LIFE STORY: What No One Told Me About University

LIFE STORY: What No One Told Me About University
Matt* is not a real name. Hidden for privacy reasons.


I want to share with you my university experiences from relationships, lectures, unlearning, wrong majors, strikes, and exclusion.  This is an important post especially if you either going back to university or going to start your first year soon.

In Grade 10-12, I was a hardworking student and often a top achiever if not second best. I’d say that my High School life was the best because I had the best support and for someone who is very shy, my English Teacher, Ms. Mvubu, pushed me beyond my limits to help me gain self-confidence and public speaking skills.

In Matric, I knew that I have to get the best grades so that I can be accepted in University and get a bursary or else, I’ll have to go look for a job. That was my biggest fear because that road would end with me unemployed and a single parent of 2 kids from different fathers like most of my family members.


I had applied at UKZN and UCT. At that time, a Bachelor of Education was my first choice because they had a bursary, Funza Lushaka and I didn’t know much about other careers other than Education, Law, and Journalism, however, Education accepted me with a bursary and the rest didn’t have funding. It wasn’t like nowadays where NSFAS is easily accessible.


Unfortunately, UCT never replied so UKZN accepted me. When I got to UKZN Edgewood Campus, 2010, with a full bursary from Funza Lushaka, I had obtained a taste of freedom. Or so I thought.


No one prepared me for what I went through to get residence UKZN. Even though I was granted residence on my acceptance letter, I still had no res because Residences were full. So on my first day at Edgewood Campus, I slept on the floor at Student Union Hall, together with over 200 other first years. That is where I met my friends, who later became my roommates. In the morning, we were told to get our stuff and get to the buses, where were shuttled to the Coastlands Hotel in Durban, South Beach. Even though we had had our temporary res, many other students still were homeless. Which was one of many other reasons that triggered a strike.


At University, strikes erupt at any time, especially in the beginning of the year because there is a lot of frustrations from students which the University management ignores. Some frustrations are from the previous year. Unresolved issues.

I wouldn’t be able to explain how I ended up on the front line of the first strike I have ever been at and seen in my entire life. I was politically illiterate and had no political affiliation. But I was personally frustrated at how is it possible that I receive a letter saying I have been granted Res but when I arrive on campus, I have to sleep on the floor at some cold hall.

At the university, as much as there are different political parties, but when there is a strike, everyone participates because issues affect every student, regardless of the political association.

I cannot put into words the trauma I experienced on that intense and violent strike. When the Police came, I saw bullets hitting vulnerable students and some students right next to me getting shot and fell on the ground to be further beaten by a group of grown men in Police uniform; was truly terrifying.

The Police tried so hard to deter students however, they got more fueled. The next thing I saw was the Dean’s car set alight and burnt. I was never ready. After a week of the strike, registration proceeded.


During registration, I registered for FET Phase which is to teach Grade 10-12 & FET and majoring in Biology and Information Science, which was my first mistake because I had never done Information Science in high school though I was computer literate. I guess I just registered Information Science because I knew there was a shortage of Science Teachers and that would guarantee me employment. I was very good in Languages and Maths, I should have registered those as my majors.


During the first 3 months of my first year, we stayed in town at the Coastlands Hotel where I met Matt*, a BEd 3rd year. We stayed in that hotel because UKZN was still sorting out Res issues. Be prepared that at University in the first few months, everything is upside down but things fall into place.

Matt* and I started out as friends and we ended up in a very good relationship. I am one of those people that when I am in love, I become all about you. I give my all and love hopelessly. I really loved Matt* but when he cheated, I was shuttered.

When registration was over and lectures commenced. I was attending classes, though I was confused most of the time that for example, in Biology, why weren’t we learning about Mitochondria, Reproduction and Cell Structures like in High School. Instead, we were traveling to the beach to examine fossils and learning about ancient trees on campus.


I had passed Life Sciences (Biology) well enough, however, I was never ready for this scientific research we were bombarded with. We had lab coats and all that. When were we going to learn how to teach Life Sciences? I mean, I was there for that! Not that lab stuff. lol


Meanwhile, in other modules, we were learning about how to write academic essays which by the way is way too different from what we learned in high school. If you want to ace your academic essays, unlearn what you were told by your high school English teacher and do exactly like your university Lecturer tells you.


In university, attendance is not compulsory. Let me tell you that this rule is a trap! While notes will be available online, but attending classes is very important because if you miss two classes, the next time you attend, the whole lecture will feel like it’s in Chinese because you wouldn’t know what’s going on.

