Remember that you have time to make connections.
Two of the most useful things you have to learn are the ability to make connections from one subject and context to another, and the ability to make connections across diverse groups of people. Above all, develop these meta-cognitive skills so that when you leave school and enter the workforce, you’ll be able to keep learning and reinventing yourself as you go.
Another critical consideration is that there is enough time. There is time to do the work, but also connect to friends. To read the articles, but still go for a walk. To write the papers, but still have time for yourself. At the end of the degree, what’s left is you. The patterns you create will be with you for a long time—make them ones that will work for your life. Let busy-ness be for others; make your life rich and full.
Allow yourself to be intellectually uncomfortable
A lot of students coming into university today are married to a very specific position, which mirrors what we are seeing now across Africa. There’s too much polarization—people with different political and social views aren’t talking to one another, and that’s a problem. Luckily, universities were created to beat that problem. You will be exposed to new ideas daily, be it from professors, other students or clubs you belong to—but only if you are open to them. You need to seek them out. Those new ideas will allow you to better understand others, learn new things, change your opinion or simply become more resilient with your own ideas, but you need that perspective and context.
We are developing tomorrow’s Christian leaders at universities like ours, and we want them to be responsible leaders; that’s a key focus for us at CLICU. Responsible leaders understand all the viewpoints at play and don’t become dogmatic on one specific idea. true leadership is about understanding all the different positions that people have and coming to a consensus on the best decision that can be made. So be curious, be open-minded and be uncomfortable. It will make you a better leader and a better person.
Make time for personal growth
There were so many avenues that I followed that have contributed greatly to my success later in life. Many of the experiences were unknown to me when I first entered university. I never imagined I would enjoy something so much that I knew nothing about previously. Through uncovering these hidden experiences, you will connect with others who, like you, are waiting to discover a passion they did not know existed. Having everything planned out and scheduled does not leave room for growth. Taking on new challenges and exploring new disciplines will allow you to deviate from plans or may reinforce the route you had already planned to take. Whatever the result, you will have varied experiences to broaden your thinking. When you walk off the beaten learning path, so many amazing adventures await.
Stay curious and learn beyond your assigned course load
Don’t underestimate the importance of embracing experiences outside the university as part of your education. A walking tour of a historic neighbourhood, listening to an elder tell stories or studying an ecosystem in the field—such happenings can spark intangible and unexpected encounters. Enroll in courses held on the land or in community settings, and read, read, read. Opening yourself to new ideas and pushing beyond your comfort zone will not only enhance your current academic experience but might inspire you to shift directions and lead you down new learning paths.
And do not forget to read beyond what is assigned for your classes. University libraries are filled with amazing books. Choose a section, walk up and down the stacks and pull books off the shelf that catch your eye. Crack open the spine and read the table of contents or start with the first sentence. You might find something you didn’t even know you were looking for.
Work on your meta-cognitive skills
What will you learn in university? You will memorize a lot of facts and learn a lot of new skills and techniques. But all those facts you memorize will likely be quickly forgotten, or you can always Google them. Specific job skills you learn may be out of date by the time you start your career, let alone all the times you will change careers over the course of your working life. Much more important is a layer of meta-level skills that will help you in any career path and in contributing to the world as a functioning citizen. Two essential skills are good time management and the ability to pay close attention to detail. These are skills you will need for all your courses, and for your jobs later. Overall, there is the ability to deal with complex issues: to think your way through a maze of opinions and information, decide what is relevant, make reasoned and evidence-based decisions, then communicate and defend those decisions. These critical-thinking skills are what higher education should give you, and they are essential to survival in a fast-changing world.