Welcome to an experience that will undoubtedly MAKE or BREAK you. You should know that it won’t be anything like high school, and far from the traditional scholarly environment that you’ve been subject to your whole life. I’ve been a student here for three (3) years now, and I can safely say I’ve weathered the storm to give my testimony today. Of course I don’t know everything, and there’s a lot more that you will need to know to be ultimately ready for the experience. Nevertheless, I want to give you the start that I wish I had in my time as a Fresher, with this UWI Mona Freshers starter kit that I’ve created to help you better make that transition into your university life:
1) ‘Total Safety’ is a myth: While the campus does have a Police Station within its confines and security guards stationed at select points throughout the day, the truth is all these provisions only protect you to a certain extent. The rest of that responsibility is up to you. The campus is in a position where it is situated next to several volatile communities and due to its ‘open door policy’, many students have been made victim to attacks by perpetrators alleged to have come from these communities. To avoid being one of these students, make sure you walk in groups at nights; and for the lovebirds, try to avoid dark spots in the bushes for any “alone time” you want with your partner.
2) Invest in warm clothing: Most of your classes will be at least an hour-long in air conditioned lecture rooms, so you’ll need that warmth from a sweater to keep you attentive. More importantly, is the drop in temperature that the campus tends to experience after 8:00 pm in the evenings from mid-October going into December. If you plan to be on campus up to 9:00 pm, do yourself a favor of comfort and invest in a sweater.
3) Learn to Learn on your own: Do you remember sixth form when your teacher would give you a detention for not handing in the assignment? Or take the time out to repeat something a million times until you get it? Well you can let your hopes down from now because you won’t be getting that level of personal attention here at UWI Mona. While there are exceptions to this rule and you do have some teachers that will go the extra mile to make sure you get it, for the most part, lecturers have a low propensity to “care” for their students. What you’ll realize is that a lot of them will teach from PowerPoint slides and tell you to consult your tutor in tutorials if you’re not understanding a particular topic. To learn to learn on your own is a skill best developed in groups; so I’d suggest you make some friends and form a study group for each of your courses. This way you each help each other to break into the idea of being an independent learner while establishing some meaningful connections at the same time. After a couple of years of doing this, you should be able to learn on your own; which will be prove to be an asset mostly during your 3rd year courses.
4) Get to know your Guild Council: Your Guild council is what the parliament of Jamaica is to Jamaican citizens; only less “political”. Whereas in the real world we have a bi-partisan political system where you have a ruling party and an opposing party, at UWI there’s just one “party” of 37 student advocates known as Guild Councilors whom share responsibility for the representation of all 17,000 students that make up the Guild of Students. You need to know that when you are victimized in any way, there are students qualified (by virtue of the democratic process) to advocate on your behalf and correct any injustices against you. They are usually distinguished on campus in their red Oxford shirts, so feel free to stop them at any time to air your concerns.
5) See your Failures as Opportunities: UWI is the kind of environment that will urge you to step outside of your comfort zone and try things you’ve never done before. This is clear in several areas such as in academia with the plethora of electives (fancy name for non-degree courses) that you’ll eventually have to choose from to complete your degree; in student governance which has a unique culture at UWI Mona which will dismiss your assumptions very quickly in thinking it is just like Student Council at High school; and in campus sports where the level of competition and seriousness involved will make you quickly realize that things are different here. Whichever path you decide to venture down, failures are inevitable and you should know that it’s all a part of the process to becoming a distinguished graduate. Try to see your failures as opportunities to start again smarter, instead of indicators that you’re not good enough.
6) Keep an Open mind: UWI is an amalgamation of cultures, perspectives and identities that will either contend what you grew up believing in, or support it. UWI is also a very democratic society which makes provisions for the protection of religious and political liberties as well as sexual orientations. Now I am not saying you should abandon your convictions and allow the experience to re-socialize you, but rather try to exercise the utmost respect in your interactions with all people you encounter on the campus.
7) Expand your network: The world is changing as you read this, and the ways to make it in the real world are changing with it. Gone are the days (especially in Jamaica) when a first class honors degree alone would get you to prosperity. You now need to also know the right people, because they will have the opportunities that will allow you to use that first class honors to your advantage. Get to know a few 2nd and 3rd year students, and as much non-Jamaican students as you possibly can. Try to leave with more friends than you entered UWI with. Your network will be your net worth; so you need to decide how much you want to be valued.
8) Be kind to auxiliary staff: Aside from the lecturers which make up the academic staff, there’s a group of workers behind the scenes that make the magic happen. They are the custodians, print shop employees, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, security guards, office receptionists and computer technicians that put in hard work to ensure your experience is the most comfortable one. Be nice to these people every chance you get, and try to engage them in conversation if you can. You would be surprised at the wealth of knowledge some of them could share with you that may help you in your transition into UWI life.
9) Prepare for Mid-semesters like Finals: Mid-semester exams are a period of examinations usually in the middle of the semester to test you on what you have learnt in your course of study thus far. They are usually 30-50% of your final grade and truthfully, tend to be easier than finals (most times). Take advantage of your mid-semester exams and try to get as much marks towards your final grade as you possibly can. This will help you in the latter part of the semester in having a calmer and more confident state of mind as you prepare for finals; while increasing your chances of getting an A.
10) Question Everything: The end goal of this experience is to transform you into a critical thinker. You need to go in with the understanding that everything you thought you knew before could be false, and everything they try to teach you as new knowledge could also be false. The truth will only found through contending existing ideas with new ideas, and challenging “truths” with your own interpretations of what is true. Intelligence is no longer swotting a syllabus to get an A, but thinking critically and presenting arguments based on facts over intuition.