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Nov. 14, 2002, Gazette

The “real” experience

Katie Norman
University is one of Hollywood and television's favorite topics to explore. With recent films like Legally Blonde and television shows like Felicity and Undergrads, we are given the image of what a university student should be. There are two categories; party animals – think Dead Man on Campus – and serious students who spend their lives in the books.

In popular culture the balanced student rarely exists. It’s not interesting to see a student who has fun but also pulls off decent marks. Where's the climax in that plot?

In our spare time, we drink lattes at a nearby coffee shop while discussing philosophical jargon and social injustice. We come up with original and breathtaking ideas just in the nick of time in order to save our marks and place us on the dean's list. At the end of the day we retire to a beautiful dorm decorated with the Indian saris, impressionist posters and lava lamps. On the weekends we head off to fraternity parties where we find the perfect someone who tells us that nothing has ever made sense to them until they looked into our eyes.

I'm not sure what everyone else does, but this is not my life. I do go to coffee shops but I drink hot chocolate and most of my really good papers have come from hours of work, not just one brilliant idea that hit me an hour before the deadline. In fact, my university life is comparable to my life in high school, just with a lot more work.

Perhaps the main reason my life has remained fairly intact is that I still live at home. I look at students living in residence and wonder: am I missing out on something? Is there a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is passing me right by, simply because my parents live in the same town as the university I attend?

I toyed with the idea of leaving the province for university. The main motivator in leaving was that I'd get to live in a dorm, but ultimately I decided that MUN was the place for me.

Sure staying at home was easier, I didn't have to pack up anything or worry about meal plans. Yet I can't help but feel that I'm somehow missing out on the real university experience. After all, every university brochure uses the experience of residence as the main selling factor. There are lifelong friendships, ideal living conditions and yummy meals, or so they say.

At home everything is secure. I have a computer and printer that I don't have to wait to use or walk to the chemistry building to get access. When I'm sick I can curl up on the couch, watch TV and get mom to run to the corner store to get ginger ale. There's peace and quiet whenever I need it and an environment where I can remove myself from university after a rough day.

Yet I have to cram everything in to my backpack before my ride comes to pick me up each evening. If I forget a library book I have to trek all across town or wait until tomorrow and hope that no one else has gotten to it before I have. In residence you simply take a five-minute walk over to QE II and leave a few minutes later with book in hand.

Research, audio labs, appointments with professors, society meetings and all other activities must be completed every day before my ride arrives or else it doesn’t get done. This means that my time on campus has to be budgeted very carefully.

It’s also a lot harder to find your lifelong friend when all your time on campus is spent in the library looking up books on women in the Victorian era or Louis Riel. Sure societies and classes do give you the opportunity to meet tonnes of new and interesting people but it's not the same as sharing a 15 by 15 room with someone everyday where you either learn to love it or hate it.

I have immersed myself in all other areas of university, perhaps in part to make up for my lack of an independent living experience, which is highlighted so much in our culture. University is a time to pack up all your stuff, give the parents one last hug goodbye and drive off, only to be seen again during Christmas vacation and summer holidays. Please insert cheesy, teary-eyed music now.

There is an image of the university student. After all how many MUN emblazoned Jansport bookbags are there on campus? And how often do you see oversized MUN sweatshirts that make you feel like you're on the set of Jeopardy during college week? People don't start wearing more corduroy and sweatpants because it's the in style thing to do, rather because it's the college thing to do.

University is not just about lectures and labs. Good Will Hunting may be my favorite movie but I have to disagree when he says “You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library."

Sure, I could just go and read about Plato, Twain and quantum physics, but while I am here to learn, I want to enjoy all the other experiences that are around me.

University is a place to define yourself or so the modern proverb goes. Have I found myself? It's a little too soon to be coming to such conclusions but I do feel this is a place of growth. It is these few years which will, whether or not I live in residence, shape who I will potentially become when I am no longer institutionalized and am set free into the “real” world.

Katie Norman is a first-year student on the road to somewhere.