When I walked into Roosmaryn on 30 January 2012, I did so with much gusto as would any 18 year old fresh from high school.

“Mama Addy”, our first years’ mother welcomed us with a warm smile and gestured to me and my granny to lead the way up the staircase. I remember her briefing us on some of the rules such as which staircase is forbidden for juniors, the name of my corridor, the fact that I will have to memorise the name, surname and year of study of some 230 co-residents, and that I need to purchase a ‘first year package’.

What she neglected to mention is that there is more to res than a roof over my head and co-occupants- in actuality it is a system. As with all systems the components had, prior to my arrival, been neatly organised and my position was predetermined: compliance.

Two months later I found myself at great odds with the workings of this system where Tea Can famously called by its Afrikaans name Teekan, Telephone Duty (TD), Inters, curfew, academic wear and Monday nights House Meetings were compulsory.

It wasn’t the case that I intended to be a rebel; I had never been one and wouldn’t suddenly convert. What I yearned for was to possess a sense of agency, to have a voice in deciding for example what I would like to wear to lectures, what time to return to my room from the library and how I should greet a fellow resident. The deprivation of such agency made me “feel small” as I usually said. My confidence suffered a merciless lashing. All I wanted was to leave. I had no desire to endure these trivial traditions. However, financial conditions conspired against me which meant that I had to comply after all.

Slowly I became a component of the system and the system became a part of me. I programmed myself to ignore the negatives and start appreciating the good. These included things like how I would see a person studying while cooking in the kitchen or how all conversations usually begin with inquiring about the next person’s academic progress. After all academics were the main reason I was there in the first place.

Dear First year students

A topic I am well versed in is that of walking miles in the shoes of a first year student. Yes, those were my size 5 black pumps with a ribbon on top, the seal to my academic wear deal. It was three years ago, which now seems so many miles back. I guess the tunnel becomes redundant when one is preoccupied with basking in the light.

I undertsand that like myself 3 years ago you will receive a buffet of advice, both solicited and otherwise. Well, for me its not so much the ‘dos’ which hold significance but the ‘don’ts’. What you do with your life and time  as a young adult is the act of flexing the muscles of your freedom. A freedom long anticipated, a freedom new to your taste buds, a freedom that will determine the life you live post university. The liberty in your hands as a first year student is not to be taken for granted, not for a minute.

So I would like to share 3 golden rules that are essential in the long run as you manoeuvre through semesters of a new system.

Number one: do not make friends with procrastination. The most unforgivable crime you can commit against yourself is to count on tomorrow. Basically you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to live, for living is to get as many of your plans executed in the now. The following day will arrive with its own luggage that you need to unpack. If you procrastinate what you are then faced with is a pile-up situation. Nobody wants too much to do in too little time. My advice to you is clichéd: make hay while the sun shines.

I failed my first two tests in varsity, I left the studying for the evening before the tests and the results were a 15 and 17 out of 50. My eyes welled up with tears every time I looked at those numbers, my world was crumbling before me. A month ago I had been a straight A student with a tested and proved study method. My dark tunnel journey had begun and at that point I was not sure if I’d see the light at the end of it all. My roommate suggested that I study in advance for my next test and I did. I passed! It was a miracle (or not)! Using my time effectively seemed work so I made it a primary rule.

Golden rule number two is: do not change. Of course such a diverse and open learning space will expose you to people, cultures, opinions and values that are completely different from what you’re accustomed to. This new world (university) will challenge and tempt you to adopt a myriad of stray ways and toxic ideas. At your age you are mature enough to judge right from wrong and this is the time for your sense of judgement is tested. Will you suddenly twist your tongue into a brand new accent merely because your clique speaks that way? Will you spend your last bucks on beer when your buddies invite you to a middle-of- month house party or you’ll bank it on bread? The idea behind making any of the simple and tough decisions you will be require to make this year is self-development. In being challenged to find perspective and choose who you want to be in a particular situation you develop a sense of self.

I’ve always been called “hard-headed”, “stubborn” and so on. Preferably, “firm” sounds is the way to go. So besides being firm I’m a bilingual from Durban hence I struggled with seTswana and Afrikaans and mind you majority of students at the University of the Free State speak these two languages. The plan was to learn the languages and become multilingual but after a few incidents were people insisted ‘force’ the languages on me I decided to quit trying. Coercion has never been style. Not knowing Afrikaans meant that I stood silently every Monday night at my resident’s House Meeting when 99% of the ladies were singing the house song which was in Afrikaans. This went on every Monday for three years, nothing changed, the song didn’t change so I didn’t change.

Lastly, number three, do not forget to learn. Learn beyond the textbook, learn from the people who surround you. Most importantly, learn to surround yourself with people who will bring out the best in you instead of holding you back. The duty is yours to identify and associate yourself with those people. I have come to appreciate the fact that I derived most of the knowledge I hold dear to my heart from different kinds of people. The idea is to be open-minded when approaching a learning experience and trust me, the benefits are a piece of your life puzzle- you need them.

One of my very close friends in varsity was coloured, I’m black. She was muslim, I was not. She preferred chilli meals, I hate chilli, but she had a lot to teach me despite our differences. I learnt something new each time we had a conversation, things I would have never come to know if it wasn’t for her. She was the cream of my beyond-the-textbook crop.

You may have noticed that my golden rules are in the negative. The reason is simple: what you do is up to you. As much as people might guide you against what not to do, they cannot snatch your freedom from you for what you do is your freedom.

King regards
Ex-first year student