All Woman

Alicia Narcisse - Empowering through academic success

BY CANDIECE KNIGHT

Monday, November 11, 2019

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ALICIA Narcisse started tutoring a few students just as a hustle to earn some money before starting medical school. Today, she is the founder of GetThere Tutorials and Success Coaching — a thriving tutoring and career counselling business in Liguanea, St Andrew.

Education was never on the agenda. The fresh Emory University graduate was asked by a friend who had started a SAT preparation programme to help a few students with chemistry until she landed a better job or started medical school at The University of the West Indies (UWI).

“I really was afraid of chemistry at the time. It was a subject I did because I had to, and in which I did well enough, but just never felt super confident going into any chemistry exam,” she admitted. “But in preparing for my very first tutoring session I felt much more at ease with the material and decided to go for it.”

Narcisse soon became an expert at tutoring science subjects — something she thought only came naturally because she was interested in medicine. She soon had a full roster of tutees each week, which earned her enough for sustenance as well as to offset some of her hefty medical school fees. After tutoring two students at their school, Narcisse landed a job at the American International School of Kingston (AISK) as a lab technician where she worked and tutored many other students including one Christian Seaga, who would later become her best friend and business partner.

But after four years into her five-year medical degree programme at The UWI, she realised that loving the sciences did not necessarily mean that she was destined to be a doctor. In fact, she did not want to be a doctor.

Though she was not failing any courses, she was depressed and felt too burnt out to press on in her final year.

“I remember being on community health in St Mary and just crying one night in my bed and searching the Internet for stories of people who had felt depressed in med school and who had left. How had life been for them after?” she recalled to All Woman.

That summer, taking her aunt's advice, Narcisse took a break from medical school — one that she would never return from.

She was depressed.

“I sat in my house for a month feeling absolutely insane, mostly because of the things that I was telling myself about this situation,” she remembered. “I felt like I had no sense of purpose. What on earth could I do besides science? What else do you do with science but try and go as far as possible — into medicine? In this time I went to counselling and I rested. I read a book that my therapist recommended called The Power of Purpose and studied up on cognitive behavioural therapy as requested by my aunt.”

A wake-up call

One month into her break, Narcisse got a call from a parent who wanted to know if she was available to tutor her son. She was taken aback at first, but quickly realised that because she had not formally announced that she had stopped tutoring in order to attend school, her name was still out there. She decided to go for it.

“I had nothing else doing except pondering and stressing about the purpose of life, so once again I dusted off my books and said why not. One student led to another, and a few weeks down the line to AISK asking me to return as part of the teaching staff, this time teaching seventh grade. I said yes!” she beamed.

Narcisse stayed on at AISK for three more years, teaching biology, biochemistry and health. During this time she also tutored in the afternoons once she finished teaching at the school. But she soon felt stifled.

“I like classroom teaching, but really felt passionate about a teaching situation wherein you can give a student a personalised, comfortable and best-fit learning experience. I also didn't feel like there was anywhere for me to grow at AISK. I was already teaching at the highest level in the school and in my position there saw no upcoming opportunities for my own personal advancement,” she explained.

Around this same time Seaga, a former tutee turned friend, was returning to Jamaica after completing a master's in engineering at University of Pennsylvania. Like Narcisse, he did not see a future for himself in his chosen area of speciality.

“He didn't really love engineering though he loved the science of physics and was extremely capable therein, just as I didn't really love medicine though I was doing reasonably well in it. He did, however, have some tutoring experience, and that he loved. He agreed to join me in forming GetThere,” she wrapped up.

That was 2017, and the rest, as they say, is history… and languages and sciences and all the other areas that students need assistance with for local and international examinations. What started as a small operation from her one bedroom apartment in Graham Heights has now expanded to a comfortable 'study house' set up at the Sovereign Centre in Liguanea.

“I realised that whilst I loved learning in medical school my calling was not for practising medicine but for providing holistic educational support and encouraging and empowering others through academic success. Today I can honestly say that my vocation is my avocation,” she said in hindsight.

Narcisse now directs a team of over 15 in-house tutors, and has expanded to provide career counselling as well — a service that could have saved her the four years she spent in medical school. They also offer homeschooling support.

“We have been very blessed with support and encouragement from the families and friends that we have come to know and love in our work, and I am extremely thankful knowing what a huge impact many of them have had on us,” she said gratefully.


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