All I wanted to do was to improve my spelling.

Sam Densem

Samantha Densem Student MSc in EBHC

My arrival at the University of Oxford has been very unexpected: all I wanted to do was to improve my spelling.

In October 2014 I matriculated and I am now a student of the University of Oxford, studying an MSc Evidenced Based Health Care with the Continuing Education Department. As someone who started out in 2009 with the sole aim of improving her spelling, this feels quite an achievement.

It materializes that during my blissful years at primary school, the hours spent making tissue-paper stained glass windows and attempting gymnastics in knickers and vest were not conducive for my abilities in writing. At secondary school, reading aloud to fellow students, eavesdropping my weaknesses, only humiliated me. At sixth form I was advised I was “pessimistic” when I confided with the headmaster my fears of my failing english skills.

I felt I needed to do something drastic and travelled to Australia, deciding regular letters home (this was 1989) could allow me to explore language and experiment with words, whilst secure in the knowledge that my mother wouldn’t spot errors anyway as written English wasn’t her strength either.

With the invention of spell check and no further exams where written skills were important, I was able to disguise my inadequacies. Scruffy handwriting enables spelling errors not to be noticed, talking into dictaphones and effective use of secretaries is essential not to be spotted. All was well until I started a management role: staff were watching as I wrote on flip-charts, openly typed minutes, supervision records and reports. Old fears emerged, I’d been rumbled.

So in 2009 I started at basics, at night school, level 2 English with the lesson standard being where to put a full-stop and comma (I am pleased to say that we never agreed where to put the comma, it appears there is both a science and art to language).

Since 2009 to present day I have read, listened, questioned and discussed. Practice was paramount and with my new skills I made genuine efforts when applying for monies and courses: I was successful and awarded £20,000 from Health Education England for professional development in the field of Health Research. Feeling rather triumphant and perhaps slightly over ambitious, I, somewhat, apprehensively applied for an MSc at the University of Oxford. And, in term two, I am writing my first blog.

Can I spell now? – No.

I can confirm, however, that my imperfect spelling has not hindered my academic progress, rather enhanced it, now a student at the University of Oxford. With adequate spelling I would never have begun this journey for such self-improvement; pondering  over the comma, semi-colon or full-stop.

I completely reiterate comments written by Oxford Graduate Amy Price in her blog last year – “The biggest difference between those that attend Oxford and those that don’t is that those that do filled out the application’

However, the last comment has to be thanks to the quote by Lucius Annaeus Seneca 4BC-65AD.

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare. It is because we do not dare that things are difficult.”

3 comments on “All I wanted to do was to improve my spelling.

  1. This is a beautiful inspiring journey where you share how working through a weakness even though not completely successful has delivered strength in other areas. I am also not a perfect student but a motivated learner.

    Your words reminds me of this quote by Mary Anne Radmacher:

    “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”

    I wish you the very best in your EBHC degree and future work. The EBHC MSc changed forever the way I see and apply evidence.

    Congratulations on your acceptance at Oxford, I hope one day our paths will cross.
    I am presently working on my DPHIL in EBHC at Oxford. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Emmanuel Udontre

    Thank you so much Semantha, I was only searching for evidence, as a Masters Student in Gerontology at Flinders University, South Australia, then I stumbled on your story. Very inspiring yet very poetic, I must say you have very good sense of humor. Congratulation for being admitted to Oxford. For your spellings of remember the word of Sarah Bernhardt 1845-1923:’Permanent success cannot be achieved except by incessant intellectual labour, always inspired by the ideal’. I really enjoyed learnt from your experience.

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