College, the time of your life

Smita Prakash columnJuly is the month when colleges open in most cities and towns of India. By now the admission lists are out and most formalities have been completed even for professional colleges like engineering, medical colleges, aviation and hotel management campuses.

The anxiety and uncertainty regarding cut-offs at various colleges is done. Tears have been shed and wiped off over acceptance letters not arriving, while cousins were exulting over seeing their names on lists of prestigious colleges. One way or the other, students have found courses that they are going to study for the next few years. It is frustrating when you don’t make the cut despite identical grades. That is because there are several factors at play, quotas for caste, religion, domicile, sports, extracurricular activities and so on. Rejection is hard to face. But if you are a parent who has a transferable job then you have had to face rejections at educational institutions in the past too. There are just too few prestigious institutions in the country.

Some compromises have had to be made regarding the college or the course that they have had to settle for. But all that is in the past now. It is time to be focused on what lies ahead. There is excitement in the anticipation of a new life which isn’t as structured as school life. Having sent two kids to outstation campuses, I am quite the veteran in packing stuff and giving pep talk.

In India, it’s safe to assume that everything that a campus says online has to be verified in person. Go to the ‘office’, where there will be a sullen man or woman with whom you have to confirm and recheck all that you have filled out in the forms and read on the website. Use Bhaiyaa, Uncle, Sirjee, Ma’am, Sister, Brother liberally. It’s their day in the sun, and they will make it as difficult as possible for you to finish the admission process smoothly.

Mumbai College
Sense of adventure: There is excitement in the anticipation of a new life which isn’t as structured as school life

Conversely if you were going to an American campus, there are plenty of student volunteers who will take you through the admission process, and give you pamphlets and web links of what you need for your dorm room, your study material.

Most teens are of course very excited about flying out of the nest exploring a whole new world. It is three to four years of adventure stretching ahead of them. No doubt there is academic stress, but it lacks the rigid structure of school. There is a lot of emphasis on individual management of time and leisure which quite naturally excites teens. Out go the uniforms, in come the colours. Dating and commuting without parental supervision. Experimenting with alcohol, oh yes, that happens; formulating one’s own opinions on politics and society, it is all very energising.

The freshman year or 1st year is not about setting goals and priorities; it is about absorbing the changes that are going on around you. If you are studying in-state, then the culture shock is not too much. But if you move to another state or country then it’s a whole new world there. Language, culture, food, systems…it can be daunting and even frightening at times. It makes sense to enroll and enlist in as many assimilation classes as possible. They can do no harm.

In the uncertainty and exploration lies the excitement. New friends, new conversations, new experiences to imbibe, some to keep and some to discard with time. Heart breaks and disappointments. Competition among peers and heady elation of breaking free from parental control. Management of finances, budgeting, scrimping and pushing the rupee to do more than the Planning Commission achieves. Cutting chai and samosas at dhabas over discussion on Marx and Modi. To resist guidance and advice from parents and yet feel lost without it. A lot of conflict and angst that makes and chisels character.

For parents it is a heart tugging moment, very similar to sending your child to nursery school. That one moment when a toddler holds a teacher’s finger and enters a gate without you. A part of you breaks forever. Another part of you breaks when your child goes to college. But you just have to steel yourself to know that it is one of the most beautiful and rewarding experiences in her life and it is for you to help her enjoy it.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash

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