There is a popular expectation that a university should ultimately produce all rounded individuals. People who can express themselves proficiently, conduct themselves admirably and generally be responsible members of the society. You see, when a university has structures and a code of conduct, it’s easier to mold the brand of student that you want to release to the world rather than just having a booklet of rules and regulations that students violate with reckless abandon. I know you are reading this and thinking, hah! Here is another struck with that wishful disorder but I can assure you that is not the case; matter of fact, it couldn’t be far removed from the reality that is my situation.
Being a student in my campus is quite an experience I can tell you. As students in high school, we led seriously structured lives punctuated by bells, forty-minute class sessions, sometimes double lessons, meal times and my worst pet-peeve, sleeping hours. And as such, when we landed in this environment of minimum expectations and non-existent supervision so far away from home and the scrutiny of parents, we were delivered into an academic haven. And by academic haven I don’t mean that you get to leave college a seasoned academic with guaranteed success rate, no, but that you get to decide what kind of student you are going to be; through trial and error more often than not. This is what makes my campus a cut above the rest, because you are not told what to be, you are expected to be wise enough to have it in sight.
This was all ok until they sent us on academic attachment; you may call it internship depending on where you come from. It’s that vocational training you undergo while studying in an area relevant to your course of study. If you come from a campus like mine, then you will agree with me that the whole process is quite a shock because nothing really prepares you for it.
While we were used to speaking in all manner of ways, we were suddenly required to be sufficiently proficient in speech, which is an interestingly hard task when you’ve not been conversing in English on a daily basis. Then you begin experiencing those moments when your brain freezes because you were so sure you knew exactly what you were going to say then you somehow manage to lose your words. If you are thinking this is embarrassing, you are adorable. That experience is mortifying.
Even worse than having eloquence issues, is having to be interviewed by a panel of people who seem to write you off before you even utter a single word; or was it my imagination working overtime because these men and women were so confident and secure in the way they walked and talked? May be. I will tell you one thing though, nothing in campus, whether structured or not prepares you for that panel and that one question that seems to throw most people off guard ; “tell us a little bit about yourself”.
No class in campus teaches you how to interact with colleagues, or how to dress. Like I said, we’re expected to be sufficiently wise individuals. So you can imagine those first few weeks where you are generally skirting around everybody and vice-versa trying to create rapport with as few people as you can manage. At some point you wonder why they didn’t have a fully fledged course on rapport in the first place! It’s traumatizing having to consciously gauge every word that comes out of your mouth, checking how you laugh and then the worst part; when your English, Kiswahili and sheng’ compete for supremacy when you are trying to ask a question or report back on something. Looking back, these are my most hilarious memories.
I was lucky enough the company I interned at had an almost casual dress code, thank goodness! I didn’t have to go through wearing skirt suits and low heeled shoes, my absolute pet-peeves as far as fashion is concerned. At least my unstructured campus culture was not rocked to the core. Neither was my otherwise strained income.
Your academic training is the one thing that is supposed to give you an edge when you go on internship, yes? I thought so too. Until you start being instructed to use a specific software, that as far as you are concerned, started existing the moment you heard of it, to accomplish a task that you had to quickly refer to google to make sure it was not another software. Your only saving grace is that you are an intern and no one frowns at you when you ask questions that would otherwise be considered obvious.
When all is said and done, the internship period does open your mind in ways campus never does and perhaps never will. It strips away your naiveté as far as employment is concerned, and even the way you approach your academics. You look into the future with a new sense of understanding and purpose and evaluate yourself in light of the new experience. You become a judge of yourself as far as your skills and potential are concerned. And if you were one of those people who could not wrap their head around “the five year plan”, it suddenly becomes a reality that demands our undivided attention. Well, at least for me it was. And as such we will go back to campus with a renewed sense of purpose and structure, won’t we?