So, you’re going to Rhodes – 5 pieces of advice for first-years

clocktower rhodesFive years ago around this time I was on my way to start studying in a hick town in the middle of nowhere Eastern Cape. I had never been to Grahamstown, knew no one there and had nothing to assure me this was a good idea apart from my wide-eyed belief that you make your own happiness.

Good luck with that, kid.

Turns out that I had an awesome  four years at Rhodes University and still miss quite a lot about it, despite now being in the grown-up world (where pitching up barefoot is frowned upon, by the way, and no one gives you cupcakes for wearing purple.)

Since the interwebs was useless back then in telling me what to expect,  here’s my personal list of advice I’d give to them newbies.

  1. Make lots of acquaintances but choice friends

The first two weeks are open season. Everyone is in that strange new space where they haven’t found their little groups yet, which means you can strike up conversations with pretty much anyone without extreme awkwardness.

You might not become OMG BFF’s with all of them, but Rhodes is a small place and walking through campus greeting everyone might make you feel like a rock star.

Make full use of it now and I promise you there will still be lots of time later to find your bubble of regular mates. You’ll need that support system, but don’t worry too much about finding it. Life after high school doesn’t come with assigned seating and you are free to choose people who are the same kind of weird as you.

  1. Get involved

I know your dad will tell you that you’re here to study not stuff around. Good on you, dad.

The thing is that while all varsities have a lot on offer, at Rhodes it’s hard not to get involved. You’re living, working and social life is all intertwined and that makes for an intense student culture that you don’t want to miss out on.

It sounds like obvious advice, but I really urge you to try new stuff, because this is your chance. Go hiking with the Mountain Club, watch all the funny experimental Drama department shows and get involved in the liberal debates and activism that are a big part of Rhodes’ legacy.

During my first O-Week I didn’t think I’d become a girl with dreadlocks who performs solo folk music and passionately debates gender equality. But, if I hadn’t gone to Rhodes and been able to try all those things without judgment, I may never have embraced them as a part of who I am.

Whatever it is, push yourself to explore. Ordering something unusual at Friar’s does not count.

  1. Be true to yourself (and other clichés)

This one is important, young grasshopper.

Your first year will see you discovering and enjoying all this new stuff, and soon you can’t imagine life without The Rat’s Bacovian pizza.  In the middle of it all, I urge you not to lose sight of things that you find important, even if they’re against the overall norm of Rhodes.

For instance, while it’s easy to find a party buddy, finding a church or religious community at Rhodes can come a lot less naturally.  Some friends missed things like the busyness of a big city or a certain activity that Rhodes didn’t offer, and it affected their overall happiness.

There are definitely lots of like-minded people and opportunities out there, but if you don’t actively pursue what you need, it might seem far out of reach later. Find things that make you feel like yourself and say no to the things that don’t.

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  1. Be a Grahamstownian not just in Grahamstown

Some students, often of the stereotypical jock variety, would ignore this advice and spend three/four years at Rhodes without really living in Grahamstown. Sure, the varsity has all you need and you go never venture past Pepper Grove if you like, but you’d be missing out.

Beyond the arch there’s so much more that will widen your experience far beyond just student life. When you take it seriously and don’t act like an obnoxious visitor, you’ll see just how friendly and interesting the town can be.

A good start for this could be attending Reddit’s Poetry or the Acoustic Café, reading local media, and talking to your favourite coffee spot’s owner. If you have a car, there are amazing little places to take a walk just outside of town that’ll feel as good as a holiday, my favourite being a beautiful little monastery.

If you really want to know more stuff about town, sneakily get yourself subscribed to the GPN emails.

  1. Pay attention in class

Finally, a note on academics. Oh that.

The aforementioned Dad was of course right. In between all the loveliness, Rhodents are obediently taking care of their prized pet, DP (which is RU speak for your allowance to keep studying).

My advice here is to realise as quickly as possible that your studies are in fact for you, not them. If you’re doing something with a high-school mentality of being forced to do it, it is either not the right thing for you or you are missing out on the full potential of something you chose and are paying for. That’s not nonchalant and rebellious, it’s just dumb.

Yes, some classes and course requirements will be tedious and silly (I’m looking at you, Psych 101) and you will have days where you skip class to watch the new Scandal episode, but on the whole you should be going somewhere you want to go.

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If you’re new to Rhodes and would like to chat more, drop me a comment (especially if you’re struggling with spiritual community, I’d love to talk to you).

Otherwise, what would your advice be to newbies?

