Comments Off on Do International Students Need Integration?
Having a constructive discourse on minority representation is hard. That’s why I find Kai Clark’s article “There is No Such Thing as an ‘International’ Student” particularly refreshing. The article offers a number of valuable insights and sincere suggestions. It calls for the increased representation of international students. It speaks against pigeonholing different groups and calls out xenophobia. As will become clear, I disagree with many things in this piece; but there are also many, many more that I wholeheartedly embrace.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I should preface my discussion with one more point. Proposals for change are often subject to remarkably harsh scrutiny. Legitimate concern aside, what underlines such (at times enthusiastic) scrutiny is often a desire to preserve the status quo. Think, for example, about the fact that those who oppose affirmative action on the grounds that it’s not the most effective way to address injustice are unlikely to be proponents of other progressive policies either. Think, also, about the fact that those who lament unionisation on the grounds that it hurts workers are probably not going to vote for mass redistribution in any event. Point being, for all that I will say later, Clark’s article makes an invaluable contribution to the ongoing discussion on minority representation.
So much for the set-up. Clark’s main argument in the piece is that “international students” are not a homogenous group, and hence “there is no such thing as an international student”. My worry, though, is that Clark runs the risk of replacing one form of over-generalisation with another. Clark presents, unwittingly I believe, a picture of international students as many groups with diverse interests that are nevertheless internally homogenous.
We are told that, “they see themselves as who they are: a citizen of their home country.” We are told that, “they are more likely to relate more with others from their country than with other overseas students.” We are told that, “[this] is why cultural and country-specific clubs are so popular… as they create a place for ambitious overseas students to cut one’s teeth in student leadership.” These descriptive claims are worrying not only because they either are widely inaccurate or rely excessively on stereotypes. They also carry off-putting normative connotations. We are told, later in the piece, that the “institutional change” we need is simply that “student leaders” and residential staff understand the “legal, cultural, and socioeconomic barriers” international students face. Informed by the above-mentioned conception of international students, one can’t help but wonder what kind of understanding such institutional change will produce.
To be fair, Clark does mention that “even… simple descriptions [like Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Singapore] hide the complexities and contradictions of these places”. I don’t know, however, whether “ethnically homogenous China with its ‘new rich’ and rising middle class” — referenced by Clark in the same paragraph — obscures more than just the “complexities and contradictions” of a place.
Of course, at the level of university and residential policies, some degree of generalisation is unavoidable. The question rather is whether generalisation is unfairly and disproportionately directed at some particular groups.
In fact, as an international student myself, I find it slightly puzzling that, for an article published in the university newspaper, people like me are referred to almost exclusively as “they”. Perhaps it’s just a matter of the proper use of grammar; I am not sure. I do, however, struggle to find any shred of agency for people like me in this picture. We seem merely to be passive recipients of “inclusion” and “support”— if only we could be integrated; if only “student leaders” and staff could help us.
Now, how to understand the agency of disadvantaged groups is a very general problem for historians, sociologists and philosophers. For example, we do not want to theorise indigenous peoples solely through the lens of victimhood, nor should we only sing a feel-good anthem about their triumphant resistance. The point is not that Clark doesn’t resolve this intricate issue. Rather, it is simply very curious why international students are singled out. There are presumably a great many students who have difficulties adjusting themselves to the new environment. A great many, perhaps, “want to be included into the community but are struggling”.
Even some of the seemly specific problems identified by Clark are hardly unique to international students. We are told that, “a Chinese dumpling making event, for example, does not necessarily appeal to South Asian students as it would to East Asian students.” Clark then says, “this is exacerbated when you continue to see events that continue to borrow upon one cultural region over another”. I am again quite puzzled by this. Isn’t this just a general problem of how to accommodate the interests of minorities in democratic institutions? How is it different from, say, political factions dominating certain student societies on campus?
Perhaps I am being unfair here. It’s certainly true that just because something is a general problem doesn’t mean that it is not serious. It’s also true that many of the issues identified by Clark, such as the under-representation of certain groups of international students, are very real. The question, though, is how we should approach these issues. I see no reason why we ought to prioritise, say, “providing services and support to struggling international students” over “providing services and support to all those who are struggling”. I cannot agree more when Clark says, “we must be careful of how we use language to refer to overseas students”. That’s why, given the prevailing social message, we should caution against framing international students predominantly as powerless victims to be provided for. Clark also calls for international students be “respected for their cultural diversity and humanity”. I agree; better yet, why not drop the “cultural diversity”?
