The University of Melbourne (or 'Melbourne Uni') harbours a campus that could slacken anyone’s jaw. Backed with history dating back to the 1800s, the grandeur of the Victorian buildings immediately reminds students of the importance of where they have enrolled. When I was a 17 year old 'newbie', the sight made me feel weak in the knees-and not in a charming way. All that bolted through my mind was, 'Do I really have what it takes to be here?' But I did find the courage to strut up to the blue t-shirted people with crazy hats – the campus 'guides' – who were kind enough to show us around on our first day of orientation.
Unusual Flexibility in ‘Tasting’ Courses
What's great about the orientation days of the universities in Australia is that every institution allots two to three days to new students to attend as many talks as they can (so that they can figure out which subjects to take) and usually finish off with a fun activities' day where they are put into random groups with other students in the same stream as them (so that they can have familiar faces around campus thereafter).
What's even better is that you also have a buffer period where you can attend lectures of your desired subject for a week and then allow yourself to make up your mind. I attended a few 'film' lectures where we watched the film – Jaws - and although I didn't end up taking that subject, it was just a fun way of taking a peek at all the various subjects you have to pick from, which is just so exhilarating after 12 years of rigid schooling.
During my first year at Melbourne Uni, I enrolled into the Bachelor of Arts and my subjects were creative writing, psychology, management & organisations, philosophy-politics-economics and literature.
With orientation and subject selection over with, I was clicking my way through an online timetable, literally creating my own schedule for the week. Since I had planned to not wake up early at all that whole year, I made sure that all my lectures or tutorials started after 10am. Since I had also anticipated my social life to sky rocket (which never really happened on such a great scale, in reality) I said 'No!' to attending university on Fridays and before 2pm on Mondays.
First Semester of Relative Solitude
I took a tram to my first real day of Uni (a place highly accessible by buses, trams and a short 5 minute walk from the nearest train station) which reminds me of my first semester. Every semester is for around 4 months and my entire first four months of Uni was spent more or less in solitude. If I hadn't kept in touch with my school friends whom I had boarded with or been involved in the National Institute of Drama (outside Uni), I would have had no plans on the weekends and all my lunches would have been lonely ones. Many out there who hear this would think me antisocial – but I really feel quite the champion in admitting that I wasn't the only one on campus who felt like this.
All my friends in their respective streams felt just as awkward and lonely - everyone except for the medical students. The main reason for this was because there were huge crowds attending lectures and tutorials within the Arts, Commerce and Sciences faculties, whereas the ones who studied medicine were in an environment that resembled the set class-and-teacher space that we see in school.
Students who were studying medicine got to see the same people every day and sit with the same people in every lecture or tutorial. An old friend who is a ‘Med’ student says their lectures are filled with a smaller number of people and that it is easier to make friends and establish bonds. In the scene that I was placed, I hardly got to see anyone familiar, successively, until my second semester. So I basically had to wait a good six months or so to have a small group of great university friends that I could hang out with.
There were easier ways of making friends and being part of a wider social circle, which I didn't particularly do. It was something that I labelled 'colour clumping' where a person attached herself to people of the same race as the one she belonged to. The 'easiness' hinted in this pertains to the levels of comfort one feels when you arrive in a new place and are able to be a part of a group that is not culturally 'alien'. The plus point is that you immediately have access to a support group who would perhaps understand the hurdles you face. The Melbourne Uni campus was studded with such groups of Chinese and Indian (the two largest communities in my opinion) students. Indian students had their own South Asian Society, which would collaborate with other South Asian clubs from other universities in Melbourne for various shows and events which were great fun.
Lectures of Great Breadth and Depth
Apart from the social gamble I took, the one thing I love to relive over and over again, are the amazing lectures and seminars at the institution. Melbourne Uni houses some of the best speakers and professors who address students from the very first year. The way they focus on their topics in depth and manage to relate to issues outside their subjects made the whole academic experience interdisciplinary and well rounded.
So at one point you're understanding the fundamentals of managing people in a creative work place, the next moment you're looking at the history of creative occupations and how they comprise of people of a particular ethnic group, and then you're dealing with how different ethnic groups have different attitudes towards specific occupations and why!
Every lecture had the same pace. They were startlingly open-minded about things I was shunned to have opinions about in school whether it was issues relating to sexism or historical facts and observations about the world around me. I found that extremely liberating and fruitful.
An Oasis in the City
Another delectable element about Melbourne Uni was their amazing food court and coffee huts (which were a blessing in winters). The entire campus felt like a quiet island on its own, but once you stepped out you were across a row of modern apartments and up the road from the bustling city centre and shopping.
Enrolling in The University of Melbourne meant preparing myself for a life of full independence and serious studying through in depth research. I developed a strong shell by being in the midst of a huge crowd and learnt how to be comfortable with myself during the first few months, while I was trying to find my footing. So same-race friends or not, being exposed to so many different people around me and so much varied material in my field, I ended up cherishing the sense of diversity and discovered new worlds with it.
Tanisha Sharma: After completing her schooling and her first year of university in Melbourne, Tanisha Sharma is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Delhi majoring in History, Spanish and Mass Communication.