Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Story of my First Semester in UL

Part 2: Beginning, Brotherhood, Becoming

...Maybe my preconceptions about the youth of today were misguided. A barely concealed loathing of anyone under the age of 25 had become something that I’d made a part of me. “Look at them there with their Converse runners and their ironic quiffs they think they’re so clever”, I’d think to myself as I watched them loitering around with little or no intent. “They wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in my day”, I’d mutter as I walked past the array of freaks, geeks and not so chics without once realising that I was experiencing what every single person on this earth does when faced with the prospect of being usurped by a new generation. It was natural for me to detest these bright eyed young hopefuls; after all they had everything I once had. And just like me many of them would go on to squander it in the manner of someone who truly believes they will never get old. Youth is wasted on the young they say, well try telling that to this mob.

But really I’m not that old and as my first brief encounter with the younger members of my class had proven they aren’t so young either. The gap between us was surprisingly small and once I’d adjusted to their tendency to become over animated at the mere drop of a hat I found that these people weren’t all that different to me. They were ever so excitable though and like a dog kennel roused from its slumber once one puppy started yapping they were all it! During these moments I simply found myself a quiet corner and watched events unfold before me as these exuberant Homo sapiens went about disproving every theory that Darwin had worked so hard to uncover.

Before long though we were one big happy family but rather than the traditional mother, father and 2.3 children I likened us to a troop of mountain gorillas. You had the quiet authority of the silverbacks (us matures), the playful vigour of the young males and the matriarchal, caring young females who at times kept their distance from the group at large for fear of being rutted to death. It really couldn’t have been any better and all the fears I’d brought with me were assuaged within a matter of days. The kids are alright I said to myself, well who woulda thunk it! However this was just in the college environment and as I vowed never to accompany the young primates on a night of debauched indulgence I could only speculate as to how they behaved away from the confines of the institute of learning.

So now that I was among a jolly good bunch of people and was in the process of making friendships which I hoped would last for years it was time to turn my attention to the main point of me being here. The learning and stuff. I want to be a journalist and that is unlikely to ever change but I suppose it is unrealistic to expect a four year degree course to consist of journalistic training and nothing else. So along with my compulsory journalism modules I was charged with picking two other electives from what has to be said was a pretty sorry looking list. Languages were out from the off. I don’t do ‘repeat after me’ unless I’m in the dock or at church (for the record I’m neither holy nor criminal). Economics. What’s that? Something to do with business is it? No thanks. History? Didn’t do it in school so figured it was pointless. Law? Apparently there’s a lot of memorising invo.....stop right there. Which left me with Sociology and Politics. Hmmm.

Looking back I’m more than content with my choice of electives. But given the fact that my decision was based on nothing more than whimsy I cannot take any credit for it. Sociology, or the ‘study of nothing’ as some have labelled it, proved to be occasionally intriguing, infrequently infuriating, but mostly just fine. Politics, which I was more hesitant about, turned out to be quite a revelation thanks to in no small part the epic nature of the lectures provided by a Mr. Neil Robinson. Those lucky enough to be present during one of his oratory performances will attest to the man’s magnificence as he regaled us all with his distaste of the feats of Margaret Thatcher among others. This wasn’t like any learning I’d encountered before. The emphasis was on us to take what we could from each and every lecture and I was determined to grab every little morsel I could. I think I went almost six weeks before I missed a lecture which even by mature standards must be pretty extreme. Oh how I laughed as some of new friends gently chided me for being so committed and dared to call me a nerd. I’d had more than enough of being cool and if it was nerdy to dedicate myself to my studies then a nerd I was.

It all seemed so easy. The few assignments that we’d got were delivered back with no little haste or effort and I could have been forgiven for thinking that this whole college lark was a doddle. However a concurrent theme throughout these early offerings was the need to ‘cite it right’ when it came to doing our end of term assignments. At first I struggled to understand the entire concept of academic writing and the referencing system. “Let me get this straight, you want me to quote someone else’s work in my writing? Why on earth would I do that? Sure whose opinion could possibly be more relevant than my own”! But like the assiduous student that I was I agreed to play it their way and endeavoured to ensure I cited every single fuckin thing right. But Christ was it torturous. I realise that we have it so much easier than those who went before us and that referencing online material is so much easier than traipsing around the library looking for that one book which may or may not contain all you desire, but having been accustomed to writing in a manner which could be loosely described as ad hoc I found it to be a somewhat demoralising experience.

In comparison to other courses I got off lightly though and if a few nights spent hunched over my laptop decrying the lack of relevant material on why the Mafia should be classed as a subculture was to be the worst of it then eternal gratitude was mine. There was another source of tears however and if there was one module which I fully failed to comprehend then it had to be Shorthand. In theory it sounded like a perfect part of any journalist’s armoury. The ability to write words at the speed of light was surely not to be scoffed at. Then I got into the class. “How the fuck can that be an M, it’s just a straight line”?!? The lines of reality became blurred as we were told that this array of squiggles and scrawls were not what they appeared. At times I wondered if she was just making it all up and we were the victims of an elaborate ruse but I pushed such thoughts aside and managed to do enough to just get by. What was that I was saying about being a dedicated student?

As I write I’ve just finished the last exam of my first semester in UL. As exams go they weren’t too bad but of course their true nature will only be fully revealed upon receipt of my results. In many ways I feel like I can’t fully assess this semester until I know how I fared academically. But the truth is that although my grades will reflect many things about my first stanza at the University of Limerick the real story is one that it is impossible to express in mere numbers and letters. It may be overly sentimental and schmaltzy of me to admit this but the truth of the matter is that I feel extremely fortunate to have been given this opportunity at this stage in my life. At certain points I observe the younger crowd and find myself once again casting envious glances in their direction as they make plans for the night ahead, enjoying the full college experience as it’s meant to be enjoyed. But I console myself with the fact that that point in my life has passed and now I’m just here for the learning.