University lifestyle is outwardly and undeniably demanding. There is a requirement for rigorous diligence, the ability to absorb a wealth of content and detail, opportunities for international study, life-long friendships and fantastic career prospects. But beyond this, students must come to terms with several harsh, brutal truths; some of which are far more prevalent and concerning for undergrads. I believe my familiarity with various personal challenges may elucidate some of these realities.
Perhaps the most prevalent psychological encounter for students is adjusting to the life of a university student. Even for those who appear to smoothly transition, several difficult obstacles must be addressed. Indeed, there is an essential need to balance – students can often be suddenly confronted with endless time, and little plan for what to do with such time. For me, this incited a hollowness to my daily routine.
Simultaneously, fitting in also becomes an immediate preoccupation. You can assume a new identity, entertain new experiences, excel, fail; there is potential for each of these possibilities at university. It’s something that people may or may not have mastered in high school, or even from early primary school.
But it’s so materially different at university.
I lived at Mannix College for my first academic year, in 2017. I – subject to my perception of my circumstances at the time – struggled, daily and significantly. At college, you are indeed, to quote William Henley, the master of your fate and you are awarded full autonomy in all your duties. I loved my time at Mannix College and I hold fond memories and friendships that were founded in those halls. But, for those who have never spent a night in a boarding house, the college routine can be very overwhelming. Sure, I maintained a 4.0 GPA; sure, I received awards for my grades; sure, I stood out in my classes. But did I focus on building relationships? Was I content with my social outreach? Were “heck yeah!” or “sure!” my usual responses to social invites? No. I lived in a textbook and I – therefore – became one.
Having reflected upon that, where do we go from here? My open and immediate advice is to talk to people. Many shy away from communication and transparency, due to fear of appearing weak, spineless or soft.
“For males particularly, there is a familiar historical convention to leave personal psychological matters unsaid, to, rather, bury these issues deep down away. I urge nobody to do this, unless you are prepared for a life of internal anxiety that can envelope your later life.”
Talk to someone. Call your parents. Meet with a friend. Write it down. Tangibly project your emotions out into the world with no fear of inviting social labels and intention to be heard. Because more than we realise and often contrary to our perception, somebody is usually listening and willing help.
Every student faces different circumstances; everyone is perceptually separate, even only slightly. And if there was a universal remedy to these issues, it would be identified by now. Take time to understand yourself and don’t be afraid to go slowly. Perhaps, even only for a few, it’s a matter of private perspective.
Look within – be patient – remember that there are greater forces behind you in this life.
Patrick Stratmann (Guest Contribution)
Patrick Stratmann is a 2nd year Bachelor of Law’s (Hons)/Bachelor of Arts student, presently working as a paralegal at Youthlaw. He is currently developing a freelance documentary, ‘Exploits of a Freshman’, that explores the mental health challenges of first year students directly transitioning from Year 12. Find him on Instagram @patstrat30