First Impressions: Arriving at UCT

"After being accepted at the University of Cape Town, my family and I had high hopes and dreams about my future. There I was, a teenager and the first one amongst my siblings to come to a University. I had a vision of myself on my graduation day and my proud mother standing right next to me. I also saw myself getting excellent marks as I… was known as one of the excellent learners in my school. February 1999 came and I had to go to an Orientation week. This was the first time that I was going to see the place that was going to fulfil my dreams and I did not know what to expect. The first thing I noticed about the place was how big it was. I was not proud of this because I had a fear I was going to get lost (which I did)."



"Coming to the university for the first time is a very wonderful, confusing, delightful, challenging and scary experience. Actually I have no words to explain or describe it… I would say I experienced mixed feelings. I cannot tell if I was excited, ambivalent, or anxious. All I can say is that at some stage I felt like a stupid little girl who needed an adult’s guidance. I assure you this is a common or normal feeling since almost every new university student goes through this at some stage during the first few months.

Imagine that you come to a place where you see a lot of people from various races, who speak different languages and who come from different places. Imagine you do not know any of these people – you are a stranger to them and they are strangers to you. Isn’t this an anxiety inducing experience? Of course it is. No one wants to feel and be treated like a stranger in a place like this."

Orientation Week

"During Orientation Week, one is shown around campus, lecture theatres, toilets, library, different departments and other places… It is not only arranged to show new students around campus but also indirectly to help them identify with one another, stick around for one another, share different experiences and comfort one another… Most important it is about helping students with the registration process which is very long and tiring."




"It looked as if it was making students interact with each other… Interacting with other students is a nice thing to do if you’re not shy, but for me it was too much."

"It was worth attending because the event was sort of an introduction to university life."

"The orientation assistants tried to answer questions that we had abut our programme streams… support offices for students were also discussed, e.g. Student Health… We played a lot of games which were fun because it broke the tension…"


"During the three days of Orientation we were given too many papers to read… The computer labs were never discussed in Orientation week."


"I got to know about UCT and where to get assistance in times of need."

"The different faculties such as the Faculty of Commerce and the Faculty of Humanities play a significant role in the running of orientation… Senior students also make a noticeable contribution… They spend their time with new students, telling them about what is happening, showing them around campus, and helping them to identify and choose relevant courses, and even showing them the closest shopping complexes."




"It gives you a broad overview of the institution as a whole"

Particular Difficulties

"During the first semester I never took out books from the library because I did not want to embarrass myself by asking [help from other students]. I started taking out books after the second semester because then I realised that the final exams were close and the best thing to do was to work in groups with colleagues. We also worked in groups to search for books – this helped a lot."


"I could not believe it when I was given 38% for my first essay. I never got such a mark even at primary level. I was angry, frustrated and thinking of quitting… The part [of the tutor’s feedback] I will never forget is where the tutor wrote that I lack the language… I started imagining all the people who had discouraged me from coming to the university and all those who kept on reminding me how difficult it is to pass in a university, especially UCT. Luckily by then I had managed to make friends with returning students and they told me not to be frightened because getting a lower mark for your first essay is not bad, it makes you strong and you work harder for the next essay. I tried very hard not to give up and without them I think I would not have had the courage to work hard. What they figured as a possible solution seemed to work a little bit because I was getting at least passing marks now… I also came to the conclusion that I should try participating in the tutorials. I did and my marks started to improve."

"If I look back to my first year, I think the real problem for me was understanding the essay questions. The words "tabulate", "discuss", "explain", "analyse" and "comment" all have one meaning in Xhosa, which is "chaza". So when my essay questions started with these words, the only thing I did was to re-tell or explain the whole story the essay topic was concerned with.

"We should have been offered proper guidance for our courses because some of us never received it from our schools."

"I did not have a problem with the fact that English was the medium of instruction because I came to UCT knowing that, but I guess I was naïve to think that the English taught at university would be the same as the one I learnt at school. Taking notes was not the major problem; the main problem was selecting what was useful and relevant. Since I had an advantage of being a fast writer, I tended to write everything that came out of the lecturer’s mouth, 60% of which was irrelevant."



"It was so difficult to interact with people from different cultures."