Many people say that University is the best time of their lives – realistically it comes down to what you make of it. If you ask them why, they’ll probably say something along the lines of making new life-long friends, discovering a new passion or hobby, finding a new experience they enjoy. One important thing to note is that none of these things just “happen” overnight. However, the foundations for all of these great things all lead back to having an open mind.
Having an open mind is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, which means sometimes the meaning can get diluted. Realistically, it should refer to trying something new, be it a new thought process or pushing yourself to a new experience. The definition of it is subjective. To some people, having an open mind might be trying to get comfortable with other people sitting on your bed; to others, it could mean trying something like skydiving. The overarching factor is that in order to get comfortable with something, whether that’s people sitting on your bed or launching yourself out of an aeroplane at ten thousand feet, is having an open mind.
Everyone at University is from a different background, whether it varies largely or hardly at all from your own – it will be fundamentally different. This kind of environment breeds different morals, thought processes, likes and dislikes, ways of doing things – I’ll continue with two personal examples from experience.
Last year, there was man from Pakistan who lived in the flat above me. He seemed very sweet and a little bit eccentric. He would have a new pair of fairly expensive looking shoes on every day, and he was endearingly engaged in politics. He frequently claimed he wanted to turn his country into a liberal democracy, and he used to get very excited talking about how the English education system had offered him a chance of proper education, to truly achieve the goals he was determined to achieve.
However, there was a bit of controversy in the block of flats we were living in when we discovered that he had a few somewhat ignorant views; the racist, elitist kind. We found out these were the views of his family, stuff he had grown up with. However, upon a few weeks of healthy discussion between him and the other people in the block, his views slowly became more educated, diverse, based on statistics, and accepting. Because he was listening, and approached the situation with an open mind, people overlooked the fact that he was essentially labelled as a ‘racist’. Because he had an open mind and listened to other people’s ideas, he was able to apply and win an elected position within the Student Union.
This kind of nature can be applied on a small scale to simplify it; whether it’s a thought process about how long you brush your teeth for or whether you should try a different brand of cereal. If somebody gives you a suggestion and there’s no logical negative reason as to why not to take it on board, then it’s probably worth a go.
Let’s go on to the second example. Living in halls was my first experience of living away from home. My flatmates were five girls, all of whom were from completely different backgrounds to mine and each other. One of those flatmates grew up in a household where all of the washing, cooking and cleaning up in the kitchen was done by her Mum. All year, all of her plates were left out for days, sometimes weeks. Individually and as a flat, we had asked her to stop doing this in all variety of different ways, but she wasn’t paying any attention. She didn’t give us a reason as to why she was doing it, and was simply convinced that the way she was doing things was the right way. Not only was this a closed minded thing to do, but it also created tension between the rest of the flat. As she hadn’t considered that there was a better way to do things, it started impacting her enjoyment of being around the rest of the flat. An open mind can be as simple as hearing somebody out, just to hear a new thought process.
All this being said, an open mind isn’t essential to enjoying yourself at University. As I said to begin with, it’s entirely what you make of it. My personal experience, as a liberally viewed guy who has grown up in a remote country village is that going to this complete culture-change with an open mind really has made my year full of completely new, fun and some of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve had to date. It might not be easy, and you don’t have to start big, but it’s worth a try – and there’s no reason not to.