No Pressure or Anything

I wake up with a quick, optimistic check to my inbox. No email. Oh well, I sigh. I wasn’t really expecting the results to come in that early. I roll over in bed. Thirty seconds go by. I check my email again. “It’s going to be a long day…” I inform my husband.

I’m out of bed now, making breakfast. Eggs. Toast. Avocado. I take it outside. I water the garden, which isn’t a garden exactly, more like a carefully curated set of flowerpots on our terrace. Still, it’s mine, it’s beautiful, and it lets me care for things and lets things grow. All summer it has been a welcome distraction from my constant studying.

Meanwhile, I can’t help myself. I check my email ten more times.

I call my classmate, the one I lived with all through the second year of grad school. She and I have been partners in crime, living together, eating together, studying together, breathing together. Since COVID forced us both back to Montreal early, to separate residences, we haven’t seen each other as much. But we’ve still had endless Zoom study sessions, picking apart each other’s interpretations in an attempt to refine our skills to beat these dreaded exams. Once we finish studying, we usually chat and reminisce, nostalgic for a school year cut short.

We chat for a moment, but then hang up. We’re not really in the mood.

Our class WhatsApp group is going crazy now with pings. One classmate is baking, to distract herself. Another says it will be impossible for her to eat until exam results come in. Gifs are exchanged. I ask what the average is for email-checking. A classmate responds, “Twice a minute.” We joke, but the tension is palpable. I feel the worst for my classmate in France, who is five hours ahead of us, which means she has been waiting for an extra five hours.

This is the exact time of day that I received the results from last year’s transition exam. I realize that in no way it guarantees the same time for this year’s results, but still. One can only hope. I check my email for the fiftieth time that day. No dice.

Okay, I might really be losing my mind by now. Rumor has it that our professor is preparing the emails as we speak. That means any second now. I can’t hit “refresh” fast enough. Finally, I decide enough is enough. I silence notifications, and miraculously, I am able to meditate. Tremulously. For half an hour.

I realize that there aren’t too many opportunities to engage in emotional roller coasters like this one, so I may as well just go for the ride. As I breathe, I consider the options. I might pass. There still exists the possibility that I have passed my exams, and I’ll get my degree. There’s also the chance that I miss one of my exams, which is still okay because I have three languages. Then I’ll get my degree. Or, I’ll fail the wrong exams, and then have to retake later this summer. If I fail more than one, I’ll have to wait a year. No pressure or anything.

I breathe. I tell myself, whatever happens, I’ll be okay. I breathe. I order myself to be nice to myself, no matter what the results end up being. I breathe. I promise myself I’ll be nice.

This is crazy. I’m done meditating, and I feel a bit calmer, but I’m still checking my email every five seconds. Every time I walk over toward where my husband is working, he looks up expectantly. I begin prefacing my approaches with, “NOTHING YET!”

I don’t think I’ve ever had a wait like this before. I tell myself it’s better now because once the results come in, they’ll be final. Right now, at least there’s hope.

I think about the exams, the scariest set of tests I’ve ever had to take in my life. We went through them a month ago. One grueling week of preparation and interpretation, day after day after day. The exams themselves didn’t actually last long (ten minutes to sink or swim), and that’s almost a problem—that’s all the time you have to impress the jury enough to squeak by. Having a tough time in the beginning? If you get off to a shaky start, you may be doomed.

These exams should end up representing the culmination of two years of insanity: my Master’s Degree in Conference Interpreting program. The scariest part? They may not represent the culmination of anything—if I don’t pass, I don’t graduate! And it’s no pressure, no big deal really, but if you look at the odds, there’s a good chance most of us won’t be passing. Sure, I’ve just spent two years of my life and thousands of dollars on this degree, but at the moment, none of that matters. Not until I pass those exams. (Let’s not even get started on work permits and health insurance, all of which hinge on these results.)

I call my mom to distract me. We chat. I start to relax. I force myself to prepare some lunch. I don’t check my email. My lunch, decadently junky (nachos) begins to congeal on the counter. I don’t have an appetite.

And then, just like that, as we are chatting, I hear a ping.

Interpretation Exam Results.

“MOM, I have to go!” I yell abruptly, ending the conversation in the most awkward way possible.

I thought I would be alone when I did this, but my husband is suddenly there, at my side, and I’m okay with that.

I have been waiting all day, but I don’t actually want to open the email anymore.

He’s waiting, though, right there with me. I have no other choice. I click on the envelope icon.

The words swim in front of my eyes. I can’t focus. But I do see, “I am pleased,” and, “congratulations.” My husband is hugging me. I am in shock.

“Good job, sweetie! You’d better call your mom back,” he says to me, as he helps himself to some of my nachos, while I stand there, completely numb.

It’s a week later. The news hasn’t 100% sunk in, yet. Two years. Endless hours in the lab. Tears, stress, and frustration. Also, brain stimulation like nothing else. Technique. Language skills. So much information. It’s been a wild ride. “Now what?” my friends keep asking. Knowing me, they imagine I’ve already signed up for something even crazier. I’m almost surprised that I haven’t. But I’m using every ounce of energy I have to slow down. I’ve promised myself I’ll let the news sink in. I’ll celebrate.

I have my Master’s degree. I have my Master’s degree. I have it, I have it, I have it. I keep telling myself that so that eventually I’ll believe it.

I’ve officially finished my program. Now, let the rest of my life begin.

[Also published at on 7/3/20]

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