Does University Life truly prepare you for the Real World?

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In many ways, university life is totally unrealistic. Going out on a weekday, getting fish drunk, waking up in your bed without being sure how you got there, and still finding the energy to stumble into a 10 a.m. class and feign consciousness – these are things we can only get away with in our student days.

Sure, you can still do it as a ‘responsible’ adult, but you tend to cuss yourself when you’re stumbling around in work, where it’s not as easy to be totally ‘out of it’.

University is the transition from secondary school with its strict school policies, grey uniforms and nuns (sorry Sr. Phyllis), extra lessons and curfews, to a life with little to no adult supervision. Suddenly, you’re the adult!

In my case, I was hundreds of miles away on a small, private university campus in Tampa, Florida, with no friends or family in sight. I was suddenly out on my own, unsupervised and responsible for my own well-being. In what seemed like overnight, I became the maker of my own destiny, and whether I graduated or flunked out was completely up to me.

Attending college in the US had its own surreal moments, including man-size, wall holes on dorm floors, and someone peeing on an ottoman and setting it on fire… in an elevator. However, in the midst of once-in-a-lifetime moments was a four-year cram session in the basics of everyday adulthood, and since sharing is caring, I thought I’d share some of my lessons with you.


Life throws you curveballs

Although since the age of eight, I’ve told people I would one day become a marine biologist, never did I imagine I would hold jobs in copywriting, magazine editing and social media. I started freshman year with a declared major in marine biology, and pursued this degree for three years, yet somehow graduated with a Bachelors in Writing. Go figure!

Lesson: Life throws you curveballs, but if you stay on your toes, you can just catch them and run.


Don’t focus on the money; focus on the opportunity

My first job on campus was in the foreign language lab working 20 hours a week at US$5.50 an hour. It wasn’t great money, but it was an easy job, and we got to study while we worked.  By the time I left university, I had held paid positions as a biology lab assistant, a freshman mentor and a resident assistant, positions that didn’t pay much more, but looked great on my résumé.  After graduation, I even got a summer gig as a resident assistant at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth programme. Did I ever fathom I would live in Baltimore, Maryland for six weeks, making money overseeing a bunch of pre-pubescent geniuses? No, but I took the opportunity when it came my way.

Lesson: If you go after the life experience, by the time the money comes around, it probably wouldn’t even matter. (Ok, so money matters, but you get a kick out of the experience, right?).


Everyone has some measure of power

In university, I learnt that while being on speaking terms with professors could tip you from an A/B to a solid A, having friends on campus patrol guaranteed protection during late-night strolls.  Knowing the first name of the chef in the café could get you an omelette even though he just told someone else the line was closed. And smiling at ‘Maria’ from the cleaning crew who barely understands English could warrant her cleaning your bathroom, even though she’s only required to clean the common area. In the ‘real world’, befriending the bartender at your liming spot could get you a free beer, the office courier – an occasional drop to town, and the lunch ladies around the corner an extra piece of pie for the same $25.

Lesson: Just be nice… and extra nice to the people actually doing the work.


Grasp life by the horns

Little known fact, but when I moved to the US in ’01 I had to wait a year to qualify for residency and resident school rates. By the time I started college a year later, I had waited so long to start that enjoying every moment of it was utmost in my mental. It took one long year of waiting to start, four quick years to enjoy it. As my mother always used to say to us as children, “time waits for no one”.

Lesson: Life is too precious to waste. In every minute, there is the conception of opportunity. Your role in all of this? To give those opportunities life.

See university life isn’t all about ‘book sense’, and the piece of paper that verified I got ‘an education’ are all trivial to the nugget of experience I got living, studying, and working at university. When you look past the perceived prestige of being tertiary educated, and the theories your lecturers taught, the real lesson from every stage of life is that a positive attitude towards yourself and others will take you to your ultimate destination.


Quilin Achat

Quilin Achat is an avid lover of reading, so it's no surprise that she runs a small, unconventional bookstore called The Fire is Lit, in San Fernando. Check out the Fire is Lit at

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