lectures by myself and most of the times i managed to. Those few times i really didn’t get something during a lecture or i didn’t understand the way one came to a result within a problem, i did ask the teacher.
And now to be honest, i was so afraid to ask the teacher because i was afraid of giving away the fact that i didn’t study chemistry before and i would ask stupid questions and i would be laughed at and not taken seriously. And the teacher would ask: what on earth are you doing here? I was wrong. He never asked me my motifs and he did answer every single of my questions, having the patience to sit with me after class and explain in detail how to solve a certain problem. I did not have the courage to ask in class because i was afraid my colleagues would laugh at me.
Besides chemistry of the environment which was mostly online work, the rest of the courses had exams and i’m proud to say i passed each of them from the very first try although sometimes it seemed impossible. Afterwards i did manage to get higher grades when i re-took some of the exams and realized that upon a second look, things were becoming more clear to me. The courses i enjoyed the most were chemistry of the environment and organic chemistry because it was not that much math involved and since i haven’t studied math in a very long time, my skills were very rusty. I did enjoy though the thermodynamics, kinetics and electrochemistry, some of the subjects i was very good at in physics while in high-school. (Yes, i did have a very passionate love affair with physics in my first year of high-school, believe it or not.)
The courses were not applied in any way to the field of conservation but the main idea was to study the basics of chemistry in order to understand more complex processes. As they were university level courses, the notions surpassed quite a lot what they teach in high-school and sometimes it felt like an impossible mission to keep the pace. High-school chemistry is not that difficult but when you have to cram all the notions in about two months by yourself, you can imagine that the basis i had was not a very strong one. I just barely scratched the surface, not being fully in control of the theory. Even now after the whole adventure, i still feel i need to revise some of the things i learned because i don’t master them completely, especially the pH problems.
What now after the whole business? Well, i can say i don’t regret a bit taking this journey and every sleepless night, effort, tear, frustration, hardship and minute invested in studying chemistry was worth it because it didn’t only teach me precious information but it has made me learn to love a science i once hated, it has opened a whole new world and taught me to think from another perspective. It has given me that precious experience only the people studying science and humanities have it and taught me multiple ways to analyze and see things. On this one i really pushed my boundaries and got way out of my comfort zone. It was very hard and very scary but in those moments i learned to think at the whole experience as a challenge not as a burden. And however difficult things got, there was always a solution, i just needed to calm down, think and find it. And i did.
Was it difficult? It was very difficult but the difficulty was not due to my mental capacities, it was because i ventured myself into university level courses without any previous studies and chemistry is not an easy subject. This was a very crazy thing to do and there were moments when i really wanted to give up and felt so stupid. But patience, work and a change of attitude when looking at things managed to lift me back on track.
Lately, at a lecture within a recent conference i attended, the lecturer talked about neuroscience and the left / right side of the brain as dealing in a very limiting way with science respectively art. Those who are familiar know that this theory categorizes people as having just one dominant side of the brain though being good only at art or science. The lectures mentioned that this theory was wrong and gave as an example well known artists who were also scientists. That was the moment, I’ve had validated my personal thought that being interested in both it’s not impossible. I grew up, and probably many of us did, with the idea that art and science exclude each other and you can study only one at a time. I do think strongly that this is not the case and i would only hope to see in the future humanities degrees combined with science and the other way round.
Where there is will and passion, there are no boundaries.