I, Brittney Harris vow to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about a University student experience. Not just a university student, but a student that came straight out of secondary school and one that started a bit young. I just came to the end of my degree after three seemingly long years of studying at the University of the West Indies. I started in 2014, I did not stay on campus or anywhere near campus because travelling would not have been a problem for me because I did not live a long distance away from UWI. So, basically, I stayed at home with my mother which is nice. I will break down the timeline of my degree from my first year to my third and final year in this blog.
It was so exciting when I got my acceptance letter to UWI, the university I always dreamed of going to when I got older. I signed up for Biology and I got into it, however I remembered slightly regretting putting Biology as my first choice. I chose Biology because I initially thought I wanted to do medicine but slowly that dream withered away and I wanted to become an Environmentalist. My first day of UWI I reached late for my class, like as in missing the whole class while another class started…late. It was a struggle at first finding classes and knowing where to go. It was weird being a teenager pushed into a new environment where you came from secondary school and teachers were responsible for you and if you slipped up, they held you accountable by calling your parents; to you being completely responsible for everything and no lecturer holding you accountable for it. So, I guess you can say I was irresponsible in my first year. In my first year, I got sick like around three times back to back because it was a new environment with thousands of people on campus daily. I had classes with over 200 students present. I struggled to understand what was going on in my classes, especially in my Biology classes. I made a variation of bad decisions which were reflected in my grades at the end of finals of semester one.
In semester two, it was slightly better, I learned from my mistakes quickly and worked harder with the help of some close friends. I also entered a relationship (I am still currently in) and he helped me along the way, with prayers, encouragement and some stern encouragements about studying harder. However, I needed some electives (to make up for extra credits) and chose one that I couldn’t access and well even though I had improved in my Biology courses except Biochemistry, I got a warning on my transcript. Therefore, I did summer school. Summer school helped me mature a little more and well, I realized that I did not put as much efforts in studying harder for my courses and I passed both courses that I did over.
My second year was the hardest and darkest year of my university experience. In my second year, I was on the executive committee of my all-time favourite Christian group ever (they are still to this day my favourite set of people and organization), IVCF. It was the year that my degree took it up a notch, I wasn’t doing only two Biology courses like in year 1, I was now doing five of them. All which had their own assignments and requirements. I also shared classes with my boyfriend and some of my friends who were in their final or third year. Mentally, this year was trying especially the first semester. First, I was incredibly insecure about my intelligence because I came from primary school and secondary school being one of the smartest to now being an average, mediocre student. It seemed like everyone I was surrounded by were first class students or students that did extremely well in their exams. And I, well I was struggling to pass my incourse exams or just barely passing. Comparison is the thief of joy and I can tell you that. Secondly, it was the first time I have ever suffered mentally, my mental health wasn’t in the best place. I almost had two panic attacks where my heart was racing and I couldn’t breathe but through prayers, it did not go on to be full blown panic attacks. I had quite a few mental breakdowns where I couldn’t pick up my book to study or complete assignments and that was hard because at one point I suffered through them alone. Please, don’t ever suffer through these things alone, tell someone what you are going through, get help. Also, in the first semester, my relationship went through a rough patch LOL (that’s for another blog post some day).
Semester two became a little easier, the courses were not as hard as the previous semester, I learned from my mistakes, my relationship problems were dealt with and we grew and forgave each other (we now look back at laugh at it). I started to try and compare myself a little less, I experienced one mental breakdown between two classes where I couldn’t go to the next class and I had to go home. I did not have to go through that one on my own though. At the end of this year I was tired but I did not have to do summers and I had an amazing testimony from this year. So, in semester one I had to do another Biochemistry course which is Biochemistry II. I can tell you I worked extremely hard and studied hard for this one because I did not want to fail. I took that course seriously and then the exam did not come favourable and well, I failed but then a large percentage of students failed and they went over the grades and in the end, I got an extra 5% which means, essentially, I passed the course and did not have to do it over. Still praising Jesus for that up to today.
Third & Final Year!!!
