What you need to know:
- From learning to manage finances the hard way to making hard decisions, living independently and being thrust smack in the middle of sociocultural turbulence, university is the ultimate teacher.
- Four students narrate their experiences and how these have made them pivot, sometimes through unpleasant experiences.
- While their viewpoints differ, they all agree that they will carry lessons learnt in college for life.
For many professionals, no experience ushers them to adulthood better than life in college.
From learning to manage finances the hard way to making hard decisions, living independently and being thrust smack in the middle of sociocultural turbulence, university is the ultimate teacher.
Four students narrate their experiences and how these have made them pivot, sometimes through unpleasant experiences.
While their viewpoints differ, they all agree that they will carry lessons learnt in college for life.
Before joining university, Patricia Ntarangwi was told many things. For starters, she was told she would have a lot of time on her hands, allowing her to engage in extracurricular activities. Even more, she was told she could juggle two courses.
No sooner had she settled in school than the reality smacked her right in the face. ‘‘My course requires a lot of time and at times, sleepless nights,’’ says the Third Year student of architecture at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
Being on top of her academics wasn’t her only fancy. Patricia imagined she would have her social life all figured out. ‘‘I thought I’d easily make many friends and be able to go through my university years smoothly. Over time, I’ve had to learn to go easy on myself, and not put too much pressure on myself to create networks. I have to grow on my own without these contacts.’’
Like his peers, John Rupia thought life in university would be a pleasure cruise. But after losing his belongings to campus thieves, struggling to settle in and having to start a business to survive, his has been a rough ride.
In the beginning, his parents would provide for his every need. As time went by, however, this support waned.
There have also been changes to the academic calendar, which only means he will be in school longer than he thought when he joined Kenya Institute of Highways and Building Technology to study for a diploma in highway engineering in 2018.
“I was to graduate this month. But due to Covid-19, the earliest I can complete my studies is July next year,” laments Rupia.
Wambui Karuere visualised life in glowing terms before she was admitted at Riara University. Her idea of university life was what is portrayed in Grownish, a movie series starring Yarah Shahidi. “In this movie, life on campus is all fun and games with partying and love. There is little studying to do and lectures are short and interactive.”
“I thought I wouldn’t have to read as much as I did in high school, only to find out I had to read even more.”
She says life in university can be frustrating, especially for students with poor management skills, and that only experience teaches one to shape up.
Says Wambui: “Assignments can give you sleepless nights. Postponing them only lands you in bigger trouble.”
The 21-year-old says group assignments are not just about the work, but a learning opportunity too.
“Working in teams teaches you skills such as patience and tolerance.”
For Rebecca Moraa, a student at Moi University, it is the long school breaks that have been most daunting in her adult life. Everything, from spending hours on the admissions queue on her first day as a university student, has been about waiting.
“After first year, we proceeded to the longest holiday that lasted about 11 months. We had to protest to go back to school,” says Moraa.
Even after finishing her course work last year, Moraa, 23, has had to wait for her graduation, which she hopes will take place later this year.
The quartet concurs that, without money, life on campus is almost unbearable. Many have had to be street smart to start side hustles.
Says Rupia: “It is so stressful because you can’t keep asking your parents to give you everything,” he explains.
To make ends meet, he has had to venture into business, sometimes even skipping classes just to look for money.
“Online writing has been one of my side hustles. Thankfully, it is picking up.”
Before that, Rupia sold thrifted clothes to fellow students. “I’d wake up at 4am and head to the market and come back in time to prepare for my lectures at 8am.
“I am able to sustain myself throughout the semester without bothering my parents with requests for pocket money.”
Wambui says being low on cash “compels you to think on your feet” which, in some instances, is the birth of young entrepreneurs and innovators.
“It forces you to grow up and become independent. I had to turn my hobby and love for makeup into a hustle. Today I’m a certified makeup artist,” says Wambui, adding that she now views money differently “since I sweat for it on my own.”
Her side hustle earns her enough money to keep going. “I’m glad I invested in it. My desire is to expand it and make more from it.”
