I grew up in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, a place not many ANU students are from. Looking back on high school there, even though it wasn’t the best period in my life, it made me feel like I somewhat belonged. There was always a new club for me to join and I had a great group of friends, who never made me feel isolated for the things I found interesting. Maybe it was because of all those American college movies I had watched growing up, and all those YouTube videos I had watched in anticipation, but I believed that university would be the place where I became more confident and grew into myself. I assumed university would make me feel like I completely belonged.
I had two weeks of the ‘University experience’ before COVID-19 hit, but it was nothing like I expected. That first week of uni, I remember printing out my resume and immediately applying for every job in sight. I assumed every student was doing the same. I was sorely mistaken.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 40% of people in tertiary education are working part-time. I was surprised when I found out that some students at ANU have never had to work, and will not have to work throughout their entire degree, to take care of themselves. This made me feel like an imposter at ANU, acutely out of place at such a prestigious university.
My first tutorial at ANU also made me feel like I was out of place. The way tutors speak is something that still perplexes me to this day. I felt like I was sitting in a Master’s program for International Relations, not my first ever uni class. I believe lots of ANU students have felt this, as I often see it plastered all over ANU Confessions. Some lecturers do not know how to teach and they can often make the course feel inaccessible. It became even more difficult over COVID-19 when everything was online; it was even harder to learn. For example, I took a French Introduction course, thinking it would be a pretty simple class. I had taken a little French in high school and thought I would have an advantage, – I was wrong. The lecturer attempted to teach a whole year of high school French in a few weeks!
There seems to be a pervasive expectation at ANU that University is our only priority, and ANU continually fails to take into account the complex and busy lives of its students. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2017 – 2018, 15% of people ages 18-24 had experienced high levels of psychological distress. With the impact of COVID-19, I know that this would have increased. As a student who works part-time and suffers from psychological distress, I can attest that the help provided by ANU is minuscule. Because of this, it is so easy to feel like you do not belong, or feel out of place. That first year of university impacted how I saw myself. The thing about imposter syndrome is, everything you feel about yourself is tipped on its head. The way you perceive yourself and the people around you is completely different. You internalise it and feel like you are the only one feeling this way – as if you are the only person who is in the wrong place.
Imposter syndrome also makes you feel like you are in a constant race to keep up, and ANU reinforces that toxic narrative.
Have you ever noticed that most tutorials seem to be during the middle of the day, making it difficult to work and study at the same time? Some lecturers, even after COVID-19, still expect students to go to their lectures in-person and you may even lose participation points if you do not attend. I do not have time to go to a three-hour lecture on a Monday morning, especially when it’s a day I work. ANU perpetuates the pressure to keep up with your peers, you need to graduate when everyone else graduates, you need to get HDs, and you need to be prefect, mentally and physically
When you break them down, though, none of these goals make sense. When it comes to graduating ‘on time’, people change their degrees, I know, shocking! When you do that, you often end up extending the time you need to study before graduating. Many people also do fewer courses to work or take care of their mental health, which also extends their degrees. It feels like to finish your degree perfectly in three or four years would mean that you didn’t work, and never had a mental breakdown, ever!
Moving on to pressure to get all D’s or HDs, not all courses are the same, also shocking! Unless you have done the course already, you do not know what to expect. Your tutor might be a harsh marker and maybe the last exam is really hard for no reason. When you take a look again at these societal expectations that make everyone feel like they are doing something wrong, you realise that they do not make any sense. Many students take time off here and there, many students are working multiple jobs to afford to stay in Canberra and many students are simply trying to pass their courses and survive.
The one thing imposter syndrome has taught me was that it is easy to idealise everyone around you and look down on yourself, what is more difficult is to treat yourself with kindness and remember that this path in life is your own and no one else’s. Tertiary systems also need to look at every student as an individual and provide more financial and mental resources. While I do not believe that uni will ever get easier, especially if ANU continues to forget about the welfare of their students, I do believe that the communities students have created, such as ANU Confessions and ANU Schmidtposting will continue to bring us comfort, so we never fully feel alone.
Perpetual Nkatiaa Boadu