Reflecting on my Undergraduate Experience
This piece is the first part of a non-fictional series where I share some of my education-related experiences.
It is a “strong thing” to say to an undergraduate in a public university in Nigeria, “work hard, stay focused, strive for excellence regardless of where you find yourself”. Not because these values are not worthy of emulation. They are. It is so because there are stark realities “where you have found yourself”, realities which work viciously to tank your morale from the get-go.
You begin your program with the implicit understanding that it will span “the ideal number of years + X”, X being the sum total time of internal and external strikes along the way. It is the sort of arrangement which puts you at the mercy of the system, leaving you fervently frustrated.
The frustration worsens as you proceed from level to level. You begin to hope against hope that you will graduate in what will (hopefully) be a decent time. To top that, you feel ill-equipped to face the “real world” post-graduation as you are unsure whether you have what it takes to compete globally (whether that is up-to-date knowledge or technical expertise).
By way of disclaimer, the objective of this piece is not to vilify the public education system nor is it to reverberate the age-long “private versus public university” argument. It is just to highlight that when a student goes through this sort of system, they become jaded. They care little about the struggle for “change”-the touted motive for the incessant strikes. They just want to make it out in one piece. It is why the pursuit of excellence, against such a beleaguered backdrop, is indeed daunting.
As an undergraduate in Pharmacy School (in the University of Ibadan), my workload was intense. On the other hand, living on campus was a whole setup altogether. It seems hilarious now to reflect upon, but it was not-so-funny in real time- the fact that a singular problem could be so multifaceted in nature and multifactorial in origin. Ex: “There’s no water in the hostel because the pumping machine has spoilt” or “There’s no water in the hostel because there has been no light (electricity) to pump water” or “There’s no water in the hostel because people who put their buckets and kegs on the queue since yesterday finished fetching all the water soon as the porters pumped it.”
I was regularly knackered, and it was really by the grace of God I could strive to give my best in the face of the many setbacks. I had a lot to study and somehow I managed to still have the zeal to look for additional resources to gain more understanding. I practised with past exam questions (semester after semester, year after year), alongside asking for help when I needed it and helping others along the way. Thankfully, my 5-year long efforts (excluding the “strike periods”) yielded outstanding grades.
It has now been a couple of years since I finished from school. In this time, I have gone ahead, fuelled by determination. However, on some occasions, I have caved in.
These experiences have taught me that you can have a defining, non-definitive moment of failure. It can be a significant pause, but not game over.
How can this be? It can because grace continues to abound (be multiplied, re-supplied, made available afresh each time), after determination has reached the end of itself.