Why I Regret Coming to University

As a young person who has grown up in an economically disadvantaged and socially troubled environment such as a township, affirmations from teachers of a future leading to a University education, means a lot not only for the learner, but for the future of their family as well. My family was one such case. I grew up in Khayelitsha and because of my academic abilities, I was considered bound to make it to university. Being the eldest child and the expectations that come with that, I found myself at the University of Cape Town in 2015 beginning my journey towards attaining a degree in the Social Sciences. I regretted my decision to come here only a few weeks into the first semester.

I have struggled to make a choice regarding what I would study. Many voices from different directions have had something to say about how my life should go. The most crippling voices did not even come from my parents, but from relatives, school teachers and people I knew. They often commented that I was being selfish by making a life choice that did not have a clear outcome for a secure future for me and my family. This brought about feelings of inferiority and guilt. I was guilt-stricken for my entire first year because I felt that I had sabotaged my family’s future, because of my indecisiveness. Struggling to adjust to the academic demand and social settings within the university, made things worse and I found myself sinking into an emotional dark hole.

I felt like I was in the wilderness with no directions and no map, however, I continued to move forward because I was already here, and everyone back home marveled over my achievement. Being at UCT was the next best thing to not taking engineering or medicine, a consolidation prize. I thought about packing up my bags and leaving, dropping out or taking a leave of absence. Whatever, as long as I could go on a journey of self-discovery, but what good is self-discovery when you are born into a working-class family who is looking to you, as their hope out of poverty? What good is embarking on a journey of self-discovery when you have younger siblings who look to you as an example? I was not privileged enough to take that selfish decision even if it was for my well-being. I felt the responsibility weighing me down, but I was relentless and this overbearing duty to finish what I have started, enabled me to stay on and endure, as painful as it was.

As much as I have made peace with where I am academically because I fell in love with my subjects, specifically Sociology, being at UCT as a space has been emotionally distressing. It feels like I am in a different world because everything surrounding me screams that I do not belong here. The language of doing things is unfamiliar to me even though I have been here for quite some time.  I feel I belong somewhere else different from here, I belong in Khayelitsha, but going back to that world also does not necessarily feel like a place for me anymore either. I have lost close connections and resurrecting them has been a challenge.

The most frightening thing that being at UCT has done to me, is make me feel more alone and removed from everyone and everything that I have ever been or known in my life. Winnie Mandela wrote, “Loneliness is worse than fear, the most wretchedly painful illness”. I can attest to that. I yearn to go home each passing moment I am here, because I feel like an alien in this space. But, when I do go home, I do not necessarily feel like I belong there anymore either. I feel more like a tourist. I regret coming to UCT, before I came here I could honestly say that I was happy. I yearn for that kind of happiness, peace, and community so much, such feelings are priceless.