Australia has been isolated from the other continents for at least 45 million years. This has turned out to be extremely productive, leading to the evolution of its unique and seemingly very alien flora and fauna. Such isolation, however, has also resulted in a number of problems.
University campuses are also a bit like Australia, with somewhat similar pros and cons of isolation. Please bear with me while I stretch this metaphor.
Throughout my years at university I always had this “living on an island” feeling. Campus provides a tiny, cosy bubble for its students where their creativity can flourish. On the downside, however, the heavy workload, many social engagements and other activities often distance campus’ inhabitants from the “real” world and its happenings.
Studying ecology and environmental sciences we always talk about these big, global topics. But the actual experience of them remains surprisingly limited and academic (it’s even worse, I think, with other, less outside-focused sciences). Mundane, everyday things often get overlooked. I do pride myself of being worldly and knowledgeable, but last spring, around the time of elections, I realised that I know absolutely nothing about not only Dutch politics but Dutch realities in general. Regarding more recent events, some Australians already asked me about the European refugee crisis – I had absolutely no idea what was the Netherlands’ position on the issue (though I could talk a little bit about situation in Lithuania).
You might say that it’s ok not to know. There’s so much happening in the tiny world of a campus – classes, events, meetings, research questions – that require our full undivided attention. And there’s so much (too much!) happening in the outside world. How can you and I be expected to keep up with all that?
We really should try though. I’m not saying that you’ll become instantly successful, rich and famous if you go see Vermeer’s ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’, or know who the current Dutch Prime Minister is, or be able to discuss what’s happening in the world’s stock markets or with Euro 2016 qualification. But you should be curious, open and open-minded, and venture outside that university and your study bubble once in a while, both literally and metaphorically. You never know, it might present new ideas for future projects or make your science more relevant and interesting. Or it might simply give you a new topic to talk about when meeting a (cute) stranger.
I would say: enjoy your time at university and take the most out of it, but also be aware of the rest of the world and its realities. If not, those who do will be very quick to take over. Just look at that unique Australian fauna – 1 out of 10 native mammals have gone extinct since the arrival of Europeans and their domesticated animals. Just some food for thought.
Kristina is a second year student MSc Forest and Nature Conservation. She is currently in Perth, Australia to do field work for her thesis.