Twelve months ago I decided to have the real student experience. I had been an external student for the previous two and a half years, and I figured it was time to see how “normal” students really behave. I packed my necessities like books, laptop, clothes, sheets and pillow, espresso machine, and my first week of shopping, and set out for my accommodation.
Arriving at The Student Village on West Street, Toowoomba, right next to the University of Southern Queensland, I notice the brickwork and how everyone keeps to themselves. Waltzing into the unit, I spot a stranger. “Hi, I’m Jonathan,” I say with my hand stretched out, eye contact, and a big warm smile. And what do I get? Wet rag. A week of this will teach you not to shake hands with undergraduates.
One of the people I met after the first few days was Dhrur Thakkar, a fellow resident who is doing engineering. He has strong arms and a chest that few would be ashamed of. I ask Dhrur what India is like and he rants about the corruption for a little while, so I move on to ask about his experience arriving in The Village. “When I first came here,” he says, “I mean, I felt really weird because, you know, I’m vegetarian and these guys were like using the same pots and things to make meat and chicken and beef and everything.”
The kitchen occasionally looks like a war zone. And after a month, “normal” is opening the fridge to find bowls with Gladwrap over what looks like sour cream and guacamole. Also known as month-old curry. After kitchen mice elude capture for weeks, you spot your one last chance by lecturing the maintenance guy on a hole in the back door. Finally patched up, the transition to roaches is easy. I should have expected a unit like this from reading MacHall when I was a teenager. Cleaning up a student household is like helplessness training. A more common problem than you might think.
Thirty years ago, in a study of 50 college students by Hiroto (1974), students were put in two conditions: one where they could control the ceasing of loud noise, the other where the noise ceased independent of their efforts. After 20 trials, both groups were put through a condition where they could stop the noise by flipping a switch. Students in the second group were less likely to escape the noise in the second trial.