I have lived in the residence system at UCT for the past four years and besides it being home to me, it has been one of the better run facilities which I have managed to encounter at UCT.
Moving into the residence system is a necessity for most of us because it is often cheaper and more convenient than living elsewhere. It is also much more likely to be covered by a bursary and by financial aid, so it makes sense to live in the residence system.
Being in a residence (or res, as we call it colloquially) can be quite annoying as well. I have had to ask my friends to leave my place because I am not allowed to have guests after midnight (they still tease me about my lack of hospitality), when my mother visits she has to arrange for alternative accommodation because I am not allowed to have guests unless they add to my academic wellbeing and I constantly have to ask my (extremely loud) friends to be less loud when we have gatherings because we have to respect the wellbeing and right to a quiet environment of those around us. Then there is the food, which although not bad, is quite repetitive and just not the same as ‘home food’, you know? So in essence, being in res can be a little bit challenging.
It is, however, one of the best things you can do as a university student. If you have a choice, choose to live in the residence system. The residence system provides its residents with many opportunities for growth and development in the form of tutoring and mentorship programs, leadership positions and numerous seminars and talks by guest speakers.
In my first few months in the residence system, I applied for a leadership position and I have not looked back since. Not only have I become a more confident person, my written communication skills have improved markedly and I have learned to chair difficult and robust meetings; I have had the opportunity to deliver speeches to large crowds and I have acquired many of the other soft skills which one requires in the workplace, such as people skills, coping with disappointment, learning how to assert myself respectfully and learning how to handle crisis situations.
I have also had the opportunity to listen to and engage with some truly remarkable people, most notably Advocate Billy Downer, who prosecuted Schabir Shaik and President Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial.
Besides the more tangible benefits mentioned above, the biggest benefit to being in res is the people you get to interact with. I met some of my best friends at res: people I can have ice cream with at midnight, people I can have hour-long debates with and people who went to the effort of educating me about my privilege and closed-mindedness.
One of my best friends right now was someone I did not like much when I first moved into the residence system, but upon getting to know me, he taught me more than anyone else did because he took it upon himself to be there for me when I had questions about student movements, cultural differences, privilege, feminism in Africa and many more issues which I never so much as gave a second thought to before I met him (he also owes me a pumpkin). He regularly laughs at me about my lack of street knowledge (I thought Black Twitter was literally a completely different type of Twitter – feel free to laugh at my ignorance here) and loves to tell me that my taste in music is horrendous.
I recently had a heated debate with a friend of a friend about feminism and lobola. If anyone remembers, in January 2016, a municipality in Kwa-Zulu Natal awarded bursaries to virgin girls and these bursaries could be kept by them only if they remained virgins (the bursary was subsequently found to be unconstitutional). To me, this seemed like a no-brainer: these bursaries were sexist and a disgrace to a seemingly progressive society such as South Africa. That was until I met this friend of a friend, who I ended up having a spirited debate with for hours and I ended up learning a great deal (although I still did not find the evidence provided by him sufficient to change my mind and neither did the court, so I win).
I cannot even remember the number of times one of my res friends fed me, ‘lent’ me an onion or walked me to McDonald’s at 2 a.m. because I was hungry at that ungodly time. I also cannot remember how many times I have barged into someone’s room or flat, made a cup of coffee for myself and sat down and complained about some ridiculously stupid issue. I have had these people plan my birthday parties and I have had a whole bunch of them try to teach me how to twerk (I still fail miserably every single time).
If I can give one piece of advice to any incoming student, it is this: if you receive a residence offer, take it. Move into the residence system. As much as you might hate it initially, do your best to be involved in your residence: meet people, apply for leadership positions, make use of the resources offered by the residence system. After four years I can honestly say that those who are in the residence system and engage with it and the people in the system gain much, much more from their university experiences than those who live off-campus, keeping in mind that I lived off campus for a year.
P.S. I am still waiting for my pumpkin.
P.P.S. I am about to call a friend to walk with me to McDonald’s for a McFlurry.