Universities and Freedom: It Ain’t Always Fun and Pretty


University life is the real epitome of freedom. You have a huge chunk of time to sort things out based on your preference in your youth. How much more exciting could that be?

The four years I have spent studying at the University of Melbourne taught me the beauty of such freedom, as well as its vices, when handled with irresponsibility. These are the experiences I encountered myself, as well as the experience of others that I directly witnessed.

1. Tutorial questions and readings are annoying. They seem insignificant and dictating. Nonetheless, those small exercises are actually worth more than they seem.

For my Arts subjects, such as Film Studies and Introduction to Political Ideas, I always had weekly readings. Although they were always about at least 10 pages long, they did not actually bore me as I found them rather exciting. However, often time, I would view them as unimportant. I would rather spend all my energy on the real deal: the essay. Hence, I would sometimes skip my readings and attend the class with little to no idea about what the class discussion is. It seems harmless in the beginning – that I would just sit there, said no word, and then when an hour has passed, I would leave the class and then started thinking about my essay.

Credit: Unsplash
Credit: John-Mark Kuznietsov (Unsplash)

It was not until I got my final mark on certain subjects that I was actually only 2-3% away from achieving the grade that I actually wanted. I realized that the big essays were indeed important. Yet, sometimes things did not turn out to be as good as expected. Those little things that I neglected – completing my weekly readings and participating in weekly class discussion – could actually help me reach the grade that I aimed for. I could have hit the big 80, yet I was short of the 3% that I could actually obtain had I done my weekly readings and join my tutor during that short discussion on political theories. In short, everything matters at universities. It is not just the “50% worth of total grade” essay, or the “70% worth of your subject” exam. Those weekly readings, weekly quizzes, and online homework matter too.

2. If you genuinely think you cannot finish the project/ essay right on the deadline, consult with your tutor. Do not leave it all on your own.

When I was in my final year of politics, I took a subject called “The European Integration: European Union Politics and Theories”. It was the hardest subject I have ever had to complete in my undergraduate ventures. Realizing how hard the subject was, I started the semester working hard to understand each concept presented in class, researching for more information outside of the given readings. However, life did not turn out to be all smooth sailing. I encountered personal and family problems along the way, in ways that I have never imagined before. The passing of loved ones, the burst of personal crisis, they destroyed all the days that I have spent to gear up in order to excel in my first assignment.

At times like this, we, as students, should never think that we are on our own on this journey. The most dangerous choice one could take in this situation is either to continue completing the task under such difficulties without seeking any help, or to abandon that responsibility without ever informing anyone about the faced difficulties. The worst action you should never take is to cheat your way out of this, such as by plagiarizing the work of others, falsifying documents about your condition, or paying other people to do your assignment.

No matter how scared you are with your professors, you have to seek and confide in their advice and help, especially when you are almost helpless to even think of the next thing to write. I did what I could, and came forward to my professor about a week before the deadline for the first assignment. I told him the problems that I was facing, as well as how much it affects my intellectual and mental ability to complete my task. Fortunately, he was supportive. He gave me a list of readings that would further help me in my essay, and he gave me an extra 5 days to complete my assignment. In return, I had a few extra days to come to terms with my condition and was able to begin thinking more clearly. I got the grade that I deserved. It was not perfect, but it was the best that I could do under those circumstances.

Do not be afraid to confide in your professors about your problems – be it personal problems, mental issues, or any other unforeseen circumstances that arise during your studies. Always seek help, ask for advices. Never leave it on your own.

3. You run out of money. You have no idea what to do next. Know this: You are not alone.

Let’s face it. Living abroad is expensive. Combined with irresponsible spending, you could face a highly difficult financial situation. I have had the time when I was in a complete state of panic because I know I would not be able to afford another week of living in Melbourne, mainly due to irresponsible spending of money. Also, the most common cause of this is that students tend to forget to pay their bills – be it electricity, water, rent, or phone bills – because it feels nice to spend the money on something else (read: new clothes, movie tickets, brunch sessions). Once the bills built up, there is no other way but to pay them all, which leaves them with little to no money left. The first and the scariest thing to do is to come forward to your parents and tell them how much you are in trouble. You are lucky if, in return, your parents forgive you and lend you money to continue your life. Others would not necessarily have that privilege. If that scenario did not work out, do the other scary thing: seek help from friends.

I have had the experience, which required me to seek financial help from my best friend. I was really fortunate that she agreed to help me overcome my difficulty at the time. Just never forget to repay them back. If you think it would be difficult to repay them, start to find an alternative way to gain resources to pay them back: get a part time job, volunteer for an event, or volunteer for a research group. One last thing that you could try is to seek help from the universities’ students union. Universities are not just there to drill you with rigorous intellectual ventures. They are there to be your home too. Many Students Unions offer help for students with financial difficulties too, whether through direct financial loans, or opportunities to gain money from elsewhere, such as volunteering, part-time jobs, and so on.

Credit: Inbal Marilli (Unsplash)
Credit: Inbal Marilli (Unsplash)

Overall, university life is an exciting journey, especially while you are young. However, some of the steps you take do not always turn out to be fun and pretty. There will be issues, difficulties, and down sides. The first key is to admit that you are in trouble. Once that is done, never be afraid to seek help from others in order for you to figure out the next logical step to solve your issues.

Remember, the key to enjoying freedom is to handle it with care.


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