No one is ever going to develop real life skills just by grind-memorizing facts to later dump over a sheet of paper – which, let’s face it, is mostly what you actually have to do in college and university.
I’m Carlos, a Biology and Geology student at the University of Aveiro, Portugal. Currently, aside from the regular grind:
- I’m the chief editor here at The Student Power
- I’m active with my course’s “hazing culture” (praxe)
- I have gotten myself into a volunteering program for the Biology Department right from the get go (which has developed into me having gotten my own research project well before most other students)
- I am a member of 3 of the 4 departments of the local Erasmus Student Network section (marketing and communication, cultural and projects/social)
- I am one of the players for my course’s soccer team
Adding to all of this, I usually take up on shorter lasting tasks such as being a member of the team for the course’s drink selling booth for an academical festival or being a member of the committee for the construction of the end of year academic parade’s course car. It is a lot of stuff. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Unlike most people here in Portugal, I didn’t enter college right after high school. And during these years out in the real world, I faced all sorts of challenges and hardships, having had to start earning my own living, and even trying to move out as a teenager in a country deeply affected by the financial crisis.
During this period, I couldn’t believe how under stimulated most of my high school friends were being: all they ever did was the same they’d always been doing before college, they simply studied for tests and exams, and that was it. I could see big differences between us then – I was a lot more conscious of the need to be independent, manage things on your own, get out there and make things work by yourself.
So when I entered college I already knew full well the benefits of actually doing other things aside from the regular disciplines.
Firstly, and this is a big one for me, it helps you expand your network. I’m not a big partying guy, and I enjoy getting to know people by simply pleasantly talking to them. Night clubs really aren’t the best place for me, even though at times I do have to give in and show up.
Above anything else, for older students, the weekly hazing rituals (praxes) for the freshmen are an excellent moment for socializing and catching up with each other. You can settle the next beer at the pub but you can also settle the next time you’re going to help that one colleague on a field trip. This sort of culture here in Portugal creates very tight-knit groups that really help prevent for there to be lonely stray students who’re not very socially healthy. So just for the socializing alone, joining informal activities organized by students is surely worth it.
By volunteering for the Biology Department I met several people doing their master’s and doctoral projects, which really allowed me to get a glimpse of what actual research is like. You can just acquire so much extra knowledge, and the connections I make here may well end up making my academical life easier down the line (such as that one time I delivered a killer presentation on an actual research project that was being developed at the department while all the other students were spewing out facts from mindless google searches accompanied by crummy presentations).
By being a member of Erasmus Student Network Aveiro it is now easier than ever for me to connect with exchange students – and so often these are some of the most interesting people around. Whether just for casual fun or for some real insightful and interesting conversations, with the added bonus of the chance to have some cultural exchange, these are some of the most refreshing people I have available for engaging with. At the same time you have your team of equally motivated and interesting people who share the same spirit, whether it be at local level, nation-wide or even international – ESN is big!
Fixing yourself a good network is one of the most important things you can do for yourself while in college. These connections will stay with you long after you’re done with your studies and potentially make available such an amazing array of opportunities, it’s unthinkable for me not to invest in it.
Aside from the networking, there’s the extra hands-on knowledge you get about everything. At the Biology Dep. I try with different research techniques for obtaining results, I work with different databases using different computer programs, along with other lesser but interesting knowledge. For ESN I’m getting the chance to learn using different useful computer tools, plan bigger projects (with all that comes with it), as well as stimulating my English language skills further. And on all of these things you learn those softer skills such as communication skills, dealing with people in the most useful and least stressful way possible, leadership skills and so on.
For me, college is also all about having a rich life away from all the lectures, books and exams. I actually call all of this simply living.
Photo by Andrea Taverna (“Retorno”, award winning photo of the Santiago Campus’ library by a local Erasmus student)