Dear Freshmen: What I Wish I Knew A Year Ago

September 17, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

Freshman year ought to be a time of laughter, light-heartedness and liberty. As much as that is true, the first year of your university life is also, in one way or another, one of order, orchestration and obligations – or so experience have taught me.

Twelve (or was it thirteen?) decent months ago, with the gradual dwindling of excitement and joy upon receiving my university offer  and the growing nerves of meeting friends, surviving classes and the now-classic-then-and-still-ridiculous HKU Portal/class registration grapple, I was on the verge of praying for a fairy-godmother (I’m pushing it, but it’s not that far off, really). Essentially, what I wanted was someone to enlighten me with tips and tricks of walking the walk of freshman year.

Knowing this lot some twelve or thirteen months ago would have done me a great deal of good. Pray tell? Read on.


1. Find a mentor/academic advisor


Perhaps one of the biggest differences between university life and your high school years is the amount of liberty you have. The flip side of this, however, is that there is no one to “tame you”, or, in other cases, to spoon-feed and guide you through your career. Unlike high school, there are no homeroom teachers to help you with your decisions or basically give you a printed list of guidelines. That’s why it’s important that you find a similar figure in university, be it a senior, a professor, tutor or academic advisor. Learn from other people’s experiences, and avoid downtrodden paths. Be the sponge and absorb the experiences they grace you with, but also filter off ideas with you sound, critical mind. Allow them to guide you along your decision-making progress. I can’t stress more on the importance of this. University life is all about exploring and experimenting, no doubt, but it’s also a very fleeting four years of your life that will end before you realise it.

Also, if you have a cool advisor, he might even let you dump a whole bucket (or martini glasses) of water at him. I have ocular proof. Be jealous, kids.

2. Find your own comfort zone – literally!


One thing you hear all the time about university life is that it’s the period of time, or, if you wish, the starting point, for you to go above and beyond one’comfort zone. All true, but before doing that, one also has to know where and what his or her comfort zone is. By that, not only do I mean one’s social circle or course choices. You really do need to find a literal comfort zone on campus, especially for those who plan to do spend most of their time on campus – be it studying, chilling with friends, or even just to take some time off, sit back and relax (and maybe finish the latest season of Game of Thrones). Here are the top 5 spots hKUDOS bloggers recommend.

Social life

3. You’re here for a reason…


Are you (ever so slightly) intimidated by the fact that the guy sitting next to you went to a prestigious private school while you came from a much humbler public school not entirely famous for producing so-called “top-notch scholars”? The self-doubt is understandable, but know that you are here for a reason. You’re not the proverbial applicant who “slipped through the net”, and that’s because your hard work brought you here. If you feel out of your depth, don’t let others’ appearances of calmness fool you: in all likelihood, they’re also paddling frantically below the surface too.

4. …But it never hurts to be humble


So really, you’re here for a reason, which is that you’re capable. But don’t let this element blind you into being the world’s most stuck-up person ever. Trust me, it’s annoying. Thing is, yes, we all know that there is this proverbial “myth” that goes around society saying that all HKU students are the best, and with all due respect and partially-shameless agreement (only slightly, really, I know what people mean by decency, thank you very much), you’re not that special either. University life, as I’ve mentioned, is about learning, and learning is best done with a respectful, modest attitude. So stride through the hallways of the campus with confidence, but never arrogance. Remember, you’re here to learn, not piss people off with your snotty attitude.

 5. Let relationships be what they will be, but don’t hesitate to reach out for friendship.


If you’re not already tired of hearing this, let me repeat the classic “5 Things You Should Do As a Uni Student” – 1. study 2. live in a hall 3. join the board of a society 4. find a part time job 5. “chut” the damn pool, i.e. be in a relationship.

With all due respect, go ahead and check all these things off your bucket list, but also remember that you should never force yourself into doing things just for the sake of doing it – especially relationships. Maybe it’s wrong timing, a flake in personalities or the fact that you’re just not that ready to be in a relationship – my advice is to just let things be. True that university life is and should be romantic, but rushing into relationships isn’t part of it. I’d call it fickleness, and chances are, things won’t end great. Rather, I’d say, be careful with your romances, but always be open for friendship. Be nice to people, and most if not all of them will return the favour. Seriously, no man is an island. Friendship does good things to you and your life.

HKU Hacks

6. HKU Portal is one annoying pain in the behind


Ask any HKU student what they hate most about the school and 8 out of 10 will tell you one of the most annoying things you’ll ever have to deal with in your hku career is HKU Portal during course registration period. Just as the minute-hand strikes 12 you hit the “confirm” button, and all you get for the next 5 minutes is flashes of “processing”/“processing”/“processing”, then five to six red crosses indicating that you failed to register for your classes. It’s unpredictable, intractable and irritating (sort of). but like life (and relationships), you just need to find a way to deal with it. Learn to be patient, at least try to be for 5 minutes until you can bear no more. Then freak out. [Writer’s note: been there, done that. No judgments.]

7. Campus Starbucks are the B.E.S.T (and you will never buy anything from any other Starbucks anymore. The End.)


Because, hello? Student discounts, anyone?

8. Your freshman reading week is party week. (Also, TRAVEL).


I am not kidding about this. Even Head of the European Studies Program, Prof. Roland Vogt, agrees (sadly I wasn’t quick enough to record him saying this when he did). Enjoy your reading week when you still have the chance to. Join the HKU Goes Travelling group on Facebook and look for people to travel with. It’s a good break for you to take some time off the whole studying/school scene and just relax. It’s the optimal time for you and your brains to rejuvenate. Check out our travel tips for the university voyager and posts on travelling for some food for thought. It’s never to early to plan for a trip!

9. Feed yourself well!


A hungry stomach does result in an empty brain. It’s true. Campus food not so glamorous? No problem. Here are the top 5 gastronomic options for the HKU student. Also check out this quick and healthy recipe. You’re welcome.

 General Hacks

10. Be careful with your finances.


It’s easy to very unintentionally spend way too much with the inception of university, and really, even during your career in it. Textbooks, living expenses, transportation fees, food, random happy hour drinks, night outs, etc.  (furniture too, for those living on or near campus) They all cost you money, and yes, you have valid reasons of having to spend all that money. But problems arise when you don’t handle your finances carefully. Open a student bank account (they usually have lower administration fees and better deals), learn to budget and keep track of your expenditure. This is also really good practice for life after university when you really are on your own and are responsible for everything from your diet decisions to paying taxes, your spendings and finances. There’s nothing wrong with frugality (and this is coming from me), so here are some tips and tricks for your kind reference.

11. Make things and try new things


Using the same metaphor I used earlier on, your job in university really is to be the sponge. Soak in what you can. Go ahead. Learn, read, write, debate about Immanuel Kant’s political theories if they are what interest you. Write your term paper on feminism and lingerie if that is what you like. But the most important thing about university life, or, should I say, the output thereof, is not your diploma. The output is that you can take that knowledge you acquired in your university career and do something with it. You want to exhibit that you are not just a learner, but also a learner who can assimilate and emancipate all that you’ve learnt.
Taking a very proximate example of a journalism student, write and create as much as you can. Start a blog. Write about the relationship between cats and Hitler if this is what inspires you. The best way to fight the writer’s bloc and basically to keep you going is to keep writing. Build something. Never mind too much about the repercussions.

A university degree is a license to innovate and build on what we know. Build things. Lots of them. And have fun.