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Reflections on Arriving at University College Cork..
Eithne Hunt, PhD
“Is she sleeping through the night?”, “Is he walking?”, “Is she toilet trained?”, “Has he started big school?”, “Is this Communion year?”, “Where will she go to secondary school?” “What do you want to do after the Leaving?”. These questions are familiar to most of us. Some reflect developmental milestones that are universal in childhood around the globe, others are perhaps uniquely Irish. Both reflect a commonality of continually striving and moving towards the next phase and stage in life. And while such forward focus is natural, can be helpful and is often necessary, it is important too to pause and take stock. Jon Kabat-Zinn, from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, offers a lovely phrase – “wherever you go, there you are”. And so…. arriving at University College Cork (UCC)…. perhaps as a first-year student, or maybe as you settle into a later year at college…try to remember to ‘be here now’. To catch your breath. To be open to this experience and all that it offers.
Pausing and taking stock in this way allows us to tune into our feelings. Arriving at university may be a time of great excitement, adventure and discovery. Being in college brings both privilege and responsibility. It is a time for greater independence, both in thought and action. Sometimes when adjusting to new people, new places and new demands, we can feel overwhelmed. We all feel overwhelmed at times, even though we may not show it to others on Instagram, Snapchat or the like, or talk about it to our friends. This is entirely normal and not a sign that something is wrong, even though the feelings can be difficult. If you can remember to ‘be here now’ and breathe in this moment, you can allow your thoughts to ease and your body to settle. Remember too the words of UCC’s new Strategic Plan ‘Independent Thinking, Shared Ambition’. A greater level of independence is required but your ambition to succeed and have a happy and fulfilling time at college is likely shared by many who wish to support you. Do not be afraid to ask for help, from your lecturers, college services like library staff and Skills Centre staff, the First Year Experience Coordinator, Student Health services, peer support leaders, classmates, family and friends. Part of the challenge but the excitement of settling into university life is finding your tribe, those who, as Ruth Fitzmaurice recently described in her powerful book, you turn to for solace and solidarity.
Albert Einstein once wrote that “the value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think” (as cited in Garber, 2016). In fact, complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity are the top three skills identified by the World Economic Forum (2016) as job skills that will be required of the workforce in and beyond 2020, the time when many current UCC undergraduates will enter the world of work. Remember though that, like acquiring any other skill, training your mind to think takes patience, practice and persistence. One effective learning strategy is to apply a metaphor that Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers call “explain it to your brain.” Students who use self-explanation tell themselves what they are thinking and doing when learning, a strategy closely related to metacognition, which is a characteristic of successful student learning and of professional success across careers.
You will likely be learning a whole new vocabulary associated with your course of study. Another strategy to experiment with as you train your brain in college is to add two small phrases to this expanding lexicon…. ‘for now’ and ‘yet’. For the times when you feel overwhelmed, acknowledge this as your experience ‘for now’, reminding yourself with kindness that this will not always be the case. Carol Dweck, a professor of Psychology at Stanford university in the USA suggests adding the word ‘yet’ to statements to reinforce your belief that you can improve over time. How different does it sound to say “I feel like I don’t fit in yet” rather than “I feel like I don’t fit in”, or “I haven’t a clue how to do referencing yet” instead of “I haven’t a clue how to do referencing”. One three letter word can transform how you see your progress on your learning journey, indeed on your life’s journey. Take your time. Give yourself time. Focus on your destination but enjoy the journey too.
Dr. Eithne Hunt is a registered Occupational Therapist and lecturer in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at UCC. Her clinical and research interests include adolescent wellbeing; brain and body health; and creativity.