Tag: English

Cracking the Code: Rising Above Odds

The line-up for the new podcast series is looking great. We have some amazing guests coming up on various subjects, one of whom is Hannilee Fish, founder of Ikan Health, to talk with us about Rising Above Odds.  I can think of no one better to interview about the subject than Hannilee, who readily shares experiences of a difficult youth and how she overcame. The podcast is slated to air in early October.

In the meantime, I have been thinking about times in my life when it felt like the odds were stacked against me.  One that springs to mind goes well back to my teenage years, preparing for college, now known as university. A bright student, always in the top percentage of the class, though not the top 1% or anything like that, I could not crack standardised tests. There was something about them that left me numb. From the Psat to the SAT (scholastic aptitude test), I had scores that didn’t match with my grades at all. Not only were they lower than what would have been predicted for a student of my calibre, they weighed in highly for getting into a good school.

It seems that my smarts, personality and talent otherwise took a back seat to my lower than desired test scores. There went the idea of getting a higher education at a major university anyhow. After all, my peers were off to the big leagues. And for a girl who Aced her way through three grades of school and pretty much B’d her way through the rest, interestingly enough after integration, it was a hard pill to swallow. What were the odds that one of my dream schools would take me?

I would never find out, as I didn’t try given the peers who did get in had not only top notch grades but also really high test scores and no one encouraged me after the scores came out. Compared to my friends, I felt dumb, which took a toll on my self-esteem. But there was something inside of me that refused to give up.

So I enrolled in a Junior College, something I didn’t feel good admitting to years ago but when I look back now, I see that enrolling in any college was a game changer. From there, I went to Valdosta State University (VSU), where I received my BA in English/Journalism and later would achieve my MA in International journalism and here I am today, still not proud of my PSAT and SAT scores but how much do they matter in the big scheme of themes today?

Make no mistake about it, this is not suggesting a license to fob off tests but here is what I am saying. When the odds are stacked against you, there might be an opportunity hidden in the upset, the disappointment and so on and here is what worked for me.

  • A change of mindset – while I had my mind set on the University of Georgia or something like that, it would never be but as soon as I realised that what really mattered was a good education and how I decided to perceive what was good or not good, I met some wonder professors/lecturers and made lifelong friends and contacts. Proud to be a VSU blazer graduate, as proud as any Bulldog, Georgia Bulldog that is.
  • A willingness to abandon tradition, think outside of the box – Getting good grades that I could transfer worked in my favour. Maybe I didn’t go in through the front door, more like the side door, but I came out through the front, waving my mortarboard with my fellow graduates. That degree not only led to my MA but the opportunity to blaze new trails, like working at the Albany Herald, as its first female black reporter.
  • A bit of new knowledge – Still shying away from standardised tests, I decided to find out why? Was it me or was it something bigger than me? Turns out it was a bit of both. There are people who are better test takers than others but research on the tests offered at the time showed that they were not designed for me and students like me, though some from a similar background made the grades. The majority of us didn’t, however. Later I would write an article for The Guardian on this very thing and one word that I know all too well now, regatta, turned up on the test. Is it a boat race, a bike race or a special picnic in the park? I am sure these were not the choices but the point is, I didn’t have a clue and why would I. In Southwest Georgia, we didn’t have regattas and still don’t and at the time I hadn’t been exposed to literature and history about the famous boat races, for example, between Oxford and Cambridge.

You live and you learn and that is part of what you have to do to rise above odds, as well as believe in yourself and champion the situation to pave the way for others. See it for what it is—a hurdle that can be jumped over with the right mindset, some out of the box thinking and a bit of knowledge. That’s all!


Sweden Exhibits Youthfulness, Despite Old Age

Until recently Freja (not her real name), whom I met when I first came to London 17 years ago, was all I knew about Sweden, her straw blonde hair, friendly smile,  ruddy cheeks; her eagerness to speak English; her proudness to be Swedish alongside her desire to be a part of the wider world.

