Everybody at some stage enters into a new environment and automatically starts thinking of themselves. Think of the new girl who started working last week. Think of the young boy who is kilometers away from his village and now at university. The mind automatically creates a range of questions ranging from whether they ‘look’ like others who also attend the same school or whether they are good enough to be seen as part the circle. During this period, one goes through grave uncertainty and confusion where ones sense of identity becomes convoluted due to preconceived notions expected in that environment.
In psychology, Erik Erikson defines an identity crisis as “the failure to achieve ego identity during adolescence.” Seemingly, every child goes through it as society requires on to ‘find themselves.’
The transition from high school to university is by far the most daunting task for most first year students. At this point in time, students are overwhelmed by the new world they have just stepped into and it is unfortunate that the new society judges students on every level of their lives. From the way they dress, how they speak, which places they choose to hangout to the crowd they associate themselves.
During this time of the year there is a mass exodus of young people from smaller towns all over Namibia. Soon upon their arrival, they realize that their sense of fashion has to evolve from that ‘tommy takkie’ to an Adidas Superstar.
Imagine moving from a setting where you felt comfortable and everything made sense to you in your previous life and now suddenly it seems to be irrelevant in this new chapter of your life. The task of balancing what has to be socially acceptable and yet focusing on your academics becomes draining. The anxiety over direction and how your identity will match your new environment becomes too much. It turns into a self-identity crisis. Students are faced with the challenge of staying true to who they are yet still remaining socially relevant. The trick is hidden in balancing the two and more importantly overcoming this phase.
“Being honest about vulnerability brings people together” mentioned industrial psychologist Dr. Simon Milller saying the first step to overcoming this crisis is to create dialogue.
According to the expert, students do not need to be typical adding that we still have more than three-quarters of our lives to go. “Instead of measuring your lives according to a stable relationship or having visited 5 countries, rather celebrate reaching the top of Avis Mountains or visiting Etosha National Park for the first time. Students need to spend time alone to reflect what true self-identity means. The journey to self-actualization and identity can certainly be lonely but will eventually be so rewarding in your adult life.”
University students all have a story to tell on how their first year experience was and how they handled their identity crisis. Selma Nguluwe a second year student at the University of Namibia echoes the same sentiments on the transition to varsity. She explains that as a first year student, varsity creates the feeling of self-doubt, indirection and complete confusion right after completing high school. She had to remind herself that she solely came to Windhoek to complete her degree in Agriculture. “I missed out on so many campus block parties and was labeled as uncool, but I had made the decision to keep my studies a priority.”
What is evident in tracing the reasons behind identity crisis is the fact that new environment introduce a whole set of faces one can choose to put on. And Selma places it perfectly well by advising students to stick to their morals and principles.
Ida Swarts, a social worker shares the same sentiments but adds that students remain grounded and take pride in their backgrounds. “Students should keep in mind that even if you hail from the dusty streets of Usakos, it’s something to be proud about. Once you are not proud of your background, identity crisis begins.”
She adds, “it is sad to watch how a student transforms so drastically. A first year student that was once an A+ performer, on time for lectures and always handed in assignments on time becomes and overnight socialite and trails behind academically. Students often make meaningless associations and pretend to be someone else and thus causing their varsity lives to be short lived.”
Swartz believes that while it is part of the varsity experience to try out new things like the drama club or choir and enjoy events like Mr. and Ms. First year, but students should know where to draw the line.
“Emulating Jane and Sarah who come from wealthy upbringings and could care less if they would make it through varsity, only disadvantages you who has to take the bus to Havana every day.” This is a physical testament of the adage – ‘if you do not stand for anything, you will fall for anything.’
While Swartz echoes the paramount importance of being grounded to one’s principles regardless of the settings, parents or guardians also have a role in laying the foundation and constantly having to look at that foundation especially when young students enter the wilderness.
Lecture at the Namibia University of Science and Technology Mr. Marx Mhene adds that as parent and educator, it is important for parents to guide their children through this phase. “Parents should have a sit down session with their children as they embark on this journey. What is more important is that students must know that their parents are just a call away for advice,” said Mhene.
He recalls sending his daughter off to varsity – “I told her not to lose sight of her rich Shona heritage and value her identity as she sets off to leave home.”
Identity crisis is an uphill battle for most first year university students and these students require ample guidance to take this phase head on. But, unlike the drop of water which loses its identity when it joins the ocean, man does not lose his being in the society in which he lives.