As a freshman liberal arts major at Delaware County Community College, I wanted nothing more than to switch to journalism — a field I have gravitated toward ever since I learned to write comprehensible sentences and realized my imagination is too limited for creative writing.
My adviser at the time told me she doesn’t recommend me switching majors. Because English isn’t my first language. No one would give me a pass for being an international student, and in her opinion, it could be too much for me.
I stopped for a second to think about her words. It was not the first time I was told the path I am choosing might be above my capabilities.
Since childhood, I have been stubborn and resentful to rules, a revolt rooted in my obsession for proving people wrong when they underestimated me.
Growing up in the Czech Republic, my mother provided me with endless opportunities to practice.
My mother was never very supportive, let alone encouraging — neither when I wanted to transfer to a selective language class at the age of 8, nor when, at 11, I decided to apply to Gymnázium, an advanced type of secondary education school, and even less so when I mentioned I would like to further my education at a university.
I let my stubbornness lead the way and pushed for what I wanted.
Despite her doubts about my intelligence, I thrived in the language class and later passed the entrance exam to Gymnázium with the third-highest score that year.
When the time came to apply to a university, my life took an unexpected turn and for a list of reasons too long to name, I decided to start over in a new place.
I moved to the United States.
My main language focus was always German, leaving very little space for English, in which I knew only basic phrases, enough for me to curse and ask for water or a restroom.
Many of my close friends and family members told me I cannot just move to the U.S. and that I wouldn’t last a month in a country with a language I cannot speak fluently.
Saying that I can’t? Watch me.
Ready to last at least two months and prove them wrong, I moved to Pennsylvania as an au pair, taking care of three little American children while working on my English.
In less than two years in the U.S., I improved my English to a level that allowed me to apply for college without taking ESL classes. When picking my path, the first choice on my mind was journalism, but I wasn’t confident enough to pursue a degree that requires perfect language skills. I settled for liberal arts.
As an international student, I worked late into the night to keep up with my classmates on the beginning — learning vocabulary on top of required course materials, devouring every grammar rule and idiom mentioned to me and navigating a system very different from the one I knew from home.
Once I got up to speed, my passion for writing came back rushing toward me, leading me to my adviser’s office by the end of my first college semester.
By the end of our session, I thanked my adviser for her opinion and with a smile, I left her office. I changed my major the very same day.
Once again, I did the exact opposite of what others considered the best for me and fit my abilities, and never looked back.
Studying journalism has had its challenges. I triple-check the spelling of each word and carefully structure each sentence I write down. The urge to prove myself to people like my adviser will probably never go away, for my fear that in other people’s eyes, my mistakes are not seen simply as slips — they will be seen as incompetence. But it’s a decision I don’t regret.
Now, three years later, sitting at my desk in The Temple News office, smiling at a tag next to my computer screen saying “Pavlina Cerna: Managing Editor,” I thank my stubbornness for being greater than any obstacles put in my way.
I believe that anyone who works hard and is devoted to what they love deserves a chance. Trust this girl who did not speak fluent English some six years ago.
For anyone out there who is afraid or feel like they are reaching too high — keep dreaming big, believe in yourself and don’t listen to people who try to discourage you.
If you cannot succeed thanks to people, succeed despite them.