Even after her boyfriend’s ex-wife of Afro-Caribbean descent referred to her as a ‘thing’, she responded with minimal upset as if she understood on some level the limitations of such thinking. It could have been just as easy to cry reverse discrimination and own the experience. Yet, she rejected it and got on with being Swedish in an evolving English country.

All those years ago Freja taught me all I needed to know about her country to enjoy a visit there—that Swedish pride, anchored in tradition, not only soars far beyond Nordic shores in its big brands–Ericsson, H&M, Electrolux, Volvo, SAAB, the Stieg Larsson books, and so on—but lives largely in its people, its very atmosphere.

From the warm welcome we received at Arlanda airport by our middle-aged lady taxi driver, who was pre-arranged by our tour agency, to the heartfelt farewell from the young man at our hotel, we felt a spirit of kindness, of willingness, and quite frankly of youthfulness.

Of course there were the anomalies—the calculating taxi driver, who doubled the fare while putting on a friendly face, and the surly waiter, who pretended to be deaf mute while serving us and chatted openly to others—but aren’t there always? Call them big city swindlers, as both incidents happened in Stockholm.

Never mind them and their limitations, we found Stockholm, in particular, youthful, very much a breath of fresh air in a world that can sometimes feel quite old and stale and is often trapped in racial and/or ethnic quagmires.

Surely, there are such predicaments in Sweden as in all cities, but with a largely indigenous population of just over nine and a half million people (more than two million of them in Stockholm); the attitude of acceptance for other ethnicities doesn’t appear to be a problem.

Also, most folks speak English. How superficial and selfish of me to report this happily, you might say. It’s not the only language in the world. Of course not, but the Swedes cracked the code years ago that their lovely Germanic language would keep them limited, thus from about aged seven learning English becomes mandatory, according to the hop on hop off bus tour we took in Stockholm. Really! Yes, we got with the tourist programme and weren’t disappointed!

Anyhow, English brings the Swedes together with visitors from as far away as Asia to as near as Finland, all of us greeted with a smiling ‘hey’ and it doesn’t stop there. Without a flinch, unless English is undeveloped or rusty such as in the countryside, people regaled us fluently with tales of history and explained menus and so on.

For example, our lady taxi driver prepared us for what was ahead Including the consistent pretty red houses, which date back to the 16th century. Then a special paint called Falu red was created and used in Falun in the copper mines in Dalarna. Nowadays, the red paint is used out of tradition up and down the country. Also, she mentioned the undulating manicured land, bubbling springs and placid lakes. In short, she described Sweden as a well-preserved country, yet a progressive one.

What she didn’t mention, however, was the fetish for old American cars, a theme we noticed around Sweden, town and country. Perhaps it is something to do with roots, as thick American accents were all over the place, namely the big cities.

America? Perhaps that’s why I took to Sweden so instantly. The hospitality there felt almost American. And like the good old USA, Sweden has much to offer and a few things not to be desired too, more than I can write about in one blog, hence the highlights and low lights, too.


STOCKHOLM – A world-class city with an old town heaving with cafes, shops and narrow cobblestone streets,  fabulous high-end shopping and varied museums–one of them, the Nobel Museum, which we visited.  

SALA SILVER MINE – A well-preserved mining village with guided tours of a mining shaft. Though it was cold and dark 40 meters below ground, it was a fascinating experience. But don’t forget walking shoes or boots.

GOTHENBURG – This is Sweden’s second city with petty canals and fun restaurants and home of the Avenyn, their street often referred to as the Champs Elysees of the South. Non mais belle!

OLD LINKOPING – An open-air museum, which shows what small town Sweden looked like one hundred years ago. A must see.

Low Lights:

Borlange – Not sure why we stopped in this town, except as a stopover. No hotels or restaurants of noteworthy calibre.

Gondolen – This is apparently one of the top restaurants in Stockholm but likely a tourist trap with good views of the city. Here is where we encountered the rude waiter and okay (at best) food.

In Stockholm, taxi drivers can legally rip you off because of zoning. Don’t ask me?

Hotels don’t necessarily provide a safe in the room, so on with the backpack, whatever your age and ability.

Next stop, Norway…stay tuned.