True Story: I started college when I was 13

Can you imagine starting college at 13 years old? How would your teachers treat you? Would the other kids want to be friends? One woman shares her story of starting college - full time! - at ate 13 >> yesandyes.org
I don’t know about you, but college was a bit of a shock to my system. Classes that don’t start till 11 am! Co-ed dorms! LOFTED BEDS. Imagine encountering all that at 13, instead of the usual 18 or 19. Today, Kamina shares the story of how she found herself 13 and attending university full-time. 


Tell us a bit about yourself! 

I’m Kamina, I’m 28 and I’m in sunny Brisbane, Australia.  I live in a cute wonky apartment in the inner city with my husband and work three days a week in an office that’s 90 seconds walk from my front door.  Those three days of work support an intentional, free, messy, creative life the rest of the time.

Most recently I’m in a musical, I host a weekly writers’ group and I’m really into the local craft beer scene with my best friend – together we run a little instagram account devoted to documenting our fun and our favourite beers.

I blog about the importance of being You and how to be an unconventional, awesome grown-up over at ninakardia.com.

At what point in your school career did your teachers notice that you weren’t learning at the same pace as other students?

It was something my parents noticed before school was even on the radar.  My mum taught me to read when I was one and then I surprised her by writing a sentence when I was two.  (The sentence was, “I wot [sic] you to be my teacher”.)

From day one, I struggled to sit still in school.  My earliest memory from grade school is watching the teacher explain how to draw a number 5.  “Down like this, then around…” I was doing basic multiplication at home.  I went home to mum and I was like, “I don’t think I can sit through this.” I was five.

Whose idea was it for you to skip grades? 

It was driven by me and my mum – I don’t think mum had a concrete plan that I had to skip grades, it was just about placing me where I fitted. I really wanted more challenging school work and I couldn’t stay quiet about it. I would complete all the work and ask for more, or try a new school and be assessed at well above my age level, so they would sort of improvise and figure out where to put me.

My mum worked really hard to find schools that would accommodate me, and she rearranged her life to home school me in the years when we couldn’t find appropriate schooling. There was a lot of resistance from schools, because I obviously made things complicated for them.  I can’t remember meeting one single school principal who seemed excited about the prospect of taking a gifted student.  I felt like an annoyance to the system.

How did you deal with the social aspects of school, since your classmates were so much older than you? 

My parents put me in extra-curricular activities so I could mix with kids my own age, and I did have friends there, but I was quite happy hanging out with older people too.  The kids I went through high school with were mostly really kind and inclusive. I was socially mature and I fit in okay.

It suddenly became much harder at uni – people had turned 18 and were starting to go out to clubs I couldn’t get into and move out of home and live adult lives.  In high school we were all kids playing together but at uni my peers became adults.  That’s when I started to get lost, socially, and had to make friends my own age. Fortunately I went to ballet class and found my friends there.

How did your teachers and classmates treat you?

At every school I went to I was like, the weird girl surrounded by confusing rumours.  Some kids were jerks to me, a lot of them asked annoying questions and quite often people said I was lying about my age!

I had a mix of awesome and awful teachers – doesn’t everybody?  I felt like I got a lot of pressure and scrutiny from teachers, like I was constantly being watched.  Some would treat me like I needed to be taken down a peg.  (I probably did.)  Others did me the kindness of treating me exactly like the other students.

In university, I didn’t tell anybody my age except a couple of friends, and it was such a big world it felt like nobody cared.  For the first time ever, I got basically zero attention from teaching staff.

started college at 13

Kamina today

When you were applying to universities, how did the admissions offices react to you?

I only applied to one university; I had my heart set on doing acting and there is a great course offered in Brisbane (I wasn’t ready to move away, obviously).  At my first audition we had a conversation about my age, what the acting course would expose me to and how I’d cope. They ended up saying they’d treat me like any other applicant.

From 1200 applicants I was put through several audition rounds into the final shortlist of 20 and in the end they pushed me sideways into a similar, but less intense theatre course.  I’ve always wondered if they really treated me like every other applicant or if they just took me that far because I was a curiosity!

What was your university experience like? 

I basically hated every single minute of my first degree. I have a very independent personality, and I didn’t share much with my parents, so I set myself up to have no support. I was an angsty, secretive teenager. I didn’t cope and I didn’t know how to tell anybody.

I didn’t see dropping out as an option, so I just dragged myself through and made it out the other side with a degree I didn’t care about.  So…pretty similar to a lot of people’s college experience!   I actually met my husband on the last day of classes – we’re the same age but he was in his first year, I was in my last.

The next year I went back and did a short course in music and it was much better – I was just there to excel and I kept my head down and did that, but didn’t speak to anybody.  Later, in my mid twenties, I did a master’s degree in theology and that was wonderful.  I went to a small college, I handled the coursework really well and I had a close group of friends. That’s when I felt like I had my golden uni experience.

Did you ever regret moving through school so quickly? Did you ever wish you should “just be normal”?

I had one brief moment during university, when I was really lonely and directionless.  I had this fantasy about going back to high school and how easy that would be, starting anonymously at a new school and just fitting in.  But I wouldn’t change my school experience.  I don’t really worry about ‘normal’.

If you have children who test well above their grade level, how would you deal with it?

It will depend on who they are and what they want out of life.  I would never make them sit through years of unnecessary, soul-crushing boredom at school, but I’d want to give them a more stable experience than mine, which was a bit experimental.  I want to walk the line between teaching them to function respectfully in social structures like school, but also teaching that they don’t ever, ever have to be constrained by conventional structures.

I’ve wondered about homeschooling.  I’m more interested in teaching my kids to be good adults than anything else.  I learned so much from hanging out with my parents when I wasn’t in school. If my kids can get through their school requirements quickly and get onto the business of life, I’ll happily help them do that.

What’s one thing you learned from this that any of us could apply to our daily life? 

The biggest thing I took away from my school experience is that you just don’t have to do things the normal way.  In anything, ever!  You don’t have to obey conventions arbitrarily or submit to societal norms that somebody else made up.

It’s possible to do something a totally different way than everybody else and have it turn out fine!  That’s what I blog about and what I try to encourage people in every day.  I’m incredibly passionate about giving everybody permission to live an unconventional life.

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Kamina! Do you guys have any questions for her? Did any of you go through non-traditional educational experiences?

P.S. Other interviews with an educational slant: I went back to college at 51, I was home schooled, and I dropped out of my PhD program.

4 Comments

Sarah M

“The biggest thing I took away from my school experience is that you just don’t have to do things the normal way. In anything, ever! You don’t have to obey conventions arbitrarily or submit to societal norms that somebody else made up.”

Yeah, you’re already a rebel–I mean a homeschooler– at heart. 🙂 Takes one to know one!!

Lovely story, thanks for sharing!

Reply
Meg

It’s interesting to see this side of early college.

I was a “gifted” student in public school with a once weekly gifted course, but my mother refused to let me skip a grade solely because she didn’t want me starting college at 17. If I finished my lessons early, I would write stories or read books. It worked out well for me.

Reply
Amanda Benham

I’m Kamina’s proud mama and one thing she didn’t mention is that she had the additional “difference” of being brought up as a vegan from birth. So she was considered “weird” by many for this as well as for being younger than her classmates. But she tells me she is glad she is a lifelong vegan and I admire how well she coped with her unusual childhood. Maybe this too has enabled her to not be afraid to live an unconventional life as an adult, caring more about what feels right than what the cultural norms are.

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