4 Things I Learned from University
Do you think we place too much emphasis on having a university degree? My friend has been home for three months thanks to the ongoing ASUU strike, and obviously frustrated that it’s postponing graduation said to me, “it’s not like I ever want to teach social studies; what’s the point of it all?” Then she asked me if my degree had ever turned out useful.
Looking at the unemployment stats, especially in Nigeria—where the chances of practising what you studied professionally are slim—you may wonder if it’s all worth the hassle of attending a Nigerian university. I thought about it and wrote this post in partial response to my friend’s question. Here are some lessons I learned from my university experience and how handy it has come in real life.
Never Underestimate a Situation
I can’t count the number of times people have been puzzled when they found out I studied Archaeology. I don’t blame them. I had the same expression on my face when I saw my name on the admissions list. When the University of Nigeria, Nsukka offered me admission to study Archaeology, I’d only heard the word vaguely mentioned in a history class in secondary school. I looked up the course definition on Google and thought to myself, how hard can this be? I was in for a rude shock.
For starters, my first result in school turned out to be an E Grade for a GSP course. As someone who had never had less than a C Grade, it was a jolt to my system, but that was the wake up call I needed. The first lesson I learned from university was to never underestimate any situation and to have all the facts beforehand. These days I try not to make impulsive decisions without full cognizance of the situation. I never show up for a job interview without understanding the job description and doing full research on the company—I prep like crazy. I also try not to jump headfirst into relationships commitment—trust me, nothing or no one is ever as they seem. Even with minute decisions like buying products online, I make sure to read reviews before choosing.
Build Your People Skills
I saw a quote on Instagram recently: “you’re not in university to build your CGPA, you’re here to build relationships for life after school.” For someone who was always socially awkward, university helped me forge friendships, from class group projects to roommates. My sister jokes that I always know who to call in a favour from. But it’s because you form bonds from failed assignments, stress, homesickness, and the fact that everyone is still trying to figure out life.
In UNN, you really get to test your patience with roommates; in the school hostel, you get three new roommates every session and no choice in the matter. This forces you to learn to deal with individuals with quite interesting behaviour patterns who were raised differently from you. Your first year with your roommates is truly an introduction to “Conflict Resolution 101,” as you can’t simply avoid them—things would get awkward in a tiny space if you did.
I’ve had all types of roommates—the one who doesn’t respect boundaries and helps herself to your deodorant, the one with an unending stream of visitors who talk at the top of their voices when you’re trying to sleep, the one who never cooks, the one who is on midnight calls with her boyfriend, and the worst, those who play music out loud at four in the morning. You can’t complain either because you’ll get the classic UNN line, “I paid, 11,800 naira like you,” which is code for “I can do whatever I like.”
The bulk of what I do today involves customer service, meaning I have irate customers shouting most of the time and for lack of a better word, I meet “interesting” people at work. But I’m always confident I can handle the customer because I’ve lived with her type as a roommate. You don’t know how important this experience is until you have a colleague who thinks he’s always right. It will help you navigate working with people who have strong opinions, and teach you to put aside personal differences and focus on achieving the end goal. The same applies even in your personal life.
Someone once said life doesn’t get easier, you just learn to manage your new challenges. One of the most important things university taught me was balance. No matter how crazy your schedule was in school, with 6am-6pm lectures, you had to make time to unplug, or you’d have a break down. UNN taught me the act of multi-tasking—balancing lectures with finding time to cultivate relationships. In the end, you make time for what’s important to you. A Pharmacy student would attend marathon lectures from morning till evening and then get on the last bus to Enugu to surprise his girlfriend at the Enugu Campus for valentine’s day.
I’m especially reminded of this as I’m writing this after getting off my day job. These days with long work hours it means weekends are for writing my blog posts. I learned that when I had to write my final year project with my project supervisor breathing down my neck, and my schedule during the weekday left no room for that .
So, now on weekends I tell myself I have a deadline, and curl up with a laptop—the difference is I’m not writing on archaeological data. With life you need to find little pockets of happiness and find time to unwind. For me, it’s catching up on my favourite web series (which used to be Gidi Up but these days I find myself cracking up at the antics of Tiwa’s Mum on Skinny Girl In Transit). It’s vital to make time for what’s important to you, even if it requires some effort.
Always Go the Extra Mile
There are no casual moments in destiny, so always go the extra mile with whatever you do—writing that CV, planning that surprise birthday, choosing a dress for that event if you want to stand out from the crowd. UNN has a GP chasing craze; everyone is trying to graduate with a perfect CGPA. So when you get an assignment to hand-write a five-page assignment on topic XYZ and you show up on the day of submission proud to have typed your five-page assignment instead, the person next to you has probably typed, spiral bound, and included photographs and graphs in theirs.
It doesn’t change much in the real world—extra effort is key. With my day job dealing with lots of orders at the same time, mistakes are bound to happen. When I mix up orders, I don’t just apologize to the customer; I get it delivered to their doorstep without additional costs, if possible. It can save your company from getting called out on social media or losing customers to the competition. If you have a job interview, look up the organization online, learn as much as you can about the job role—there is no such thing as too much knowledge.
In my final year, I got a call about an impromptu test and I raced from my hostel to my faculty, ran into my long-time crush at the social science quadrangle, and realized I had worn my hairnet and bathroom slippers. I was embarrassed. The memory of this encounter reminds me to check that I have on the right shoes before I leave my house; dress the part because you never know when you’ll run into the love of your life.
I know University can seem like this never-ending stretch of classes, tests and assignments, but you’ll learn the most significant lesson: nothing lasts forever, so treasure every moment in life. Like me despite memorising their geographical coordinates to pass ACH 424, you may never be asked the location of any archaeological site in Nigeria. But you will create amazing memories, build lifelong friendships, cry a little, and hopefully, laugh a lot in between.
Ireju is a writer with a degree in Archaeology and Tourism from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who crafts words on her thoughts, dreams, and experiences either on the pages of her diary or online to serve as a compass to her and hopefully others on navigating life, love, and faith.
On the days when she's not having conversation with herself, eating pancakes, and curling up with a book, she can be found on Instagram @theireju and can be reached for conversations, commentary, and content development at firstname.lastname@example.org.