Of course, it might be said that some issues are in fact primarily faced by international students. Perhaps, as Clark mentions, these are issues associated with English language skills and cultural differences. As I have written elsewhere, though, I personally find over-generalisations and (well-intentioned) assumptions about my identity a bigger irritation than the lack of meaningful support or services. There are simply way more instances where I am told, “oh, so you study philosophy… not… finance?”
Now, it should be pointed out that different students do in fact have different needs and interests. It’s also the case that the ANU should provide better support and services to its students. (I once had to wait three weeks for a counselling session, which is a common experience of many.) But this makes it all the more important not to generalise — particularly when it comes to groups about whom so many generalisations have already been made.
Perhaps, Clark and I do not really disagree after all. There is indeed no such thing as an international student. What should be remembered, though, is that there is also no such thing as a non-struggling student.
Kida Lin worries that in discussions about international students, we run the risk of replacing one form of over-generalisation with others.
Comments Off on Thinking About Honours? Look No Further
If you’re nearing the end of your undergraduate degree, you might be asking yourself: should I do an honours year? As it got towards the sticky end of my third year, I was asking myself the same question.
There are a tonne of upsides to doing honours: you get free reign with a topic of your choice all year, it puts off having to enter the dreaded real world, and it’s an added bonus to your resume. But there are other things to consider as well. Honours is hard. It seems like it’s going fine, and then all of a sudden you have to have a chapter of your thesis to your supervisor. There are difficulties.
For me, I was heading towards the second semester of my third year. I was set to graduate at the end of December and… well, the plans were a little sketchy from then on, but I was looking at moving home and Figuring It Out. But, as I considered moving home for an indefinite period of time, and entering the Real World as a fully-fledged Adult with a Degree,
I wasn’t looking forward to it. My friends were all pursuing four-year degrees, and I was polishing
off the final third year of mine. There were jokes to have and mistakes to be made in the next year that I would miss out on. I won’t lie to you and say that that didn’t play a huge part in my decision making.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do in any clear sense, all I had was a vague idea of what I didn’t want. Which basically was missing out on a tonne of stuff, and to set off at a mere 20 years of age into the professional world. I wanted to put it all off just that little bit longer, and honours let me do that.
Now, I was lucky, which meant I had the GPA to be accepted into honours even though it wasn’t something I’d really thought about. I talked it over with my parents, spoke with one of my favourite professors about whether it’d be smarter to pursue a masters instead, and ended up with a freshly minted application to my honours year, all within the space of a month or two. I had a sparkling, vague idea of a thesis topic, a supervisor who’d signed off on me, and I waited with bated breath for my acceptance.
And honestly, this may end up just being an ad for honours, because so far I’m loving it. I get on with my supervisor, I’m writing a 20,000-word thesis on a topic I’m excited about, an experience which is so new and refreshing that I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve written essays I’ve enjoyed before: I chose my entire degree based on my interests rather than more practical choices, and I enjoyed my undergrad so much that I did more courses than were necessary to complete my majors. But for my thesis, I got to choose entirely what I’m interested in: I chose the era, the focus, the texts, everything. It means I’ve dived in headfirst, and have written the first chapter already.
Not to mention that I’ve made friends in my honours classes that I get on with and understand. There’s
a bonding moment when you realise that you’re all facing the same trials and tribulations: all of my classes are spent with the same group of people, and we all share the same interests, since we’re all doing honours in the same thing.
Of course, honours isn’t for everyone: if you’re ready to leave and you’re done with your degree, if you know what you’re doing and you’re excited about it, then there’s no need. If you’re ready, then fly the nest, and best luck with it all.
If you’re thinking about it though, then it can be hard to tell if honours is the right decision for you. That said, it opens more doors into whatever you want to go into, and honestly, what can it hurt? At worst, you spend an extra year doing something you maybe shouldn’t have, end up with an “(Hons)” attached to the end of your name/degree, and put off real decision-making a while longer if that’s what you’re looking for. It also lets you think about post-graduate programs and qualifies you for any overseas programs you like.
And if it goes well? You make and cement friends, spend a year chasing your passions, get an added bonus on your resume, and may end up having one of the best years of your degree.
