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.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Story of my First Semester in UL

Part 1; Application, Acceptance, Actualisation

As I shuffled downstairs to check the morning post I spotted it from afar. Even from that distance it looked suspicious and it certainly wasn’t a bill, some junk mail or a letter from An Taoiseach asking me round for some tea and biccies. As I approached the bundle of envelopes there could be no doubt, it was for me and the insignia on the letter told me it was the one I’d been waiting for. In the few seconds it took me to ascend the stairs and re-enter my flat I looked for clues. It felt quite weighty was that a good or a bad thing? Surely a rejection letter would be short and concise? Look just open the fuckin thing and stop torturing yourself I thought to myself. I carefully prised the envelope open and slipped out the sheet at the forefront; my eyes scanned the page.....”Dear is with have been accepted”. Accepted! Accepted!!! There it was. One simple word. A word which was about to change my life completely.

I can’t quite pinpoint the exact moment when I decided that heading to college as a mature student was something I wished to do. Having endured a period of my life which, to put it mildly, had been a test of my resolve I suppose you could say I was a changed man and with that change came a desire to finally do something worthwhile with myself. I’d reached the age of 32 with little to show for it other than some bittersweet memories and a world weary air more common amongst men twice my age. But I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet so at a time of my life when many of my friends were settling down and beginning the long, slow descent into mid life misery I took the decision to (excuse me while I go all American) ‘follow my dreams’.

Again the details are quite hazy when I try to recall why I chose UL as the place to begin this exciting new chapter in my life. But I knew I didn’t fancy heading to Dublin, I’ve never liked our capital so shoot me, and many of the other options were too far North for a chap bred in the sunny South East. Everything about UL seemed perfect and the few doubts I had were allayed when the tentative email I sent to the course leader was answered not only promptly but with a great degree of warmth and courtesy to boot. So with my mind made up I set about applying for a place in Journalism and New Media at the University of Limerick. The application process was as thorough and long winded as I’d expected with every last detail of my life documented and accounted for. At one point I was half expecting a request to attend my local garda station for a full cavity search but thankfully this didn’t transpire.

But filling out application forms, however convoluted, is easy; the first big hurdle I would have to negotiate was to be the interview. Funnily enough I’ve never really been that afraid of interviews, although this may have a lot to do with the fact that I’ve never really applied for anything I really wanted before now. But it went without saying that this was a biggie. So after an early morning panic about the creases in my suit jacket and a longer than was comfortable wait outside the torture chamber I was confronted by the previously friendly course leader and one of his cohorts. It was clear from the off that they had agreed on a good cop/bad cop routine with me apparently cast as the pleading felon desperate for mercy. As a veteran of many cop shows this whole scenario was second nature to me and I dealt with it like a true pro. By tossing charming asides and winning smiles at the good cop and heartfelt pleas and earnest eyes at the bad cop I thought I’d done enough, but I would have course have to wait.

So with the waiting over and this joyous letter in my hands what do I do next? Having informed loved ones of the exciting news and listened to them get all emotional the enormity of what I was about to embark upon suddenly dawned on me. Four years of my life. Usually I’m loathe to even agree on a time to meet up with friends for a drink and here I was committing myself to something which I had no way of knowing whether I’d like or not. But being a changed man and all I quickly cast aside any misgivings and readied myself for what I hoped would be the start of something special. First up was of course moving to Limerick city. Now you’d have to be a special kind of imbecile not to be aware of the reputation of Limerick city but how bad could it be I thought as I settled in for my first night in my new flat. The answer? Not bad at all. Sorry to disappoint you but I quickly discovered that apart from a few shady night time characters and a way of speaking similar to that of a Cork person on crack Limerick suited me just fine. All that was left now was the college bit.

First up was the mature student induction. The opportunity to familiarise myself with the campus in advance of the braying youths arriving the following week was one I was grateful for and as I took my seat in the lecture hall I noted with some pleasure the amount of greying and balding heads in the vicinity. The induction itself was a fairly tame affair and it seemed that its main aim was to make us form some sort of vigilante mature student gang in preparation for the upcoming war against our younger contemporaries. The emphasis was clearly on making sure that we stuck together and repelled the advances of these beer sodden, unhygienic scamps who would be intent on relieving us of not only our knowledge but also the clothes off our back should we not be careful. Well bring it on I thought, let these little shits come at me and to quote Omar from the Wire “they best not miss”.

So it was with this mindset that I was to meet my classmates for the first time. Let it not be said that UL doesn’t ensure its students are well prepared for their time at the college as in addition to my mature student induction I now had to undergo an orientation day. Although my tone may appear a little mocking I would like to point out that both the induction and orientation, not to mention the whole first seven weeks campaign, were beneficial in not only allowing me to gain a vague idea of the campus layout but also in giving me the opportunity to gain some early allies in the forthcoming war against the little ‘uns. The orientation saw me grouped together with a handful of the people who were to make up the Journalism and New Media vintage for 2011. A couple of other matures instantly put me at ease but to my surprise it appeared that the few younger students in our group weren’t the rampaging, odious buffoons I’d been warned about but were instead quite civilised young adults capable of holding intelligent conversations without once referring to Glee or whatever it is the little bastards are into these days.

To be continued....................