Two of our matrics from 2018 are in their first year of Medicine at the Mthatha campus of Walter Sisulu University (WSU). We reached out to them to catch up and hear about their experiences of university so far. In amongst their lecture packed day they made time to fill us in on some of the things they are enjoying and some of the challenges they are facing. They also had some wise words for our current matrics.
Q: So you’re doing medicine at WSU in Mthatha? Where are you staying?
Xhanti: Yes, that’s right. I’m in res on the Nelson Mandela drive campus.
Siyolise: Yes, I’ve just started first year. I was allocated residence.
Q: Do you like res?
Xhanti: Yes I do. It gives me access to go to campus or the library any time that I want to which is very nice. I enjoy it.
Siyolise: It’s very nice.
Q: Do you have a roommate?
Xhanti: I stay in a double room with a roommate. He is a nice guy. He also gives me some pointers for my studies. He is from Qungu. And luckily for me he is in second year. He guides me a lot and has given me lots of advice for my first year.
Siyolise: I have a shared room with someone. She is also studying medicine. We go to classes together. She’s a new friend that I have made.
Q: Was it hard to make new friends?
Xhanti: Yes and no. Everyone who arrives as a first year is lost. So we ask each for help not knowing that no one knows what is going on. I met some guys on my first day of school. There are four of us together. We help each other in any kind of way, academically as well as socially.
Siyolise: It was not so easy for me to make new friends. I struggled but I do have some good friends now.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about your first year experience so far?
Xhanti: The biggest challenge here is that there are always strikes. It makes it difficult to study properly. But it has also been amazing to be in university. It is such a good feeling to know that I am in university.
Siyolise: It’s not too hard. There is lots of pressure though. Adjusting to this new life. I had to leave home to come to Mthatha and having to make new friends is difficult. Academically, the studies are very hard. There have also been some strikes which have made it even more challenging. One funny thing is that when I first went to the library I used the lift for the first time and then when I left I came down the stairs, not the lift, and I didn’t know where I was or where I came from. I was so lost! After 2 or 3 weeks I was confident I knew where everything was on campus.
Q: What happens when there’s a strike?
Xhanti: During the strike, classes are shut down so we don’t go to class or have lectures. Everyone has to work on their own because after the strike the lecturers continue as if there had been no strike and we must catch up the work on our own from those missed classes. Self-study is difficult, but also I am used to it because last year we also didn’t have teachers some of the time and then Axium taught me how to work on my own and study by myself. So the lessons I learned last year are working for me. I even have a Study Group with my four friends.
Siyolise: It has been difficult, there is a lot more pressure because of this. The students were striking for 3 weeks and there was no class. Some students did not receive their NSFAS money so they were striking for their money.
Q: Do you have good lecturers?
Xhanti: Yes they are very good. But sometimes it is hard to understand their accents. They are from all over, some of them from all of Africa and even some are from Cuba.
Siyolise: Yes! I like them, but some of them are a bit boring. Another thing that is challenging is that some lecturers speak too quickly and it is difficult to understand, but I try hard.
Q: What’s your favourite course?
Xhanti: I’m enjoying most of them, but Biochemestry and Physics are my favourites. Currently in Biochemistry, we are studying organic molecules which is very interesting to me. There is a biology course that is not so great, but even with that course I like the lab experiments.
Siyolise: I like Physics. It is not like the physics which we studied in school. Our physics is all about how forces act on the human body.
Q: Was it difficult to leave your home?
Xhanti: Luckily for me because some of my family members live here in Mthatha so when I moved here I also came home.
Siyolise: Yes it has been quite tough but I am going home soon for the holidays so I am excited.
Q: How does food work?
Xhanti: You have to buy yourself food and a stove and all of that and I cook a lot. I cook everyday. I’m a good cook. Sometimes I cook with my roommate. You should taste my food! It’s delicious.
Siyolise: It’s nice. I buy my own food and cook for myself.
Q: Can we ask you about funding? Are you on NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme)?
Xhanti: No, I received a bursary. They pay for almost everything. They give me a book allowance and pay my tuition. They also cover food too. The bad thing is that you can only spend the money at certain shops which makes it quite challenging. In NSFAS they just give you the money, but for me I can only spend at certain shops which is frustrating.
Siyolise: First I was funded by NSFAS, but then I was called from a bursary and they offered me funding so I had to cancel with NSFAS. But this bursary is better than NSFAS because the book allowance is two times the book allowance of NSFAS and I have to buy a lot of textbooks which is expensive. Each book is about R500.
Q: What advice would you give to the current matrics to get into Uni?
Xhanti: The main advice that I can give is that the learners must sacrifice everything for matric. Grade 12 is a foundation for the rest of their life; if you do well it can provide so many opportunities. I did well and now I have been offered this bursary and a place to study at WSU. They also need to know that English is very important. Most of the people here who are not studying what they wanted are in that position because they did not get a good mark for English. They all did good in physics and maths, but in English they did not do well. Also here all of the lectures are in English. If you don’t have the foundation for English it will be very difficult to pass physics.
Siyolise: Read your books! Apply early! Don’t panic if you don’t get admitted right away. It took time for me.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Xhanti: Yes there is. Most of the time here in university you have to work by yourself. During the lectures they just continue and they leave you behind if you are not following. They do not ask if every student understands. Axium taught me how to work and balance my work by myself and also how to utilise my time well. Axium also gave me freedom within Ekukhuleni, such as coming to school without my uniform, and if I didn’t have that experience of freedom I would struggle with adapting to the freedom of university.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of being a teacher is seeing your former learners excel after they have disappeared from your grasp. Hearing about their successes and challenges has been as rewarding as it is inspiring for the Senior Schools Team. We wish them both the best and will continue to be in touch with them as they continue on their academic journey.