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I am typically a pretty quiet and shy person. Through a lot of my undergraduate studies, I sat at the back of lecture theatres (in the days where lectures were exclusively on-campus), actively tried to avoid contributing my opinion in tutorials, and generally did my best to skilfully sidestep any sort of social interaction. It felt good in the short-term - some readers might be familiar with that wave of relief that washes over you when a tutor calls on somebody else to answer a question - but in the long-term, it led to disenchantment. I found the content I was studying quite interesting, but I wasn’t enjoying the holistic uni experience - and I think this is something a lot of people might relate to, particularly in first year.

I changed my attitude a little bit throughout my degree, largely through necessity; if I kept going like I was in first year, I don’t think I would have made it to graduation. But since graduating, taking a break, and returning to study to give uni another crack, my behaviours have changed a lot. I now consistently voice my thoughts, ask questions, and generally get more involved with uni life (okay - I still avoid clubs a bit), and I’m much happier for it.


This article, really, is encouragement for anybody who is experiencing what I did in my first year or two of university. The people who don’t really want to get involved - for whatever reason - and are not loving uni life for that reason.


NOTE: By the way, everybody has different priorities at uni. Maybe even after reading this article, you decide that upping your contribution game isn’t right for you, and that’s cool, too. We all have different perspectives and backgrounds, and it’s really important to note that being loud is not the same as being heard.


Here are some things that gave me the confidence to get more involved in university classes.


1. Preparation is key

Getting through pre-tutorial or pre-workshop content is sometimes really hard (for a heap of reasons!), but at least having a general understanding of what you’ll be focusing on can make a huge difference in terms of class participation. It means you’re not playing catch-up right from the very start, and might give you a bit more confidence to answer questions or follow along with discussion.

In my view, if you can spare the time to get through whatever pre-class content you need to, that’s a really good investment. It allows you to participate more in the class (which you’re paying for), which will probably help with assignments and exams (which you’re paying for) - and, ultimately, help you better engage with whatever content you’re learning (which you’re paying for).


It’s a bit of a domino effect. If you don’t get the initial work done, it makes everything a lot harder. From my experience, playing catch-up is much, much more difficult for motivation, too.


2. Attitude Matters

At some point through undergrad, I started questioning why I was even going to uni. These days, I try to adopt a different approach. At the very crux of it, I’m at uni because I want to learn. I’ve chosen to be here. So it makes sense to do what I can to actually engage with the content and learn.


The thing is, that will also be the case for pretty much everybody else at uni. Everybody wants to learn. Everybody wants to get that degree. With that in mind, I slowly started asking more questions, and I started answering more questions. The more I did it, the more I realised that nobody really cares if you get something wrong, or if you ask a basic question. Nobody will remember.

Now that I’m back at uni, I try to contribute to classes often (hopefully not too often đź‘€), and that’s just become a habit. It’s normal - and that all stemmed from trying to change my attitude on why I was even bothering to go to uni in the first place.


3. Kindness is important

But even having said all that, I totally recognise that this is not an easy process. You can’t just change your attitude suddenly overnight and suddenly be the most confident speaker in the room. It’s a process, and you’ll need to be kind to yourself. Some classes will be easier than others, and not everything will go your way.


When I haven’t done my readings or generally feel behind, I do sometimes revert back to the old me, who tries to avoid engagement and interaction. It’s basically survival mode - you’re just trying to get through the class unscathed and without being embarrassed. When that happens, it just reinforces how much more enjoyable uni is when you feel on top of things (and that doesn’t even mean that you understand everything - just that you’ve given it a crack in the first place).

So these three things - preparation, attitude, and kindness - have really helped me to change how and how often I interact in university classes. In my mind, I’m in a much better place now, and I’m enjoying uni more. This is still a work in progress (an article for another day), but I’m focusing more on learning and less on marks, too. I think that’s the way university should be.





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