Three defining experiences of my university education

Yesterday marked the start of what will (hopefully) be my last semester as an undergraduate student. Four and a half years of university has led to many wonderful friendships, a better understanding of what makes me tick (and what definitely doesn’t), and many steep learning curves and experiences outside of the classroom.

It was actually seven years ago that I first walked onto campus as an overly eager 15-year-old. I was taking a psychology paper at the time (along with three other high school friends as part of a young scholars programme run by the university) and I remember distinctly thinking that this place – the university – would hold all the solutions to my unanswered questions. I would come out the other end with knowledge about myself, about the world, and be completely set for the rest of my life. University would be like an incubator (or perhaps a cocoon) where all the different fragments of who I was and what I wanted to be would magically click into place.

Although university has certainly filled my mind with a lot knowledge (some of it useful, others – not so much), some of my best learning experiences has actually come from outside the university system itself. Every person takes out of their university experience something unique and different; when I think back on the most formative experiences or defining moments of the last four and a half years, three things that come to mind:

The value of a mentor or a good teacher: Having a good mentor or a supportive teacher has been something that has significantly shaped my journey and made possible so many opportunities and experiences that I otherwise would have missed. I must admit that I was never a very engaged student in class – I was quite happy being left alone to do my own thing and to learn on my own terms – and so it was often by accident that I would come to know people that would later become invaluable mentors. I suspect that like most relationships, these best ones grow organically, and the privilege of having someone ‘root’ for you (often when you’re not even rooting for yourself) and who will spend those extra hours with you to help you plan out how to achieve your goals is really – truly – invaluable.

The ability to try new things (and to be really bad at things): One of the best things about being a student is the ability to say “I don’t know”. People understand that you are still getting to grips with who you are and what you’d like to do, and it’s acceptable for you to say that you really have absolutely no idea what you want to do with your life. The uncertainty (and the freedom that can come with that uncertainty) allows you to be a bit adventurous and to take on the more unconventional opportunities that come your way. It allows you to say “why not” instead of having to justify your decisions, and it means that you can try new, weird and wonderful things. And if you fail, that’s just part of the experience; no one will hold it against you.

The luxury of creating your own space: The flexibility of being able to control your time and what you do with your day is probably one of the best things about university life (and one of the reasons why I’m reluctant to leave!). It also means that when things are getting tough and you are being snowed under,  you can take a break. Full steam ahead is not the optimal mode for everyone (and it certainly wasn’t for me) and I have missed big chunks of my semester in order to do other things that were important to me. The diversity of people at university also means that you are guaranteed to find someone who shares a (bizarre) interest of yours or a certain ideology about the world. The ability to create your own spaces – of time, of friendships and of shared interests – is awesome.

4.5 years down, 0.5 to go.

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