Outside the classroom

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labor students Almost four years ago I entered the main campus of Sydney University as a doe-eyed, diligent student, fresh out of high school. As I walked around the sandstone walls of academia with my 98.5 ATAR in hand and the pride of getting into my course reflecting clearly on my face, I was entirely convinced that I was ready to face the intricacies of university life. But, whilst falling into the administrative routine of attending lectures and tutorials wasn’t too daunting, what caught me completely unaware was figuring out what I was meant to do once I stepped outside the classroom. It seems that nobody warned me about the fact that at university, you aren’t a kid anymore. No one holds your hand and introduces you to the person sitting next to you, or forces you to get involved in extracurricular activities, or develops a routine for your free time. You’re given the freedom of a consenting adult, and you’re expected to make your own choices. For some, this is the porthole they were searching for all along when nobody at high school understood them because they just weren’t ‘mainstream’ enough. Finally they can connect with similar, artsy-fartsy personalities who share the same love for music that nobody has heard of. For others, however, this means total social anxiety and dread at the thought of walking around campus like a lonely boy with no friends. Regardless of which group you might fall into, the most important thing to know is that your social and extracurricular life falls entirely in your own hands. Don’t waste this precious opportunity to discover who you are and who you can be, because the years spent at university are the most formative years of your life. After a somewhat lost and lonely first year at uni, in my second year I decided to take a leap of faith and get involved in my university’s Student Union, the core provider of clubs and societies, events, and food and beverage outlets on campus. The first step was the hardest: it was to shed my inhibitions, go to events, and actually talk to people. In a bizarre turn of events, I ended up running as a candidate for the election of the student Board of Directors. Honestly, I didn’t know what was worse – running under the slogan ‘Astha la Vista’, or obnoxiously bothering people to ask them to vote for me. All I could think of at the time was, “This is so embarrassing. If I lose, I’ll have no friends!” But luckily, I didn’t. Four years on, I’ve been the President of the Union, represented my university internationally, and become an editor for Sydney University’s student newspaper, Honi Soit. What’s more important than my CV stack though, is that everyone who went through the same gruelling process as me of running in an election, have come out of it well and alive, win or lose. Instead of being socially exiled, they have flourished. They have a renewed sense of confidence in their abilities, a clear idea of their values, and a bigger group of friends and support networks from the election process. At university, student politics is a complex web of communication, calculation and charm offensive, but if you do have a keen interest in Australian political affairs, you’re guaranteed to meet the younger versions of future prominent political personalities. Most universities have at least one student representative body – either in the form of a Student Union or a Student Representative Council (SRC). If you know where you stand politically, whether it’s Labor, Liberal or Greens, you can also join the specific political group on campus to get involved in national campaigns for state and federal elections. Politics aside, if you’re interested in representing your cohort because you were once school captain, you’ll probably have to sign up for a student leadership position, or run in an election. These can be really fun and incredibly rewarding as you get to explore your creative vision: you could direct O-Week, attend a national student conference, or become a peer mentor. The best way to find out which position is best suited to your interests is to attend O-Week, contact your faculty or student organisations, or volunteer for events and activities. Most universities will also have a Clubs and Societies program. At my university there is no shortage of special interest clubs, and I’ve signed up for everything under the sun from the Quidditch Society, to the Chocolate Society, to the Captain Planet Appreciation Society. This is a really easy and fun way to explore interests and meet new people, with an added advantage of attending social events that you don’t have to organise on Facebook. Who knows, you might even end up starting your own club! If sport is your beast, then don’t hesitate to join a sporting team. Not only are you guaranteed your weekly dose of exercise, you’re also bound to meet some of your best mates whilst playing a match. Every September, universities also send their sporting teams and athletes to compete at the Australian University Games, the flagship multi-sport competition attracting over 6,000 student athletes.  These games are notorious for making new friends across states and universities, and most people having a great social experience outside of competing. Lastly, at the risk of sounding like an Auntyji, don’t forget about where you’ve come from and join a cultural group or an Indian Student Association. This is beneficial because it can be hard to meet people with similar cultural backgrounds or communities who can relate to you when the campus is so large. It’s also a good way to attend those Bollywood events you want to go to, but can’t without a group of friends. Finding a healthy balance between academic commitments and social activities isn’t easy, especially in first year, but it definitely makes your experience on campus worth your while. University life is vibrant and has a lot to offer, whether it’s academics, social activities, entertainment, leadership opportunities or politics. The best thing that you can do for yourself is investing this time wisely, both inside and outside the classroom. Astha Rajvanshi is an Honours student in Media and Communications at the University of Sydney, former president of the University of Sydney Union and Chair of the NSW Youth Advisory Council   Read more on starting out at university Starting out at University There’s more to uni…