Learning to learn

by Mehrab Jamal
seenWhen it was suggested that I, as someone in his early days of studying at a university abroad, should write some sort of a piece describing my experiences so far, I said I would get started soon but never really got around to it. Now, perhaps one and a half years in to my time here in Australia, I have finally taken up the project.
Growing up, you have probably had more than one teacher for a subject for a good portion of your academic span. There is nothing much you can do about it. You probably either were never good enough (What? I never said I would baby you!) or you never were one to study on your own without someone breathing down your neck and/or your mom glaring at you from across the room. Then the dust along your textbooks turned to balls of dirt, months turned to years and you got to the age where you were (mistakenly) thought to be capable of taking care of yourself.
Then private coaching centres became your second home or at least that is what your parents thought. While your parents thought you were studying and being supervised by a hardened professional at said coaching centre, odds are you were probably out and about, with your ‘squad’, bunking classes and taking the keys off your driver and going on a long-drive with your friends or someone supposedly better…way to waste your dad’s mileage and money on someone who probably might no longer be your ‘bae’. Speaking of your dad’s money, all those tuition fees you so graciously purloined from your parents or from your tutor, whichever helps you sleep at night…yes, you might want to add that to the cost of your foreign higher education if ever, or more realistically, whenever, your father shoves the ‘Do you know how much money I’ve wasted on you!’ lecture down your throat. Again, I never said I would be pampering you like your parents did…at this age in your life, you should find that rather patronising.
Now that I am done with the compulsive bashing of all those stereotypical students from my past for whom I have a profound…let’s say lack of fondness…let’s get to the positive message in this; the people at the magazine/newspaper require that I have one, although I am not sure if I can get across to you. Anyways, I will give it a customary go.
When you get to university, prepare to be humbled. There are a number of reasons why I say that, but for the sake of sticking to my rhetoric, I will keep things brief. When you get to uni, you will not have anyone to spoon-feed you anything: not your mom to have your meals prepared for you, not your sisters to sort out your room whenever there is unexpected company like a landlord’s inspection (only time I’ll say this: I miss my sisters) and definitely no extra tutors to help you get through your course materials.
That last bit, essentially, is the most important thing for you to make yourself aware of from this point onwards. No additional tutoring …unless of course you want to pay in an hour more than what you used to pay over a month for lessons back home to some past graduate who may or may not be capable getting through your thick skull.
Learn to learn from now. Learn to learn on your own. Understand that when you are taking additional lessons from tutors beyond your school borders, you are going against the age-old adage ‘Self-help is the best help’. It’s not meant to add literary refinement to this piece…that is the single-most important practice on your path to self-sufficiency.
When you choose to acquire extra help, you are foregoing the chance to solve your problems yourself and solving your own problems is exactly what you’ll be doing for three to five years at University, or in your case maybe more. You are not really improving your problem solving skills if you get a math or an accounting exercise wrong in one go and the tutor does it for you in the next, you are just giving up you…perhaps I can’t use the word within a national newspaper/magazine.
You would think that studying at some reputed foreign institution guarantees a crystal clear delivery of the course content, so much so that any difficult material will look easy as A-B-C. Odds are that won’t be the case. You’ll come across lecturers and tutors whose teaching capacity is similar to your high school teacher’s and you’ll soon find yourself missing your private tutor.
But there is a cheaper and more readily accessible solution. The interwebs. Ever heard of the Khan Academy? Go onto YouTube and you will find videos on your subject matter, even the most advanced ones, explained in a much more eloquent manner than your lecturer had been capable of.
There is a reason why they do not take a roll call at university like they used to in school. The people at your university expect you to have matured into a sensible being. Prove them right. Turn into a mature, sensible adult…who am I kidding. But in time you will come to your senses, once you digest the fact that your parents will be spending in the vicinity of some $100k for your education. For the first time, you will realise that it’s not a  long drive you’re supposed to be going on.
Rather that you are meant to be making a U-turn towards rewarding your parent’s investment in you with a grade, nay, a future for you they always wanted for you. Again, learn to better yourself. Prepare to be humbled. And if you think you are really good the way you are…remember the key mantra in an international setting that will help you keep improving yourself…there is always bound to be an Asian who is way better than you.=

The author is an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney