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How the harsh environment in my "prison-like" high school taught me about our limitations

These high school experiences will not only be mere memories to me, but rather a turning point that allow me to learn more about my finite powers.

Source: Unsplash

I have always believed that human beings are finite, each and every single of us has our limitations. Human kinds of it all supplement each other to fill in the gap that some are superior and others are inferior, to ultimately aim for greatness. I do also think that we have to go through a sequence of events in our life to figure out what is for us and what is not. Mine happened as early as in my high school period, when I was put in a "prison-like" environment - a private boarding school where I crammed for 13 months for the national exam. Students and outliers call the school “prison” as it strictly inherits the management and education philosophy of a real one. I studied there for the entire 7 years, witnessed tons of events that allowed me to study the bare mechanism of limitations.

One of the ways to figure out our limitations is to compare ourselves with a large pool of peers who are going through the same situation. The school put us in a training environment where we all have the same resources, same amount of time for the same activities.

During the 13 months, we were allowed to go home only once a month and lived in the school’s dormitory for the rest of the time. The daily routine started from 5 in the morning when we woke up, and ended at around 10 in the evening when we finished the supplement classes. There are 3 continuous study shifts in a day, with short break intervals often lasting for an hour and a half for us to eat and sleep. There is no internet, no cell phone allowed, we were seemingly not connected to the outside world. The teenage high school students are refrained from developing love and affection towards each other, if you do, you get expelled from the school.

The 52-bunk-bed dormitory is 5 walks away from my class. Source: Unsplash 

45 students per class, I have one month at the beginning to prove my initial capability. Through a set of internal examinations every week, they started to classify students into different levels. Hundreds of students will be ranked based on their scores, if you scored on top, you will be placed in the first class, where you have to train more intensively, with higher expectations and requirements for your performance.

I was placed at the top zone of the list, together with the other 44 students who come from diverse cities and provinces in South and Central Vietnam. 3 shifts a day, 7 days a week, we gradually and passively received training sessions, where I spent most of the time cramming the formulas and solving methods.

Other than the harsh environment where you have no choice but try to perform well in each internal exam, one specialty of the school is the ranking system. We had exams weekly, and scores were released on the same day. As a student in the top class, we have two intimidating pressures: we have to compete against other peers in the class, and we have to outperform students from the second-ranked class. If you are in the bottom 5 of the class, chances are that you will be punished, and they do have very harsh penalties to push you ahead.

"The news".

As time flew, the continuous rankings portrayed our capability more than any other systems. There will be students who always score high at Maths, others save their overall grading by outperforming in English, and the cases go on with someone who deals well with Physics and other subjects. We then started to recognize that Tom is a prodigy at calculation and geometry, Julia is super duper excellent at languages and Teo is a master at dynamism theory.

I also realized that I can hardly compete against the top performers in Maths, but I can when it comes to English and Vietnamese literature. Therefore, I put more effort into these two subjects, and I did rank first place in the list a few times. Starting from the same place, putting into the strictly same distraction-free environment over a fairly long time, with only one common goal, the school gave me the very first ideas of what I am really capable of excelling and what are my limitations when being compared to others.

After high school and entering the world of a young adult, I have not seen any other environment that provides the same conditions which vividly portray our capability just like that "prison-like" high school. There are many measurements to quantify our abilities, however, I do think that the environment in which we are placed in or we chose to be in counts a lot in that process. These high school experiences will not only be mere memories to me, but rather a turning point that allow me to learn more about my finite powers.

VinUni gave me a better idea of my desired education

Nonetheless, I do want to echo that each and every single of us does not necessarily need to put ourselves in such an environment to exploit our limitations. 3 years thriving at VinUni gave me a whole lot better idea of what should be the desired education that empowers us to grow holistically, where we as student fellows together create a healthy competitive environment in which no one is publicly labeled as inferior than others. Similarly, the ranking system at my high school is only one aspect of how it operated to achieve the highest average national exam score possible. On entering adulthood and chances open wide, I will opt for other environments to continue the process of refining limitations.




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