When she was a child she was often bullied at school but she had many compensations at the same time. She had a kind and loving family, her parents always guided and supported her, they understood her thoughts and feelings, they accepted her decisions in life.
From her mother, an unknown artist full of vivacity, she inherited an interest in the arts and a natural curiosity for things in life. From her father, more introspective, a highly intelligent person who went into politics in 1979, she became interested in political activism and received great confidence; he always believed in her, so she came to understand that self-confidence and personal effort are more important than final results.
Her parents were the kind not everyone has. In fact, only very few people in this world were as lucky as she was. One of the luckiest seemed to be actor Benedict Cumberbatch who says in his biography written by Justin Lewis, and in some interviews, that he comes from a privileged family, meaning his parents have always supported him. But do all wealthy parents support their children? Not always. However, Cumberbatch appeared disciplined to her. He is a son of two middle-class British actors who decided to send him to Harrow, one of those private schools where you get the best education ever.
She sees here a parallelism between the actor’s life and her own upbringing except for the bullying episodes. She was indeed bullied at that private school but it was one of the best places to receive a good education during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. It was the year 1975. A few months later Franco died. It was the beginning of Spain’s transition period to democracy.
Her mother tongue, Catalan, had been forbidden in schools but from now on she would be lucky to learn to write it correctly. Nowadays there are still many Catalans who did not have this chance during school. They can speak the language but they are unable to write it or, if some do, they make many mistakes. Only a few self-taught people have been able to reverse the situation.
Why was she being bullied at school? Because children tend to be very cruel when they notice something different in one of their schoolmates. They magnify the difference. If you happen to be fat, have pimples on your face, a different skin color, too skinny legs or whatever possible, you are very likely to become a victim of bullying. She did not understand those children’s reactions. Even though she was only six years old her mind was more mature because she lived in a world surrounded by adults. She was an only child and even her best friend, who would many years after become a nun, was two years older.
That six-year-old girl had a scar on her forehead as a consequence of an infection. It healed quite soon but the bullying had already started. Some kid said she had had an accident, hit her head and become dumb ever since. In the end everybody believed it was true. In addition she did not look especially pretty as a girl. Her hair and eyes were quite normal though, dark brown, typically South European, and she was neither fat nor thin.
The problem was a kind of dandruff she had on her eyelashes. No matter how many times she washed them it was always there and her classmates said she did not wash her face. She became a special cream from the doctor but it changed nothing. However, one day the problem disappeared but the bullying was still going on because the worst thing about her was getting sick on the school bus and throwing up every morning. She had to carry a plastic bag and sit alone. Which kid would want to join this company?
Changing school at the age of fourteen turned out to be the best. Her father saw it clearly after having had a little argument with the school principal who said the girl was not the type of person to study at a university later on. He was a man the students secretly called The Walrus as he bore a strong resemblance to that kind of marine mammal. He always cut his mandarines with a knife and a fork during school lunchtime.
“I think she’d better start any vocational training soon,” he said.
To this, her father replied: “I disagree. How can she start any vocational training without having any clear professional inclination yet? I believe in her and she will succeed.”
The new school, a state high school, was a great contrast to the previous one. The education level was not as high but the biggest change was the type of students; they were not upper middle-class but teenagers from the working classes. She felt much better, they were more authentic and it was the best opportunity to start from zero again. No one knew about her previous bullying episodes.
She soon had friends and, little by little, she grew more self-confident. She had always loved dancing, so she started to take jazz dance classes in her free time. Dancing became a pleasure and a therapy. At the age of fourteen she danced at the school festival trying to imitate Fame or Flashdance. Many years after, she joined a dinner organized by her old private school classmates (some of her former bullies were there) and no one recognized “the dumb child” any more. She also danced for them. She succeeded as her father had predicted, and she also succeeded academically.
In the previous school she had already excelled in languages and was quite good at writing and drawing which she gave up too soon. She had a vivid imagination and creative power. As far as choosing what to study at university, she only knew it had to be something that would not involve math. The Filologia Anglo-germànica (literally called Anglo-German philology) seemed the best choice and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona was the place where these studies were offered. She could study English and German, their origins, evolution, culture, literature, art, history and society. Almost everything in life seemed to be there (ok, no science, what a pity, but no math, hurrah!).
Unluckily, it was not as she had imagined because of the way our university system worked at that time. As a student it mainly turned you into a passive being, a robot to pass exams. As a result you forgot what you had studied shortly afterwards. As compensation, you got the desired degree at the end of your studies.
Classes were professor-centered, hardly ever getting away from classic frontal teaching. There were no real debates or discussions, no real research topics to allow students to think for themselves. It was five years like this except for two professors. Thank God she had them! After the first year she became unmotivated. Many of her fellow students felt exactly the same way, which shows us clearly that the college system needed serious improvements. There were too many failures. But she wanted to finish her studies and she did. Five years there and not any longer! Given the situation, how could she possibly think of a Ph.D.?
When she told me all this, she said:
“You know what? I am going back in time and maybe it was the subconscious during my last vacation in London that played a trick when I told those guys at the youth hostel I had a Ph.D. instead of a degree. Who knows.”
To be continued.