Dealing with finances and academics is where Patricia finds herself badly exposed. Says she: “There are just so many outlets for money. You need money for upkeep, for projects, for recreation and still put some aside for a rainy day.”
With so many competing needs, Patricia says many students end up not saving a penny during their whole university experience.
“Before, I was impulsive in my expenditure, but over time, I’ve had to learn to manage my finances more prudently.”
She does admit, though, that peer pressure plays a part in the scheme of things. “Some students splurge just to look cool and to belong. I’ve since learnt how much is necessary in every situation.”
Like Patricia, Rupia has struggled with antagonistic wants, often having to sacrifice to meet all his needs.
“You must buy yourself clothes, eat well and reserve some money for the weekend. It is a tight rope to walk for students with limited resources.”
Warns he: “If you fail to budget well, your pocket money for the semester can run out within two days.”
When Wambui joined university, she realised that it was possible to skip lectures. Soon after, it occurred to her that even with this freedom, missing class was “a dangerous game to play.”
“Some lecturers will share neither notes or record classes. I realised that once I missed lectures, I could easily end up retaking courses after failing.” This taught her to be responsible. And more.
“No one will spoon-feed you. You want something? You must find ways of getting it. From this, I learnt an important life lesson of independence and broad thinking.”
The amount of academic work he was expected to handle was one of the culture shocks that Rupia encountered after joining university. Recounts he: “I’d expected lecturers to be concerned about students’ ability to keep up, but unlike in high school, I soon realised that everyone is considered an adult with the latitude to do as they please.”
“Some of my classmates skip classes and disappear for up to a week. Lecturers don’t care if you have done assignments or not. It’s all up to you.”
Patricia says studies in architecture are tough, and that the course demands rigour due to the huge workload.
“At any given time, you’ll be dealing with projects, group work, individual assignments, CATs or sitting exams, all which are draining.
Staying up late to work on assignments is the exception rather than the norm for her. But even after losing sleep, there are disappointments.
“Sometimes you are given unexpected feedback after tests. Our lecturers argue that this is necessary in building the right character for us as future architects.”
In some instances, Patricia has had to repeat assignments and projects for up to three times ‘‘just to get it right’’ because ‘‘I appreciate it all as part of the process that will help me to get where I want to be in life.’’
In 2019, as a third year student, she got an opportunity to work at 3D Africa Youth Organisation as a freelance content writer, a role she describes as “a good distraction” to fill her surplus time.
“By working, I expanded my networks and gained valuable skills that I hope to utilise after school.”
On whether she is ready to dive into life after school, Wambui seems uncertain. “I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” she says, but adds quickly, “I believe God can’t give you what you are unable to handle. So, yes, I’d face and conquer it all.”
For Patricia, university life has been an important learning curve. ‘‘School has taught me not to beat myself up when something goes wrong. I’m now more positive about letting go of negative experiences and being ready to start afresh. After all, no one has it all figured out.’’
Enjoy where you are and what you’re doing at that point, she says. ‘‘Have a mix of both leisure and schoolwork. Hang out with friends in addition to attending classes. It helps to prevent getting lost in one thing. Finding the right balance is key.’’
She adds that university life has built her sense of independence, noting that this hasn’t been a straightforward journey, especially where difficult decisions have had to be made.
‘‘The need to make the right decisions puts pressure on you as a student because you desire positive outcomes, which isn’t always the case,’’ she says.
Adds she: ‘‘Adulting isn’t easy, but you just have to find your own way of doing things even though it might be different from everyone else’s way. Nothing works out for everyone anyway.’’
Moraa’s experience has sometimes bordered on “psychological torture”.
Declares she: “If I could sum it up, frustrating would be the accurate word for it, particularly with missing marks that can derail your hopes for timely graduation.”
On the flipside, this has also sparked in her an interest to study crisis management as a life skill.
“Becoming a crisis management consultant is something that resonates deeply with my future interests,” she reveals.
His experiences, Rupia says, have taken him closer to God. He is now a member of Young Catholic Students movement in his school “to nurture my Christian life.”
He says: “Attending mass, participating in charity events, going for vigils and choir practice are now my routine activities while in school.”