Which is where my downfall started. I stopped attending lectures. For various stupid, unjustifiable, and immature reasons. Some were because I was hungover, some were that I was with Matt*, some because I overslept, and some because I was out shopping.

The key underlying cause was that I felt confused, I was lost and had no idea what I was doing. That was because even in the first place, I picked wrong majors but I thought since I passed well in high school, I will manage. When I couldn’t manage, I got demotivated. I missed important class assessments, therefore not qualifying me for a DP. I’ll tell you about that just now.


A DP, Duly Performance, is your semester mark. It includes assignments, tests and any form of assessment done before exams. It determines if you will write the exam or not. If your DP is below 50%, you can not write an exam unless you appeal and give valid reasons why you didn’t get DP.

I didn’t even appeal because I honestly did not know how to appeal.

My advice now, if you didn’t get DP, if you have a medical certificate that can prove that you were going through something, illness or mental health issues, that will help you out.

Out of my 5 registered 1st-semester modules, I got DP for 3. I wrote exams and failed 1, passed 2, which was Academic Literacy and Computer Literacy. Basically. I failed my majors.


There is a system that is called a Robot System. Just like a robot, it has 3 colors. Green, Orange, and Red. If you pass all your modules, you remain on Green. If you fail half of your modules, you shift to Orange, to caution that if you fail more modules, you risk being Academically Excluded. Meaning, you pack your bags and go home.

Red is where I was at the end of the 2nd semester. This meant that I had to have a meeting with the Dean and give reasons why I shouldn’t be kicked out of the University. Which I went and I explained that I will do better next semester. He gave me one last chance which meant that they put me on Probation.


When you’re put on Probation, you can only register 3 modules and you HAVE to pass them all or else you will be Academically Excluded. Some students do well and move up the robot systems but some, like me, things don’t go well.


In the middle of my 2nd year 1st semester, I became very sick. Both physically and mentally. I didn’t know what was depression at that time, I was only 19 years old that year, 2011. Now looking back, I know that I was suffering from depression because I didn’t have flu or fever, however, I just wanted to sleep and never wake up.

Matt* even broke up with me and things got worse. I lost weight and developed red spots all over my body from the constant painkillers overdose and on an empty stomach. I took any pill that will doze me off to sleep. I did that for over 6 weeks, every day. Which I think it’s what caused the stomach ulcers that I have now.


After failing my first year in 2010, I had lost my Funza Lushaka bursary and for months, I was without food and started having outstanding fees of those 3 probation modules and semester residence fees. I lived off Instant Porridge, mixed with water for breakfast, lunch, and supper. If by luck, my roommate came back that week, she’d bring me food because she knew I had no money, no food.


I stopped going home. Until my Gran came at Res to check what’s going on with me and in the state she found me in, she just took me back home. Whilst I was recovering at home, I received a letter of Academic Exclusion. What hurt me the most was that I had disappointed a lot of people who believed in me especially my high school Principal. The look on his face when my grandmother took me to him after exclusion, I knew he wished that he can even remove my name from DUX 2009 Board walled up in his Office Reception.


After exclusion, I found work. I worked as an admin at a community radio station. Where I developed the love for graphic designing on the side. Eventually started designing magazines. I had an opportunity to meet Mbali Dhlomo, who taught me everything about magazines, publishing, and writing.

I fell in love with it and for years, I worked with magazines. I registered my company and started publishing under my company and I realized, this is what I love.

I met more amazing people through MEDIA24 and SETA programmes. That is how I went back to UKZN and begged them to take me back as a Media student. Which they did.

Now, though I still have those outstanding Fees, I am more matured now, well-informed, and determined. I do everything right, I participate in class, I attend lectures, I attend tutorials, I submit on time, I pass all my modules, and I’m on the Green Robot. I am looking forward to my graduation.

God is good.

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Matt* is not a real name. Hidden for privacy reasons.

Blogger, Media and Marketing student at the University of KwaZulu Natal.

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  1. August 25, 2018 / 7:18 am

    Thanks for sharing thial story my sister. Certain parts of your story is so relevant in my life. I so wish that every student who is about to get to varsity can read this piece and carry it throughout his or her studies. I was also confused myself when I got to varsity. Coming from a very poor background from the small unknown village of Harding I had to push very hard. I was surrounded by more confused souls in my campus life. When I meet some of them I don’t even ask the obvious question “what are you doing now ” because poverty is written all over. So I salute you my sister. This story will definitely help someone.

    • August 25, 2018 / 11:36 am

      Thank you so much for your kind words 🙏 God bless you ❤️


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