I’m only a quarter of the way through, so check back in with me when the stress of September thesis polishing hits, but so far, things aren’t looking too bad at all.
As it got towards the sticky end of my third year, I was asking myself: should I do an honours year?
What is perfection? The Oxford Dictionary says that being perfect is to be free from any flaw or defect in condition or quality; that it’s a state of being faultless. For me, the idea of perfection has aspirational value but is a little counter-productive.
Perfection is something which we struggle to put our finger on, but which is strangely familiar to us. It permeates through teachings of faith, themes of literature and the brushstrokes of art. Pop-culture though has really brought perfection to the forefront of our minds. Advertising selling us the ‘perfect’ lifestyle and simultaneously reinforcing our own sense of imperfection. But perfection is so often defined in the negative by expressing simply what it is not. Faith and religion, for example, articulate what is the divine by acknowledging and condemning our own imperfection.
When we were young and starting to learn a new musical instrument, because our parents thought that it would make us smarter, or we had just started a new team sport, we were constantly subjected to the phrase ‘practice makes perfect.’ But, since perfection is an innately unattainable standard, what are we actually being taught to aim for?
Towards the end of last year, I too was told to practice. A very seasoned editor said to me: ‘you need to just become comfortable with putting out articles that you’ve done your best on and are 80 percent happy with… and get over your perfectionism.’
My desire for my writing to always be perfect, to project my ideal self constantly, had been preventing me from actually writing. I’d have an idea but then would abandon it because of my uncertainty over whether I could make it mind-blowingly awesome. Uncertainty about whether I could make it perfect.
I was introduced to the idea that you should, as a general rule, become 80 percent happy with your work. The remaining 20 percent is significantly more challenging and is largely affected by factors outside of your control. These could be your physical health or your state of mind, or you might not ever get to 100 simply because of subjective standards.
When I wrote my last column piece, some people gave me constructive feedback, some agreed with the sentiment and others dismissed my thoughts as part of my personality style. None of this was unexpected, nor was it unwelcome. But I achieved my goal to push through my perfectionism, and as a bonus, I was able to inspire a couple of readers’ existential crises.
The thing is though, practice does actually make you better. Practice makes you engage in a process of trying things out and succeeding a little bit and also failing a little bit. In so doing you are actively learning what doesn’t work, what is useful and what is unnecessary, enabling you to allocate your time and energy appropriately.
If you are going to perform a music recital you have to work on the parts of the music you find most challenging because otherwise, the overall piece will sound terrible. You won’t know which parts of the music they are until you’ve completed at least one trial run or practice.
It is also important to bear in mind the need to be constantly pushing yourself to do better. It is not enough to reach the point in a task where you think you have reached your 80 percent and then automatically finish it with a thought of “it’s good enough”. It is not good enough – it is a cop-out. It is a cop-out because you are not actually improving, or even really completing the task, you are simply compromising within your comfort zone.
Perfection may be unattainable, but your best is a moving goal post. By not pushing the boundaries or the goals, you are settling for second-best. You can move it forward by one centimetre, one metre or one kilometre – it does not matter; what matters is that you have improved and that you have achieved your best. That is a truly admirable accomplishment.
So, there you have it! Me writing a column this year is really just a slightly polished form of practice and all of you readers are here for the ride.
Ben Lawrence discusses his unhealthy perfectionism. Especially unhealthy when you consider that perfection is innately unattainable.
When one thinks of issues of access and inclusion, student carers are unlikely to be the first group that comes to mind. The very role of a carer is relatively unknown to the public as their achievements are largely experienced by those receiving care. To clarify, carers are individuals who undertake caring responsibilities for a family member or significant other. Those being cared for generally suffer from physical or mental disabilities that limit their capacity to care for themselves. Caring roles can be undertaken part time (sometimes shared between multiple carers) or full time where day to day care is provided by the individual. Those who undertake caring responsibilities do so out of family or friendship responsibility to the person being cared for. Caring is a selfless act as it has no immediate financial benefits and can be a substantial burden upon the carer. This burden is most impactful upon youth carers and student carers, who generally lack the resources to balance caring responsibilities and other commitments such as work and study.
