home Features The College Experience – Sarah O Mahony 

The College Experience – Sarah O Mahony 

The anonymous submissions about UCC on Instagram are always entertaining night time reading. Recently I’ve been enjoying the lost and found posts, hoping the random earbud found in the library gets reunited with its owner. I have also recently come across a submission speaking about the college experience that I thought was incredibly well worded. The anonymous submitter shared that ‘doing whatever you like whether by yourself or with other people is an experience in itself, it’s just that you are going to college’. It made me think of the now famous scene in Normal People where Connell breaks down during a therapy session over his feelings of isolation in Trinity and the loss of his secondary school friend. He discusses the anxiety he experienced starting over in a new place and how the passing of his friend unearths sadness over the loss of his teenage friendships in his hometown. It is a brilliant performance and an accurate portrayal of the young adult experience in Ireland.

Outside of fitting in and personal troubles, if you are a student, your course can determine much of this experience. Choosing the right course can be the bane of your existence in sixth year or you can fill out the CAO with ease. However, no matter where you find yourself, it is important to realize you are not stuck. By no means does studying accounting mean you are going to be an accountant for life. The more you allow yourself to believe you don’t have a whole world of options ahead of you, the more likely you are to find yourself overwhelmed, burnout and struggling mentally. However, it is not easy to stick to a course you don’t like knowing you won’t use it after. I am not the most trustworthy source on this as I write from the privileged position of having changed course. The stigma that surrounds the humanities is alive and well and I definitely subscribed to it before I realised that it was where I belonged. Your course does not determine your intelligence nor does it determine your long- term future. Even if everyone around you believes that you have to follow the predetermined role that is linked to your course, don’t believe them! You can use what you studied and market the transferable skills it offered to the employer of your choice. If you truly believe that what you are studying isn’t for you and you have the means to change into a different course or pursue some other avenue, go for it! Like the anonymous submission said, if you have certain expectations that you allow others to set for you, you will never be happy looking back at your twenties or your time in college.

As Connell shares in the above scene, he decided to go to Trinity in the hopes that he would find ‘like-minded’ people. You could argue that Trinity has its own issues as it is very Dublin- centric. This aside, he is seeking a basic human want to belong. No one’s social life is sorted out, maybe you feel like you click with people less than others, but you’ll get there. Possibly it starts with accepting yourself and what you are interested in. The chapter that discusses the therapy scene with Connell ends with an organised reading that he attends. He speaks with a writer who is similar to Connell and they both admit they don’t necessarily fit into the Trinity scene, with the writer encouraging Connell to use his unique perspective to enhance his writing. No matter if you love a good house party or night out in Voodoo or if you’re into more of a chill hangout time in Joes and Bros or Alchemy, don’t dim down your interests just to fit in. Use your voice and point and view and you will find the right people to spend your time with.

It would be tone deaf to say the issues faced by students are limited to academia and social life. Connell is the perfect example of a young person longing for the ‘correct’ college experience. Nothing is ever clear cut and so along with this he is also dealing with the loss of his secondary school friend and the life he once had in his hometown. It is never as simple as an identity crisis. Even the seemingly most put together person in the room will be troubled by something more. Although, changing course has changed my life, there will always be another challenge to overcome that’s what it means to be human! Understanding that there are a myriad of issues someone you know could be facing can be difficult. It’s easy to share a ‘just be kind’ post on Instagram, but putting it into practice takes more. Beyond reserving judgment of someone’s actions it also means checking in every once and a while or possibly giving them the space they need. What I would say is that if you are struggling or know someone who is, there exists a wealth of support available to you in UCC, especially noting the outgoing Student Union who I think we can all agree will be missed.

Your time in college can be whatever you want it to be. You are never stuck, especially with the age or information we live in, it’s likely that you may find yourself employed in a role you never could have imagined in college. Good results are of course beneficial, but well-developed interests and skills are much more appealing in the long run to any employer. Most importantly enjoy college, and enjoy it the way you want to!