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Liebster Award – Elna travels

Now that I’ve finished my challenge of blogging my whole #Elnaineurope trip, it’s the perfect time to accept my Liebster Award. This fun pass-it-on thing is a great way to give smaller blogs like mine some loving.
Lovely blogger lady Nadia Moore, who nominated me all the way from Korea, explains more about it, but basically you answer your nominator’s questions and make some up for your nominees. Thanks Nadia-friend!

Here we go.

#1 Why did you decide to use blogging as a way of capturing your adventures? Why not Facebook, Twitter etc?
I love Twitter and getting my info quick and fuss-less as much as any journalist with a smartphone glued to their hand, don’t get me wrong. But, I’m old-school with content that’s important to me and believe it should have all the space and depth it needs, regardless of how impatient (or non-existent?) my readers may be.

Then there’s the purely legal aspect of wanting to avoid Facebook and Twitter’s dodgy right to using your photography. Not cool.

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#2 What was the scariest thing about leaving your country?

When I moved to Germany in 2009 it was mostly with adventurous excitement. While I loved it incredibly, it was hard to deal with it far away from my family when those really tough times came knocking. Still, those things made me grow up fast and I’m thankful for that.

On a lighter note, there’s the confusion that comes from not knowing the conventions of a country. This is made even more awkward when you speak the language fluently but act like an idiot. Asking a cashier for the receipt but accidentally using the slang for panties comes to mind. Eek.

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#3 I am a student leaving University. Tell me why I should travel?

I am not usually for one-size-fits-all answers, but have you ever met anyone who went traveling and came back unchanged, uninspired and underwhelmed? Have you? No. Because traveling is awesome.

Seriously though, if at all appealing and possible to you, I would highly suggest it for almost anybody. Whatever amount of fear and doubt you may feel about it now, I promise you that once you get going, that will be overshadowed by adventure and joy and wonder very soon. You see, when you travel you’re not just exploring new parts of the world, but of yourself. In every beautiful place, amazing person and courageous experience, you will discover an aspect of yourself that you’ll never know is there if you stay in your hometown doing hometown things.

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#4 Describe a food (make my mouth water!) you have had on your travels that    made your eyes water from happiness (or possibly too much spice!)?
Italy is a food group.

I’ve reminisced about this extensively in my Italy posts, but pretty much anything I ate I loved. As for eyes watering, that’s got to be the black squid spaghetti from Venice. Honestly, that is the most squishy and fishy thing to ever be found outside of the water. It was delicious with all its black ink goodness, but also thoroughly strange. Fantastic experience, but I can still remember that smell it was so strong.

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#5   Describe the moment when you knew you had made the right choice to travel?
 When I left my parents and walked through airport security I got the most alive, excited feeling. There I was, 18 and alone, and instead of scaring me, it made me an explosive kind of happy, like anything could happen. Of course every traveler has those horrible ‘it’s all falling apart’ days, but most of the time I’ve been driven by a version of my special airport feeling.

#6 Solo travel or group travel? Why?

There are plenty of reasons for group travel, the main one being that you already have someone in mind that you think you’ll have a ball with (without wanting to leave them and their grumpiness by the side of the road).  Certain places or occasions would have been much emptier alone, like my pilgrimage through Israel, or this roadtrip with my bestie.

Regardless, I wouldn’t want to trade a second of my solo travels. They’ve shown me that independence and adventure are really important to me, not as an act of rebellion, but out of freedom and being true to myself. You learn to be courageous, but also to be truly present, because there’s no one to distract or influence you. Besides, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to make friends!
The only big negative is trying to find cheap single rooms. Oh, and having to take selfies, which I’m not very good at.

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#7 How have you dealt with challenging cultural differences?

In the case of forward Italian men, I ran. (Just kidding, sort of…)

Since my faith is a big factor for me, I usually can find a group of at least somewhat like-minded people that make me feel at home and can help if need arises. There’s a pastor just outside Geneva that once pushed and jump-started the car of a stranger (me) mere minutes before his sermon, wearing his Sunday best. There’s a good reason why us Christians keep using words like ‘family’ and I’ve experienced it globally.

That was off the point, but I love that story.

Now to the next order of business. I’ve chosen some great lady bloggers, most of whom blog about (or using) beautiful things.
And the nominees aaaare…

*Dale – The TrinketSpotter
*Amy – Art Aims
*Michelle – AsOfYetUntitled
*Hannah – Pink Chucks to Prom
*Bettina – This Is Alboniko

#1 If I’m new to your blog, what’s the one post that I should read, that you’re most proud of?
#2 Which blogger or artist has influenced or inspired your work?
#3 Do you have a specific place or ritual that gets your creative juices flowing?
#4 Is there a creative project or blog post you’re dying to do?
#5  Share something beautiful from your life with us. Please?