The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland, is a fantasy musical in which a frightened little girl finds herself in an unfamiliar place and bands together with a few lovable freaks.
For first-years, your introduction to university life is in many ways going to parallel the iconic 1939 film; your first year will certainly feel, at times, like being hit in the face by a midwestern farmhouse. In other ways, it will be decidedly different. For example, the only way you’ll find a gold-paved road on campus is if our dear Chancellor can kick her pricey office-purchasing habit. While it might be optimistic to assume you’ll make three friends, I nonetheless advise you to link arms with whoever you can, whistle a jaunty tune, and begin skipping towards the Emerald City. If you can just get that testamur, adorned with its ruby-red seal, you’ll be on your way home.
Brains will undoubtedly be the first obstacle you encounter. Presumably, you have some brains. At the very least, I say with some certainty, you are literate. No doubt you’ve been fairly academically successful thus far. Hopefully, it is your intention to acquire more brains throughout your degree, or at the very least break even between rigorous study and rampant alcoholism. It is difficult to definitively say which students are the smartest among us; perhaps the cargo-short-clad science students, or the suited-and-booted humanities cohort. Just take heed to avoid the unequivocal academic nadir inhabited by whoever actually still cares about their ATAR score.
Heart, too, will inevitably hold sway over your university career. Matters of the heart tend to occupy your time with the realisation of unfettered freedom and a wide pool of bedfellows. Obviously, this may be less applicable to off-campus students, but you should have known that the savings in rent come at the cost of having no fun. To the full citizens of campus, it is my advice that you tailor your advances for the best results.
An interesting tote bag or tasteful piercing is always a good icebreaker for Arts students. You may then effortlessly segue to the topic of minimum-wage work and build a truly unbreakable bond. Law students are, without exception, egomaniacal and emotionally stunted; best ingratiate yourself by means of sickly, sycophantic devotion. Psychology students are often those most in need of mental help, so a sympathetic ear is priceless. Business and economics students love bright colours, flashing lights, and crayons can prevent a tantrum if they get ornery. Maths, engineering, natural sciences; often the mere act of you, a living, breathing, real person talking to them is more than enough to pique their interest.
Courage, though, is perhaps the most important trait of all. You know you’re not a genius, and you’ll quickly feel like an idiot the second you step into a lecture theatre. Classes will sooner or later be hard. You will bear witness to how your fellow students handle the myriad challenges of university life better than you. They’ll find courses easier. They’ll manage their time better. They’ll easily integrate work, study, and domestic tasks. They’ll remember to call their mothers more often. But there is a secret, and at the risk of being trite I’ll tell you; it’s all bullshit.
Everyone struggles; university can be a seismic change. For some, it’s nothing more than education in a different building, but for many it’s the radical upheaval of every norm once relied on to structure their life. Different people, a different city, a different home. A new, intimidating set of academic standards to rise to. Many times you will wonder whether you have enough brains, or enough heart, or even the courage to continue.
To feel some form of imposter syndrome is normal, even expected. Stress and anxiety, also to be expected. But you will become courageous, and that might be the most important thing you do here. Certainly more important than bar hopping, but maybe even more important than the technical skills you acquire. Because university is a holistic process. Every day you spend here you will undoubtedly evolve more and more into the person you long to become. Each word read will make you more analytical, each person you meet will make you more affable, and each adversity you overcome, however minor, will make you stronger. And while lingering self-doubt might never fully disappear, one day you will find yourself with enough skill and experience to sincerely say; “I am a competent individual, and I bring value to the world.” When it inevitably comes time to face a wicked witch or loud-mouthed charlatan, you’ll be ready.
So be sure to indulge in everything to offer, however trivial it may seem. Find that equilibrium between comfort and taking it seriously. Be punctual to lectures. Find a group of people to do dumb things with. Spend eight straight hours studying in the library. Go out drinking on a Thursday and show up trashed to a Friday tutorial. Maybe join a club or something.
Welcome to ANU. You’re not in Kansas anymore.