Research into youth and student carers shows that the role can create significant economic and social disadvantages. Maintaining employment can be challenging as a carer’s role can require them to be unexpectedly absent due to unforeseen caring responsibilities. The same is true of education, where absence can be unforeseen and difficult to discuss. Despite the disadvantages faced by carers, their unpaid work is estimated to contribute $13 billion of economic output. This is measured based on the cost of care if it was provided outside of family and friendship networks. Caring positively contributes to economic and social welfare despite the limitations that the role places on carers.
Personal accounts of carers indicate the strain that caring places on the individual. Extra responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, administering medications and practical tasks take up so much time in the average day that it is completely unrealistic to expect carers to be able to meet all work and schooling deadlines. Carers express feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation as the burden of care takes a toll on overall wellbeing. The lack of structural accommodation of carers contributes to feelings of dissatisfaction and disadvantage. The current social understanding of carers is also detrimental to access and inclusion: carers can feel stigmatised or unable to ask for help as the role is frequently misunderstood. In many cases carers fear that their caring role will be perceived as a personal weakness. This is due to a severe lack of carer assistance and public unawareness. Caring should be reframed as a personal strength, as the role provides significant skills in organisation and management.
Youth carers aged 14 – 25 and student carers represent a particularly vulnerable section of caring roles. The responsibility that caring requires can impact on education and employment, limiting the success a carer can have. This pressure placed on youth and student carers can have long term effects on qualifications and mental wellbeing. Despite the substantial burden that youth and student carers face, there is a lack of institutional support for carers that could help alleviate some of the hardship faced.
The Australian tertiary education system currently offers very little in the way of support for carers through access and inclusion. Some crucial steps forward include modifications to current access and inclusion policies in general and greater awareness of the carer role. Clear policy guidelines are needed to specify the process of acquiring extensions and special considerations for assessment, and greater flexibility is necessary to allow for the extra difficulties carers face. This would work comparably to current extension and special consideration policies to maintain consistency in institutional application. At the moment this poses a challenge as extensions are generally granted on the basis of a medical certificate, and the caring role does not directly affect the condition of the carer. Because of this, a method of carer appraisal is needed either internally through institutions or externally through certification of caring roles.
Increased financial support would also benefit carers in fulfilling caring roles and tertiary/employment commitments. The economic output generated by carers justifies increased funding to scholarships and assistance programs for student carers. Considering the importance of caring roles, supporting these individuals financially would subsidise their invaluable contribution to the economy and facilitate lower levels of drop outs within the carer population.
Awareness is another important element of improving study conditions for carers. One of the biggest contributors to anxiety/depression and feelings of isolation amongst carers is the limited understanding of the importance of caring roles among the broader population. Feelings of stigmatisation have been linked to carers reducing engagement with tertiary programs. In order to increase public knowledge of caring responsibilities, campaigns aimed at spreading awareness and generating discussion are needed. Melbourne University has had success in campaign-based support through their website which contains important information and personal stories of caring responsibilities.
The ANU Carers Collective and Carers within ANU are seeking to engage the public through awareness programs similar to that of Melbourne University. By producing carer-based content and recognition, further advocacy of carer issues can be shared.
ANU should strive to be at the forefront of carer support and inclusion. As a leading Australian university, it has the capacity to radically reform current standards of carer support nationwide. The introduction of effective carer policies here would mean the potential to implement successes more broadly. Extensions and special considerations are an immediate step forward along with initial planning of scholarships and support programs. Following in the footsteps of Melbourne University’s advocacy of carer issues would also increase awareness and public support. This could be achieved by providing an institutional platform to groups like the ANU Carers Collective for advocacy. With University backing, the issues would be more widely accessible and provide foundations for policy adjustments going forward. Student and youth carers are disadvantaged by a lack of structural accommodation through access and inclusion. The strength that carers provide through a supportive role should be recognised and supported by tertiary institutions. Doing so will reduce carer disadvantage and dissatisfaction promoting inclusivity and support. ANU and universities in general should strive to support carers and their ongoing economic and social contributions to society.
“I learnt about the wonders of caffeine from my dad. With his highly stressful job, early mornings and late nights, a cup of coffee or two a day was his saving grace. But it was not just that: he enjoyed the process of making coffee. When I was 17 and in the midst of all the terrors that year 12 thrusts upon you, my dad’s love of coffee was passed on to me. He bought a new, fancy coffee machine and from that day on, he would use it every morning and act as the family barista. After a while, he decided that his time as the sole coffee-maker in the household was up. He taught me how to make my own coffee and I have never looked back. Now, my morning routine starts with making a cup of coffee for myself and my mum and I’m doing it pretty damn well!”