To be honest, my third year was possibly the hardest year in UWI but it was my best year ever. This was the year I got to choose my specializations and I got to do courses that I liked and the classes were smaller, therefore you got to interact more with your lecturers who by the way all of which I love and appreciate because they are all kind-hearted people. I had tons of research projects and smaller projects during this year but all of them I enjoyed doing. This year, I believed I cut off a lot of socializing and I sacrificed certain things for my degree and mental wellbeing. I had very little time to do things that I enjoyed and in the second semester I had little time to even wash my hair. However, through all the work, I took comfort in knowing Jesus was with me even though sometimes I didn’t know if I would have finished assignments on time. But during this year, there was a sense of calmness and comfort through a raging storm. Even coming down to the end of my final year, my father got a minor heart-attack which was shocking and scary but the Lord helped me through finishing my projects and He even helped me through my exams when I wasn’t even sure I would pass them (by the way I did well in all). At the end of this year I was extremely tired. I did summers to finish up only two courses which I didn’t do but needed to graduate and everything worked out well in the end. I remembered, saying at the end of my third year I wanted to graduate with Upper Seconds instead of Lower Seconds because my year 2 grades weren’t “lit”. I am happy to say that Jesus came through with this minor request for me and I can’t even tell you how it happened because it is only through Him.
To the church, to people who have not done a degree before; students who got in to do a degree and are currently going through it, doesn’t mean everything is okay with them. It doesn’t mean they are surviving well. We are surrounded with different beliefs, ideologies, philosophies and struggles that if you don’t know who you are in Christ, you will bend easily, you will be easily lead astray in that environment and you would be easily tossed with the wind. If you don’t have a strong mind, it is easy to get depressed and suffer from mental illnesses and sometimes students come in with mental illnesses and sometimes university can make it worse. It is not easy as some of us would make it seem. Stop thinking we got it all figured out. And just because someone doesn’t pursue a degree, don’t think of them as lesser, we are all intelligent in different ways. Just because they choose to pursue something different, doesn’t mean they are inferior to persons that have done a degree, they are equally as needed as someone who is academically inclined.
To those that are now entering a degree; You will get a huge culture shock and its okay. Make sure you are grounded in His word and that you are surrounded by people with the same vision and mission as you. There are many clubs on campus and many good Christian groups that will help you through this journey. Please join them. Get to know people who are in your year and people who have gone through the things that you are about to experience. Constantly pray and make time for your devotions. NEVER NEGLECT IT!
To those who are currently doing their degree; I understand how you feel, I know what you have been through. Don’t be afraid to talk about your problems, don’t be afraid to open-up to someone around you about them. I am here if you need prayers, there are people out there that support you and would understand. The Holy Spirit comforts when no one can. Run to God and His word in times of trouble and have faith, it will end soon.
How you can help a college/university student?
- You can help by giving food: If you are in a church close to a university like UWI, you may potentially have a lot of university students present and sometimes when things get rough, some students may run out of money, you can give them food. This is particularly important to regional students and students who are from Tobago or South. Even if your church isn’t close to a university, there may be students in your church that need food at times who don’t have a strong support system. Food is needed for strength! And it is a nice gesture. University students love free food.
- You can help by giving money: As September is near, GATE is no longer fully free for everyone (this is for Trinidad and Tobago citizens), which means some students may need to pay 25% of their tuition. You can give to someone who may need this money. Some of us can’t afford books, you can give to that cause also. As I mention, some regional, Tobago or South students may need money also for basic survival and needs away from their home which you can help with. Not all parents can afford everything and not everyone has a strong support system at home.
- You can help by praying with us or for us: As cliché as it may sound, but some of us just need your prayers. Praying with us and for us is what we need the most on this list and prayer is powerful. We may not tell you everything we go through, but we go through a plethora of problems and your prayers can help us through those situations. So, please lift us up in your prayers or come to us and pray with us
- You can help by encouraging us and talking to us: Sometimes, all we just wished was someone would talk to us and find out what is wrong, how we are feeling and what not. And when we say it is stressful don’t just throw around a cliché Christian line and leave but talk us through how we feel and give us sound biblical counsel. We need it. Continue encouraging us with the Word. Or give us even a hug (it depends on who the person is, just don’t go around doing it if the person is not comfortable with that). Allow us to cry and pour our hearts out but comfort us in the end.
There are many other ways you can help us but these four examples are just some ways in which you can help. You can practically help and you can spiritually help.
All in all, I am grateful for this journey in my life and I am thankful to God for being there for me throughout even when I doubted Him. I don’t believe this degree is the be all and end all of my life because God may have something better for me in store and in the end, I don’t need it to enter into Heaven. There are so much more important things God wants me to be and do according to His word that this degree pales in comparison to. As this chapter closes in my life, I enter a new one…adulthood. Let’s see what the future holds and I believe Jesus is faithful till the end.
Grace & Peace.