The lessons I’ve learned from being in University for 8 years
I have three degrees. I’ve spent most of my late teens and early twenties at university. This isn’t an easy feat, especially for someone who isn’t exactly academically gifted. I was lucky enough to get accepted into a double masters program thanks to the grades I achieved during my undergrad degree but that’s the only time I’ve done decently academically.
By all means, I shouldn’t be as educated as I am. In fact, I owe a large part of my academic career to my parents who have supported me financially my whole life. I have a Honours degree and two Masters degrees and the journey has taught me a lot about life, people and failing. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned –
Education is a privilege
One of the reasons that I’ve been able to afford going to university is because of a decision my parents made when I was 13. We immigrated to Australia in 2003 and I was lucky enough to get government loans for all of my studying.
These loans (also known as HECS or Fee Help) will be automatically deducted from my salary once I start earning over a certain amount. I will have to pay these loans back eventually but I haven’t had to worry much about them whilst studying. We often forget about the financial side of things when we think of university education. Or education in generally, actually. I did my primary schooling in South Africa and was surrounded by children who didn’t concentrate in class or who fell asleep during study time. I remember teachers telling them off or trying to embarrass them by making loud sounds and frightening them awake.
Over the years, I’ve realized that education needs to be about the whole story, not just one aspect of it. Some of my peers travelled almost 2-3 hours daily to get to school. Some of them went without food throughout the school day. I fear that it’s too easy for us to see students as underachievers without understanding the root of the problem.
Every man, woman and child has talents and abilities to accomplish great things. But not everyone has the opportunity to do so. My own journey has made me realize that I’ve lived a privileged life. A life with everything handed to me. But not everyone is as lucky and whatever I have accomplished academically pales in comparison to people who continuously rise up despite the world constantly knocking them down. Education is a privilege and shouldn’t be used as the standard to measure people’s talents contribute to the world.
We’re all good at something
Give me an essay topic and I’ll hand you back something worth a distinction at minimum. Put an equation in front of me and my brain turns to mush. The problem with standardized education is that we’re measured by how well we do in subjects across a broad spectrum.
You have to be good at Maths, English, Science and everything in-between to be deemed ‘smart’. That’s utter nonsense. I remember calling up the head of my Masters course on the verge of crying because I wasn’t doing well in the finance units that made up the core curriculum of my course. I had taken a communications unit with him the year before and did well so he knew that I was serious about my studies.
He calmed me down and explained that sometimes people have a brain for words and sometimes people have a brain for numbers and a lucky few have a brain for both. Sometimes I wish that I had met him sooner and had my ‘aha’ moment. Whilst I might never be able to quite understand particle physics, I realized that perhaps I could find my place in the world through words and stories.
Being ‘smart’ doesn’t mean that you’re a good person
I’ve come across many academics during my years of studying. Some approach their work with a ‘people first’ attitude. Some don’t. In fact, I’ve gone through quite a few classes with lecturers who have made great contributions to their areas of research but are utter disasters as people.
We’ve spent so much of our lives being told that we have to accomplish certain goals to be deemed successful. Having been around people are successful by society’s standards, I’ve realized that it’s the ‘people first’ people who are the true success stories. Life isn’t a competition and shouldn’t be measured by degrees, wealth or even the type of job that you have.
Instead, we should all aim to make positive contributions to world in any way that we can. Sometimes it’s the people who society would label ‘failures’ that make the most difference to humanity.
Having a degree doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be successful
The job market is terrible right now. There are many of us that are overqualified and under-experienced. When I was little, I thought that getting a degree would automatically qualify me for a good jobs and opportunities. This isn’t the case though.
Most famously, people like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Bills Gates either dropped out of high school or university and have had an incredible amount of success. Turns out that networking, building relationships and having a ‘can-do’ attitude are just as important as formal education.