“The other week I was at Coffee Lab with a friend, and I told her about the sexual abuse I’d suffered at the hands of my father. It hadn’t been an easy thing to talk about, but at uni that day, sitting in the café with my hands wrapped around a mug, I felt capable of sharing the whole truth with someone without succumbing to shame or fear. It amazed me that I could talk about something so horrendously traumatic in a public place – and yet the whole café felt so warm and relaxed that it seemed totally safe. One of the turning points of my recovery happened over a flat white, and I love that.”
“There’s something about looking across a coffee table to see somebody you love staring back at you, bout sitting for hours talking about the universe, or sitting for hours in each other’s silence.
There’s something about staying up late with you, fuelled only by instant sachets in Styrofoam cups, about working on a project that doesn’t feel like work at all. Not when I’m with you.
There’s something about dragging you to small cafes and obscure restaurants, about finding every excuse I can to share a coffee – a meal – a touch. A kiss.
There’s something about coffee you.”
“I go on coffee dates with people I meet on Tinder. The mistake I made on my first coffee date was to actually drink coffee. I was already so nervous meeting her for the first time and caffeine only amped up my nervousness. I was reduced to a sweaty, jittery mess, just hopefully in a cute way. First dates, first meet ups can be really scary. Sure, you’ve talked to them online, you’ve gotten to know their text vernacular, but what do they really mean when they send a crying-with-laughter emoji? What would that look like on their face? Getting coffee is a casual way to scope out the scene and potentially meet the love of your life. (But like, on the down low.) My advice for a coffee date: order chai instead.”
“Shuffling one’s feet through polished halls of the Crawford School on a Monday morning is one of the hardest feats that any Public Policy/National Security Policy postgraduate can do. Despite our complaining about workloads and lectures, it is safe to say we are extremely spoilt when it comes to the elixir of life: coffee. Sitting in the old governor’s house with the perfect cappuccino in arguably the prettiest place on campus, looking over the lake and mountains, is a pseudo religious practice that I do almost every day. It is safe to say that I can only do this degree with the help of decent coffee and the contemplation that comes with good friends, good conversation and a damn good view.”
“It starts with a need to stay awake in 8am lectures. Then it’s needing to buy something so you can sit for hours in a café with a nice atmosphere for studying. A motivating factor to run errands, I’ll swing by a coffee shop on the way. A convenient default meetup with friends you haven’t seen in a while, or a good starting place with those you don’t yet know that well. Soon it’s become a reason to swing your legs out of bed in the morning and get to class, just to get a coffee afterwards. It tastes like productivity, even though it more likely just facilitates your procrastination. Even if you know that, it’s too late now, the deception is sweet enough and you’ll just keep going back for more.”
“I stayed up the night before a physics exam, cramming six weeks of content into one night. I remember I went to a cafe in the morning and asked for a coffee. The barista When I asked the barista for a coffee, he took one look at me, and said, “extra shots are free. Triple shot?” That was the day I learnt that coffee induces bowel movements.”
Bush Week is always a big week. Compared to O-Week, there is less people and less hype, but more partying. People feel more at home, have settled into university life and they often haven’t seen their friends for the whole break. As this was my second Bush Week (and first time being in a leadership position) I was preparing myself for many things this Bush Week – exhaustion being the main one. However, the biggest struggle was easily balancing my extra-curricular activities, organising and going to events and studying.
Unlike O-Week, many students will find that they have lectures and tutorials in Bush Week (and in case you haven’t checked your course outline, tutorials tend to be compulsory). I naively went into this week expecting I would be able to attend most of my lectures and tutorials – I went to six. Six out of a possible twelve. The shocking part is that this number well exceeded the majority of my friends – many of whom did not attend one lecture or tutorial in week 1. We were all too busy organising events, attending things such as Market Day and helping out on stalls, as well as attending the occasional party. This lead me to reflect on my extra-curricular activities and question whether they are worth the sacrifice my grades are facing.
So many students face this difficult situation – we’re told that extra-curricular activities are crucial and give yourself opportunities, but you also need the grades to secure your place once your foot is in the door. Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly thankful and humble for all of the opportunities I have been given from being involved with leadership positions, Clubs and Societies and other groups.
