As we dropped our son to his university, it felt like a simple yet precious moment. However, the days after my reflections raced to times of when I landed at my hostel, first time away from home and the days of landing in London where I first started work, the first time staying away from home country, navigating newness of all, the norms, the food or lack of it, the simple and complex steps of laundry to bank accounts to being in midst of many people and yet unknown to any.
While the potent memories of those times are now anecdotes and stories of adventures of friends and the ups and downs, all of which seem now cherished - the actual days, in particular the early days, were of mostly being lost and trying to find one's way... of discovering the world and inadvertently discovering aspects of oneself.
The strong urge to share the advice and ideas of how it panned out and how one could navigate was tempered with own memories of how ill-equipped I thought my own parents (or most of others I knew) were - though not entirely fair in retrospect, and the concern to not to add to pressures remotely. Bouncing off with my friends of those early times made me realize how in various guises and ways we all faced challenges of some similarities and yet unique in their impact on each of us. How do I fit in? Why should I fit in... and not just be me? The intolerable food! The lack of any common interest among anyone around! What interests me in the first place!? How do I find those elusive true friends... and how artificial of me to “try” and find friends... how come all others are so social... And what I am doing with myself, why am I here to at times insights of what an amazing opportunity I had but wondering what to do specifically… how amazing the world around and so much yet to discover, and soon on and so forth.
Here are some thoughts, the ones I ponder upon saying to my son. This is in context of one moving for studies. I hope to invite few others to share experiences of moving to home away from home... for work or for studies, adding further to this blog, and explore aspects of discovering and navigating new places, new starts and new opportunities. I hope it may be of some merit to many of young adventures out there.
For now, my unsent letter:
It's an academic journey... explore the subjects, ones you picked and ones where the opportunity arises to explore. Go to lectures, and sample classes beyond your subjects. It always feels like an adventure to attend or do things one is not meant to... just for discovery. Vast majority of your time maybe taken up by the academics, though the activities and thoughts of remaining time could equally shape the journey.
It's a community of students... and you are naturally a part of it. Be open, to be there where there is need... volunteer where you can... contribute where there is scope... participate or encourage other’s initiatives where you see some affinity to issue and take initiative where you find interest and be ok if anyone else joins or not.
No one away from you can know for sure how to do it - it is for you to figure, just some guiding thoughts:
Check out all clubs and societies... explore by attending their sessions or meetings
See if you can link up with few others to create bit more of a vibe within the floor or building. Even putting up a sheet at the entrance on small initiatives and could ask people to sign up - this often works.
Have a structure... a broad one at least for the day. Wake up time, break times (use it to be just away from room or studies), study time, eating time and sleep time - some framework of structure helps.
Find out what you like by trying and doing... explore events (even if by yourself, offer others to join when possible but let that not be a hindrance to exploring) - there are so many advertised all over the place - music, theatre, lectures, classes... couple of hours a day if one can dedicate to unstructured and exploratory things is good.
Be curious in a simple way when talking to new people- what they do, what they found out... and should they be curious of you, share simply. It's like being a traveler, you share the moments simply and sometimes you may share parts of journeys, but length of time or depth of interaction is not as relevant, sharing expands our experience.
Be kind... to yourself and to others. Take care of mind and heart. When feeling low, pick yourself up gently and do things which you may like or just pause. Same with others, be patient and kind... each one can feel low or high and its nice not to judge anyone for their small interactions.
It takes time for anyone to know us and us to know anyone else and the opportunities of doing so come from things we just simply do as a part of our studies and any other initiatives.
When walking around don’t have headphones on, its best to absorb and observe real world, and also gives a chance to the world to interact with you - other way could disconnect us. Of course, if you want to listen to music etc... then that is what you are doing!
Take pictures... helps exploring people and places. Have an Instagram account.
Take academic and tech initiatives, you find lot of creative energy from these and It's a great way to identify wider talent or leverage skills of others. Exploring topics together, writing papers, doing projects for other companies or professors is something that happens across years in college - be open and take chances. Have a LinkedIn profile and keep adding things as you do.
Every other day or wherever you feel like, just pick a call or video call to anyone of [sister, mama, me, grandma, grandpa, cousins, aunt, uncle…], every one of us always there and there without any reservation or expectation.
It's a big leap away from a structured and well-defined setup of school and home, one filled with preset things to do, friends and immense comfort of home. It's also an opportunity to discover, to create one's own structure. Its ok to not to like things in the new setup, to feel not fully equipped... to be unsure... for that feeling of discomfort is what allows to expand boundaries of what we know and what we like and how we navigate. Give yourself time and have no expectations of how things should be around you. You are good, be yourself... be at ease... take care of eating - it's the starting point, then all energy and ideas and initiatives will gradually come, play some sport, exercise, know that feeling fit is a joy in itself. And remember, it's 4 years of time at college, there are so many days, subjects, people, events, challenges, up and downs that lay in store which no one can see from here... but it's there for you to explore. And take this time... it yours to take.