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.

grahamstown rhodes

  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.

arch grahamstown

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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Having left.

arch

And just like that, it was over.
That would be a great first sentence in a novel, don’t you think? Or maybe the last.

mom2

Four years ago I was sitting in the same restaurant with my parents, with a packed car and the future looking slightly fuzzy.
Last week we did the whole thing again and before I knew it, here I am back in Pretoria.

monument

monument2

In between the craziness I got a moment to sneak away to Monument hill, one of my favourite spots to think in town. It’s one of the things I’ll miss the most about small town life, to be able to steal away up and above everything whenever.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the city.

skyThankfully we didn’t head straight home, but that’s for another blog.

*El

Night lights

copyright Elna Schutz 2013

Lately life has been on 1,5x speed as if someone accidentally sat on the remote control – you can still catch the gist of things, but it’s all going by just a bit too fast. I’m leaving Rhodes in less than a week, I cut my dreads (say whaaat?) and I’m slowly coming to terms with my impending plan-less but adventurous future.

copyright Elna Schutz 2013

I have so much to think through, blog about and perhaps recycle into a few songs, poems and interpretive dance.
Just kidding, I don’t actually know anything about  interpretive dance. I’ve already fulfilled my quirkiness quota long ago.

copyright Elna Schutz 2013

Since I’ve spent the majority of my weekend staring at a screen, prepping for my last ever varsity hand-in, I’m going to keep all the Elna-news-stories for another (less caffeinated) day.
Instead, here is a little bit of this funny little town under the stars.

copyright Elna Schutz 2013

That beautifully quiet night-time feeling you get under clear skies is even better with a camera in hand it turns out.

copyright Elna Schutz 2013There’s something special about photographing a place you know well, in a new way. Surprise your own eyes a little.

copyright Elna Schutz 2013Also, lights are just plain pretty.

*El

copyright to me ladida

Current pic editing music is anything by Foals or Parov Stelar.

Harvey the photogenic dog

 

©Elna Schütz 2013Why hello there.

My photographic adventures continue.
Today I climbed up a dove-infested tower for the best angle, only to find all the windows were jammed closed and I couldn’t get the shot. Thanks Murphy, real nice!
Ignoring the occasional fail (and rickety old stairwell), I’m really enjoying life outside the radio studio for a change.

Robyn James and her beloved dogs Harvey and Lady relax in her home garden.For a recent photostory I spent a lot of time with a local gardener, balancing on her walls and crouching in a flower bed or two, waiting for the light to fall just right. When reviewing the pics I started noticing how many I had of this little guy.
Meet Harvey, the surprisingly photogenic dog!

©Elna Schütz 2013

Every time I’d be somewhere, probably trying to balance a reflector on my foot or something, there was Harvey. Turn around a corner and he’d be posed as by accident. Need a portrait pic? Harvey’s ready with just the right doggy smile. Honestly, he was like that irritatingly photogenic friend who looks terrific in every snapshot while you’re yawning.

©Elna Schütz 2013

If you’re looking for some interesting photographic work right now, I recommend Pieter Hugo’s Kin or an old master like my current favourite, Kertesz… not Harvey. But, the giant corner of the internet filled with cats and people holding baby pandas makes a blogpost devoted to a teddy-bear-like dog seem somehow legitimate.

There’ll be time to photograph a war later. Have some more Harvey:
©Elna Schütz 2013

©Elna Schütz 2013He really is surprisingly photogenic, right?

*Elna

little but lovely Grahamstown

copyright Elna Schutz 2013Our city has been in national news quite a bit lately due to ongoing water problems, but Grahamstown made it into the Mail & Guardian yesterday for very different (though to me not entirely clear) reasons. While I could see where the feature writer’s theories on how the town treats love and sex might come from, it left me with a general sense of having been misunderstood.

copyright Elna Schutz 2013

Maybe that’s a sign that the four years here have made me a bit of a proud local? With just about a month left for me here, I’m starting to say goodbye to this place that I understand might seem rather strange to outsiders, but makes a really good home for those that let it.

copyright Elna Schutz 2013

Recently my camera’s been following me everywhere like a pet (yes, we even take walks together) and I’ve been trying to snap some memories. Mostly I just let my eye wander to pretty but rather random corners.

copyright Elna Schutz
You’d think that’s because there are enough pictures of the cathedral and monument out there already, which is probably true. Yet I think it comes more out of knowing I will leave a place, so I try to soak in even the little details. As a believer in the idea that wherever you are, you need to be fully, I suppose that’s the best I can do for now.

copyright Elna Schutz 2013Also, I don’t yet have a future job to plan for, so thinking about the present is just right. *laugh*

*El


All pics shot on a D40 & copyrighted to me ladida.