On the 24th of February, Bantu Hikers hosted a workshop for the 2018 matric student cohort which ran concurrently with the Stellenbosch University Open Day. The day was both overwhelming and exciting, as one of the students admit. The workshop covered topics with a particular focus on navigating tertiary, wellness, planning and goal setting. The greater part of the workshop was run by volunteer Bantu Hikers professionals with expertise in the different topics. The workshop was a learning curve for both students and professionals and what was most powerful in the sessions is learning from each other through our stories, each with elements of familiarity.
What sets a lot of us apart in the first year of university (the transition year) is the preparation and information we get even before we set foot in the lecture hall. It is critical to attend university open days the year before, get career guidance, know where and how to access information or where to ask for assistance even when you are a registered university student. These are the things we take for granted yet with the benefit of hindsight, we acknowledge how relatively drama free the first year university experience could have been, especially when you are a first generation university student entering an unfamiliar world which is both foreign to you and to those who have worked hard to see you there, your family.
The impact of experiential learning can never be underestimated. Immersing yourself in a new environment forces you to engage using all your senses allowing you to make your own interpretations and judgements. In the first workshop session, Beverly asked all the students to be mindful of how they felt as they walked around the university so that they could share their thoughts with all of us. The feedback revealed that what they may have thought, or heard about university is only a small part of the big picture. Even the descriptions of the sheer scale in size and facilities is dwarfed by reality.
Learning in the classroom brought its suite of advantages, a quiet, safe space to interact where online tools were shared, guidelines on how to apply specific to each programme were given and ways of studying smart and planning ahead where illustrated. The privacy of a classroom also afforded us the opportunity to talk about taboo topics that we wish our parents would chat to us about like mental wellness, physical and sexual wellness, touching on other nuances such as consent. Luckily, Mandisa skillfully facilitated this session and probably achieved the impossible, getting teens to open up.
The biggest message for the workshop is that the leap from high school to university is a big one. WE need to prepare our students to be confident and take charge of their own well-being and education. If this is not a lesson you learn before you enter the gates of university, it is certainly a lesson you will learn any way, unfortunately, some students may not get a second chance before they prematurely exit the system.
Yes the journey will be bumpy, confusing, exciting and scary but it is not insurmountable. It all starts with one step!