Five 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?