Joe Collins on Making the Big Shift: My First Year at University

by | Oct 10, 2018 | Bush Voices

Joe Collins
Home: Woomelang in the Mallee
University: La Trobe, Bundoora
Distance: Roughly 380km or four hours by car … in good traffic.

How can I possibly define my first year of university ‘as a country kid’?

It is so many things, so many experiences and so many ‘firsts’. I guess it all starts back at the end of year 12 – when that huge weight of pressure lifts off your shoulders, around mid-December, when your all-important ATAR becomes available. Sure, it might not have been the exact result you were looking for, but you do your best to make it work and begin considering your options for what comes next.

What comes next …

For many, it’s a sense of genuine relief that 13 years of ‘horror’ are finally over but, I reckon, with the benefit of hindsight the ‘many’ would soon realise – just like me – that going to school truly wasn’t that bad. For one thing, living at home is easier.  Much easier. I look back now and almost feel a sense of envy—my washing was done, tea was cooked and served on the table, and I didn’t really have any major life concerns beyond my VCE studies. I mean, uni has been great – there’s no doubt about that — and if you ever get the chance to live on residence at a college, I highly recommend you do because the people you meet will open your eyes in many different ways.

BUT life before uni was much EASIER and more COMFORTABLE. It was ‘usual’ and ‘familiar’, where now everything is new and challenging.

Of life on campus, I can honestly say it is great! And if parting isn’t your thing don’t be disheartened; they’ll still include you, you’re still one of the gang. I don’t drink alcohol but have found the best friends imaginable living on the same floor as me. I know we will be friends for a very long time.

Unfortunately, my joy for first year of uni probably ends there.

Going to class and the actual study is frustrating – I often struggle to relate the things we’re learning to the real world and I find myself thinking, “what’s the point?”. Perhaps I’ve found this particularly annoying because I can’t see an endpoint in the field I’m studying? What is it leading to? Did I make the right choice? I know I can switch courses and pick electives as I please but then does that mean I’ve wasted an entire year, still not knowing what I want to do? I ponder this a lot.

The biggest challenge I’ve found with the study itself is the ambiguity and complete lack of personal contact or personal information – it’s nothing like school where you know your teacher and can chat to them at will. At uni, you’re given a subject outline and then maybe a marking rubric and then some how, some way, you’re expected to have all related assignments handed-in by a strict due date, even though you’ve never even discussed the assignments in class!

I mean, what the?

I think the process of transitioning from school to university is undoubtedly harder for rural kids from small school settings. At school you’re in a class of 20 or less all of the time and then suddenly at uni you’re in a huge lecture hall like a sardine; just another Student Number for the lecturer to tick off. At school you’re a kid known for your personality but at uni you’re just another blank face. At school, teachers see you outside of class – especially in the country – and they know you, they know your hobbies and they probably know your entire family, too! But at uni,  there’s none of that … you’re doing well if your lecturer has made eye contact more than once.

I guess what I’m getting at is the independence that comes with university, the way your learning becomes completely independent and that it’s entirely up to you to navigate your way through. Independence is a good thing, absolutely, and it’s a great preparation for adulthood but in this sense, I’ve found it hard to adjust to.

Living away from home is HARD.

I’d say it is definitely the hardest ‘thing’ about my first year of uni, especially because my home is a long drive away. I have found that if I’m not socialising with my Res mates and I don’t have classes or work to focus on, I feel very isolated. From this, I completely ‘get’ why country kids feel lonely and home-sick. I’m yet to find a way to overcome this feeling but I just do my best to keep busy – the irony being that if I was at home on the farm, I would feel completely content all alone in a dusty paddock in the ‘middle of nowhere’. But at university, surrounded by thousands, I feel incredibly alone sometimes.

It must be said, I don’t want to talk down the experience of life at university. There are many, many great elements and I remain hopeful that, as time goes by, I will find comfort in my new ‘home’. There are clearly students who thrive at uni and never look back; they love what they’re studying, they’re self-motivated and they love the lifestyle of the city – I take my hat off to these students who make it all seem so easy!

But for those who are like me, who have taken longer to find their feet, that’s okay- hats off to you too! University is definitely a great place to ‘find yourself’, experience new things and, perhaps most importantly, step outside your comfort zone so you can grow as a person.

Maybe that is what it’s all about … I’m still finding out.