However, after Bush Week, I can’t help but wonder whether taking on these extra-curricular activities was the best idea. There is a fine line for university students. We are encouraged to have fun and get involved, whilst simultaneously told to place a huge emphasis on studying. Nothing specifically states when we should start prioritising studies over extra-curricular activities, and when it’s okay to enjoy yourself. I’ve seen so many students struggle to find a balance between the two and this leads to a magnitude of problems – overcommitting, burning out, grade dropping and having no time to rest.
However, what is possibly most concerning is that these students often have little time to take care of themselves and their wellbeing. I have personally found it incredibly difficult to find the time needed to address my mental health problems whilst balancing extra-curricular activities, studies and a job. There are mechanisms in place, such as Access and Inclusion, bursaries and people to speak to that can help you establish a balance give you support (and I would highly recommend looking into these). However, even finding the time to organise these things can be incredibly difficult when you have assignments due, events to organise, meetings to attend and a job to go to.
Right now, I know I am personally feeling overwhelmed at the semester ahead. Trying to balance responsibilities, extra-curricular activities and a job whilst maintaining a decent grade is incredibly daunting. However, something I stand by is that prioritising your wellbeing (which for some people, does includes socialising and going out with friends) is more important than any extra-curricular activity or assignment.
Just try to go to SOME of your tutorials.
Comments Off on In Limbo: Being New in Semester Two
With semester two starting this week, you may be finding it difficult to get back into the swing of things. However, what about those who are starting University for the first time? Although Bush Week attempts to help new students integrate into University life, the semester two intake can feel as though they are in an awkward limbo – as if their University experience is out of sync with the norm. I sat down with three students who started university in semester two, 2017, to hear about their experiences and any advice they have to fellow students who are new to ANU.
What were the challenges of starting University/moving to a new residency in semester two?
Shannon: Starting university in semester two was exciting, as it would be for most students starting university. I can’t say I had a very difficult time but I did face a few challenges that I don’t think would have been present if I started in semester one. Integrating into residential life was challenging. Although people were friendly, they weren’t always willing to invite you to coffee the next day. Friendship groups had already been established and the excitement I was experiencing had slightly faded for those who had already been at university for at least a semester. It was really until the next intake of first years that I felt fully settled.
Vegnesh: I wasn’t introduced to the concept of the Resident’s Committee, nor did I have an understanding of their roles until later on. It was harder to make friends as the new students all arrived at different times, and residents who had been here since semester one had already formed friendship groups. Trying to fit into a group that were already close friends was sometimes uncomfortable and nerve wracking. I found that Bush Week was not as helpful as O-Week, as it didn’t have all of the essential information that new residents need to know. Instead, I had to figure these things out over time. There were also less events, and understanding the whole college system and university took longer. Overall, it was pretty intimidating jumping into a cohort that already was familiar with one another and knew how university worked.
Marina: There were less activities in Bush Week to help meet new people, and everyone already found their good friends. There was also the trouble of trying to plan out your courses. For example, an introductory course usually starts in semester one, so when you start in semester two, professors assume you have knowledge you don’t actually have.
What were the benefits of starting university/moving residencies in semester two?
Shannon: I feel that starting in semester two meant there was a lot more individual attention on your university experience, unlike semester one intake with a very large cohort. Coming in semester two allows you to get an inside perspective of uni life, and then you can come into the following year, still as a first year, ready to hop on board every opportunity.
Vegnesh:The older residents were so nice and welcoming. It was easy to ask people for help, as people already had knowledge about College life and University. It was also easy to put yourself out there and be noticed, instead of being lost in a sea of over 150 new residents.
Marina: Since there were less people around, it gave me a better opportunity to get to know everyone. Although there are also downsides to this (such as everyone already having their group of friends), the whole experience was a lot more intimate compared to starting in semester one.
What would your advice to those who are in a similar position and are starting university in Semester two?
Shannon: My advice would be simple – despite being half a year behind those born in the same year as you, come into your first year with enthusiasm and a confident attitude. Know that although there is a difference between the first and second semester intake, this should not alter your university experience. University is what you make of it and the outcome of your experience falls largely on you, so try be open minded and make your time here a good experience.
