This week students returned to Unitec for the start of semester one and already the campus is a flurry of activity. I spy students wandering aimlessly around trying to figure out where their classroom is. B180? B170? Upstairs? Downstairs? It is like watching an episode of the Amazing Race!
There are also students laughing and chatting away like there is no tomorrow. I wonder if they will still be laughing tomorrow once their course schedules arrive…
The last few days reminded me of how exciting and nerve-wracking it can be to be a new student, or ‘fresher’. I recall my first week as a student at The University of Auckland. I was 18, dressed conservatively in a sensible shirt and wearing boat shoes (this was before they became hip and less about actual boats). One day I was walking through the Quad and tripped down the stairs. I smiled awkwardly as people walked on by, inside I was screaming ‘eeeep!’
I remember another awkward moment… I was at the uni bookshop and was having trouble paying for my textbooks. For some reason my card kept declining and I was conscious there was a big queue behind me. After twenty swipes, it occurred to me I was using my Foodtown card… Oh the irony.
I felt like such as fish out of water… having attended a Catholic all-boys school, I was suddenly surrounded by students from all walks of life. Hmmm, did that student that passed me look like he had green hair and was wearing his pyjamas?!
Making friends and developing a social network is crucial in the early stages of commencing study. Research suggests orientation activities enable students to form a sense of belonging and positive experiences early on can impact on their completion of a programme. I know there are other factors that impact on course success, but all I know is that if I feel disconnected from anything I do, I tend to withdraw or shy away from it.
I admit, I felt quite isolated when I started my tertiary journey and even though I had a few friends at uni, there were many times when I felt lonely. In hindsight, I wish I would have proactively engaged in clubs and groups in the early stages, rather than think my social life would ‘suddenly’ happen.
So this week I am happy to see new students on campus and I am more than happy to give them a big smile. The fact they have entered study is achievement enough, and as a staff member I have a duty to make them feel welcome.
To all the new students out there… Be involved. Connect with students and staff. Make the most of orientation events. Oh, and enjoy what you are studying too!