Starting over, again

Starting over, again

Starting university can be hard. Transferring to a new university as a postgraduate student has its challenges too, as Master’s student Erin Maessen found out when she moved to Wellington last year to begin her studies again.

For Erin, the walk up the hill to Kelburn campus is worth it for the view.

February was coming to an end once more and I was getting ready to start the university year for the fifth time. This year was different though. After four years in the familiar surrounds of Massey University, Palmerston North, I was transferring to Victoria University of Wellington.

I came very close to not coming. The move seemed a huge obstacle. I would have to find a new flat, meet new people, and establish a life for myself all over again. If not for the promise of the brand-new Masters of Science in Society—a programme I desperately wanted to study—I would never have made the move. But February came and there I was, wondering how different could it be?

The answer is very different but only in small, subtle ways that make you feel petty for noticing. I already knew how to be a student—how to study smart, how to cook, clean, and otherwise fend for myself. However, I didn’t know how to access my course readings or where any of the classrooms were. Trying to navigate the crowded halls of an unfamiliar university gave me definite first-year flashbacks. These subtle differences turned me into an incompetent outsider.

There were all kinds of adjustments to make. At Massey, you study in two semesters, but at Vic it’s three tri-mesters. The online environment I’d known as Stream at Massey was now called Blackboard, and while it did all the same things, I couldn’t figure out how. There was the mysterious Snapper system to master if I wanted to catch a bus, and the term ‘class rep’ meant something completely different.

Anyone starting university for the first time has to learn these things. It didn’t seem fair that I had to learn them in my fifth year too. I felt alone in a strange hybrid zone. I wanted to make friends but the strategies that worked so well in first year, like joining a club, didn’t seem to apply to me now. It was a relief to start classes and meet my fellow Master’s students. Most were Victoria alumni, but once we started discussing science, I didn’t feel like an outsider any more.

Moving to Wellington from Palmerston North also meant swapping a flat landscape for one packed with hills. My morning walk to campus seemed mostly vertical, and I built some serious calf muscles in the first month alone. The steep climb was worth it though. The view out across Wellington that appears when you reach campus makes the day worth getting up for.

The transition to a new university was not nearly as straightforward as I had imagined. I loved everything about my new courses, but even months in I found myself floundering with unexpected challenges, like checking a book out of the library for the first time or trying to find a class in a building I hadn’t been to before.

I had forgotten how long it takes to adapt to a place, to discover the secret spaces to study in, or simply get used to the feel of walking through its halls. I’d been through that strangeness once already, but transferring meant experiencing it all over again. Eventually though, things started to become familiar. I (sometimes) use the word ‘trimester’ now and just the other day caught myself striding purposefully through the halls, no longer any doubt about how to find the room I needed.

Erin Maessen has recently completed the Master of Science in Society programme. Her favourite thing about Victoria University of Wellington is still the view.

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