Vegnesh: It takes time to get used to being a student when you start in semester two. Patience is key. Eventually, you’ll find your groove and your group of friends. Joining in semester two already makes you unique because you have a story to tell about why you joined in the second semester. You’ll get the hang of everything! Remember that although you want to step out of your comfort zone, don’t do anything that makes you feel really uncomfortable. Finally, always remember to be yourself.
Marina: Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to a group of people, even if it’s intimidating! You’re new, so this is your excuse to interrupt and join in conversations. Try not to get too disheartened when it seems like everyone already has a friendship group. You’re not alone in that feeling, just try your best, take a deep breath and put yourself in the weird situation of reaching out to others!
Shannon Viall is a first year Commerce/Design Student who started university in semester two, 2017. She calls Namibia home and currently residents at Burton and Garran Hall.
Vegnesh Ganesan is a first year Medical Science student who started university in semester two, 2017. He hails from Malaysia and is currently an International Representative at Burton and Garran Hall.
Marina Mito is a first year International Relations and Sustainability student who started university in semester two, 2017. She calls Japan home, and she currently lives at Burton and Garran Hall.
Comments Off on The Double-Edged Sword of Living Off-Campus
I am what they call a ‘townie.’ I’m a Canberran through and through and I have never set foot in a Residential Hall. This particular way of life as a student at the ANU provides me with a good set of advantages. Simply making the transition from studying at a secondary level to studying at a tertiary level was sufficiently anxiety-inducing for me. I cannot imagine how stressful it must have been for the students who had to leave their home towns, their families and their comfort zones and essentially restart their lives in an entirely unfamiliar environment on top of starting a degree. I consider myself incredibly lucky that I had my parents to guide me through this huge change in my life. Students who had to move on-campus might not have been so lucky in this way.
Getting to stay at home during my time at university has also meant that I have learnt to be an adult slowly and incrementally. Aspects of adulthood were introduced to me one at a time and only when I was ready for them. First, I agreed to wash the odd dish every once in a while. Then my mum taught me a couple of easy dinner recipes that I could cook for the family. After that, I learnt how to vacuum and take care of my cat. All of that was part of a slow-burning process, as if I were participating in a year-long program about how to adult. From what I’ve heard from some of my on-campus peers, they don’t have a year to learn these skills. They have weeks or days. Their learning curve is significantly steeper than mine and takes place in a completely new living situation.
I do genuinely like living off-campus. The balance between being immersed in campus culture on a regular basis and still having somewhere to go back to at the end of the day means that I don’t have as much of a risk of getting stuck inside of the ‘uni bubble’ that everyone talks about. But despite this, I believe that living off-campus – or rather, never having lived on-campus – has been detrimental in some noticeable ways.
Trying to actually get to campus can be a nightmare for me. I live in the inner-south, which is on the other side of the city from ANU. For a number of reasons, I don’t have a driving license, meaning that I have to rely on Canberra’s slightly dodgy bus system. On a good day, it takes me half an hour to get to uni, whereas for an on-campus student, it might only take 5 minutes. But this isn’t really anything more than a mere inconvenience for me.
My main stumbling block as a result of living off-campus is that I have struggled for both of my two years here at ANU to make friends. When you’re living in a residential hall, college or lodge, you’re around people all the time. Whether you cook with them in the communal kitchen, hang out with them at Hall events or even live with them in a shared room, you are constantly interacting with people. But for me, being not just an off-campus student, but an introverted off-campus student, has really taken a toll on my social life. Luckily, however, there are ways in which I am able to overcome this. Being involved with Woroni for the past year as both a writer and a sub-editor has enabled me to connect with other students from all walks of life through my love of writing. While I am not a part of Griffin Hall, ANU’s non-residential hall for off-campus students, this is great option for those in a similar situation to mine who want a few more opportunities to be part a community. If all else fails, making friends in tutorials is definitely something that happens! But I still can’t help but feel as if living on-campus would have given me a more immediate source for making friends.
Living off-campus presents somewhat of a double-edged sword. You get the comforts of living at home but can sometimes feel disconnected from the rest of the student body. But right now, I am comfortable with how I’m spending my time at uni. That’s all that matters to me.
For many of us, coming to uni is our first time living out of home and/or making big decisions about our lives with minimal structure and guidance. Whether it’s filing out our first tax returns, finding time to complete assignments, or keeping in touch with our loved ones, staying across everything we have to do is a scary part of “adulting”. As we become independent and form our own futures, the new things we have to learn and confront can be immensely intimidating. But life is full of potential and opportunity, and a way to balance what we want out of each aspect of our lives really makes all the difference.
Schedule, schedule, schedule.
Getting stuff done give us this incredible sense of achievement – a testament to our potential as responsible humans. Whether you prefer handwritten notes in a diary, or phone apps are your go-to, make note of every plan the moment you make them. This can help avoid double-booking, which can often cause confusion, disappointment, and tension in relationships.
In my schedule I have down social plans, meetings, appointments, and deadlines. This gives me an idea of how stressed I may be at a given time, and I can work my other plans around that. If I know I’ve got three assignments due on one day and I’m going to be too stressed to make food for myself, I might reach out to a friend and ask if I could come over for dinner one of those days.
Prioritise and have a to-do list handy.
Whether it’s laundry, booking a holiday, catching up on lectures, or sending out a single (but very important) e-mail, maintaining an ongoing to-do list can help relieve stress. When we go from tutorials to work and then home, our mindsets change with every activity – what this means is: work will be fresh in your mind, so you’ll be more inclined to follow up with work things, and forget about the tutorial stuff earlier in the day.
Jotting down a short dot point (“degree plan”, “bank”, “groceries”, “Josh”) is usually enough to spark your memory about that particular item; what’s important is to put it down the moment it comes to mind so that you don’t forget it altogether. It’s also crucial to prioritise the items on your to-do list: some things can wait, while others are time-sensitive. So when you find a pocket of free time, take a look at your list and think about what you could get done with the time, energy and resources you have. This is where scheduling and to-do lists come hand-in-hand, as you’ll be able to gauge how you might be travelling after a particularly exhausting day.
Communication and relationships* are so, so important.
From friends, to family, to professional working relationships, the way we relate to people around us can really make or break our experiences in the world. Keeping our loved ones close is one of those things that comes back to us in all kinds of wonderful ways when we need them. However, our time doesn’t need to be spent worrying about where we’re at with people in our lives. Communicate openly and genuinely with others: tell them you love them and when what they’re doing doesn’t sit well with you. Create a culture of honesty that comes from a wish to make things work, and talk about things before they become problems.
If you’re not feeling up to a massive hike you may have planned with someone, tell them, “It’s been a crazy week, and I don’t think I will have the energy to conquer the hike. But I would still love to see you in some capacity. Perhaps we could do something else instead, like go to the markets or bake.” This makes it clear that it’s not themthat you are bailing on, but the specific activity – and it makes them comfortable to do the same in future if they need to!
Pro tip: Combine your to-do list and maintaining relationships. Some of the most memorable hangouts with dear friends have been grocery shopping and hunting down Canberra’s cheapest petrol. When people want to spend time with you, they’ll understand not being able to take a chunk of time out – and chances are they’re on the same boat too – so it’s perfectly okay to suggest that someone come along to return your library books, or ask if you could drive them to the train station.
Keep asking questions and learning.
Nobody has it all figured out. If there’s something in particular that you’re struggling with, reach out to those around you who may be able to point you in the right direction. Whether that’s going to the gym for the first time, or putting together a project proposal and budget, seeking out the guidance of people around us is an act of great humility. Similarly, if you’ve got something covered and someone else is just coming to it, be wary of being dismissive, as they may bring new perspective and insight.
It is also important to keep pushing our comfort zones outward, and to seek out new experiences. This is the way we grow and learn. Trying an activity seemingly unrelated to everything else in our lives may end up opening up opportunities we’d never considered before, or we may meet people who teach us things about ourselves and the world that fascinate us.
The one thing to remember is to stick to things. Self-care is, at times, about sucking it up and getting stuff done – even if it may be the last thing we want to do. It is easy to find distractions and excuses – and sometimes we may really need that break – but it’s when I’ve pushed myself through a particularly rough time that I’ve felt the proudest of my achievements. Good days and bad days are a reality of our lives, but adulting involves being responsible to ourselves and others, and being able to continue with what we’ve got to do even at our worst. It doesn’t mean ignoring our well-being, but it means giving ourselves a certain amount of tough love and credit for how resilient we really can be!
*I speak of relationships, in this case, as those platonic and otherwise. I believe it’s really important to think about our friendships with the same weight and through a similar lens as our romantic ones, and give them the importance they deserve.