About two months ago, I got accepted into my first-choice university
It was an amazing achievement that surprised me, my family, and everyone who ever told me that it was nearly impossible to get into a public university with a private university qualification. Well, I proved them wrong.
After getting my diploma last year, and a brief stint working in the industry, I felt it was time I went back to university to get a degree from an institution I would be proud of.
So, at 21, I started my journey into “public” university life. And boy, is it something else.
Public university called for a lot of things
Various documents needing to be filled, a medical check-up, several passport-sized pictures and many other variables that took up a big chunk of time.
My private university never asked for anything outside of filled applications and paid tuition. But, little did I know this was just the beginning of my problems.
Orientation as a rite of passage
Arriving at university, my first thought was, I am so much older than the rest of the kids here. Most of them were just shy of 19 or 20 and I felt ancient in comparison. But, I powered through because we were all here for the same reason - to get an education.
What I didn’t consider was orientation week.
You see in my previous university; orientation week was more of a suggestion than a rule. You could go if you like, if you didn’t that’s fine too. But not here, orientation is a rite of passage we all had to go through.
So, the dreaded week began to welcome us into university life.
After settling down in our dorms, our “seniors” came to greet and instruct us. "At 11pm sharp please come down wearing the shirt in your orientation kit." They kept popping in and out of our rooms reminding us when to come down and what to wear. At 11, we made our way downstairs into our hall and respective groups.
Orientation started with the typical introduction to facilitators (or 'facies'), and them teaching us how to cheer, how to sing the university song, dances and overall how to act throughout the week.
The day went on with games, 15-minute meal breaks and so many talks. At midnight most of us anticipated the day to end, but it went on.
Next thing we knew, we were going back to our half-unpacked rooms at 2am and told that we had to be back down at 5am the next morning.
"Not exactly the best way to start university life"
This was our week. Cheers, talks, heavy meals in a short amount of time, being referred to as “freshie” every 5 minutes and working on less than 3 hours of sleep.
Students were falling asleep at random times of the day, most started falling sick and others were just mentally and emotionally exhausted. Not exactly the best way to start university life. What was jarring was seeing how this was a normal phenomenon practised by many local universities. But what was the point of it all?
At the end of the week, most freshies still felt lost and unsure of what exactly it is they’re doing in university. And for days on end, we continuously felt small in comparison to our so-called seniors, like reckless children being highly supervised by adults. There were so many limitations such as not being able to go to our rooms throughout the whole day, being told not to waste food and even being told to wear the exact same bags we got as our orientation kits.
Going through social media that week I began to see many new students also complaining about orientation week. Theirs involved getting yelled at by seniors, being called names, and even being told to ruin their perfectly good shoes to fit a “dress-code” they failed to mention beforehand.
What was strange was at the end of it all, orientation week did not bear any fruit, most of the new students still felt uninformed about university policy, classes and even how to go around campus.
Instead, we were playing childish games, talked down to like children, and entertaining our facilitators like monkeys.
Why does such a rigorous week exist if it doesn’t even serve its main purpose?
Dealing with the "seniority" complex beyond our orientation
After almost a month here I realised that the “seniority” complex did not just exist during orientation week. It also bled into other activities.
College projects and faculty activities all began to draw lines between the old (or the older) and the new. Most of the time it didn’t feel like a friend advising you on things to look out for, but instead like an older colleague talking down to an intern. And at 21, this wasn’t a comforting feeling to come back to. Knowing these so-called seniors were my age or even younger wasn’t really easy for me to process.
The ego that came with being a “senior” in university was a kind of power play I had not seen, well, since I was in school.
I had to learn to swallow the fact that I was being treated like a Form 1 kid just entering secondary school, even though I was way past my school days.
And this is a reality most of us are facing in our local universities.
The boundaries between junior and senior have always been upheld. Drawing lines seem to be the common way they eliminate threat or competition they may face from their new peers.
The need for respect and admiration is something most feel is a given rather than earned. Where you stand on the academic ladder has given many students the feeling of superiority over their younger peers, giving them a whole new power they have always craved. A mentality that should have been left behind in our school days.
This kind of thought process has left a lot of local students struggling to make the proper transition from school to university
What starts out as a form of freedom to run things independently among students has now morphed into a kind of dictatorship between the almighty seniors and the fresh meat juniors. When they have finally been given the power to run their own course with minimum to no supervision, they grow crazy with power.
The “freshies” being the slaves who are forced to feed the monster created by the seniors. And in turn, as the new year rolls out, the younger ones take over their place and the abusive, power-hungry cycle continues. So where does the line end?
When do the “seniors” and the “juniors” just become peers, people sharing the same campus, all aiming for the same goal? Is this a behaviour that must live on in the future?
From my perspective, this is what keeps older (or “mature”) students away from universities. The power play between students makes most older students feel inadequate in comparison. This leaves most older students who have embarked in the working world to fear returning to university because they don’t want to feel like the old “junior” in the classroom.
The social climate in local universities has become toxic and reek with pride and ego, carried proudly by those who wear their superiority like a badge. This is not a healthy learning environment.
Yes, it is a normal occurrence that goes on even in the working world but it doesn’t have to be. This egotistical mindset has made university uncomfortable for most students.
Being treated like a child yet expecting them to think like adults is not a mentality that should be practised in our local universities. It’s time for us to grow up and grow out of the senior/junior mindset and start seeing everyone as peers.
This is just a stepping stone in our academic journey, so why should we keep drawing lines?
For those of you just entering university life, don't let the big bad seniors get in your way! Focus on your goals and don't let other people stop you from being the person you want to be.
The most important thing you learn in university is how to deal with all kinds of different people, so take the bad experiences as lessons and savour the good ones.
Join different activities, meet new people and gain new experiences. This is the start of an exciting moment in your life, so make life-long friends and learn as much as you can.
This story is the personal opinion of the writer. You too can submit a story as a SAYS reader by emailing us at [email protected]
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