Once Upon a Time, We Were Students

Once Upon a Time, We Were Students

"I’ve passed into the realm of The Other, just as I once pushed some of my predecessors there"

09-01-2023 · Column

Once upon a time, we were students. The cellphones we hauled around were as big as bags of sugar, and as heavy. Our hipbones jutted out into the gaps between our strappy tank tops and our low-slung bootcut jeans. We worried a little about the Y2K computer bug, a lot about the possibility of a Bush presidency and most of all about whether we’d make it home before our parents’ morning alarm went off. We were never ever going to turn into them, because we were never ever going to do anything as mundane as having kids of our own.

We looked at the world around us and we wondered how they’d managed to get it into such a state. Their opinions were clumsily-phrased, their complacency shameful, their religiosity downright embarrassing. My particular pet cause was pacifism—Yugoslavia and Rwanda having reverberated through my teenage years. I would leave the room whenever someone in military uniform entered. In my international relations lectures, this happened more often than you might think.

Now my phone can just about cook me dinner and we’ve learned that the American presidency can plumb even greater depths. I’ll never see those hipbones again, in part thanks to two daughters I now can’t imagine life without. Sometimes, in the right light, they remind me of my parents—a pull of the mouth here, an upturned nose there.

These days, I’m the one defending difficult compromises and incremental progress to my students. Now and then I can see it in the eyes of the most sceptical: I’ve passed into the realm of The Other, just as I once pushed some of my predecessors there. Then I want to tell these students I understand. Or at least I understand as much as anyone can after two decades spent studying how humans create meaning … and forgetting what it’s like to be twenty. And that it’s not only them I understand, but (some of) those men in their military epaulets and berets as well.

Elsje Fourie, assistant professor of Globalisation & Development Studies

Author: Redactie

Photo: archive EF

Tags: elsje fourie, student,freshmen,instagram

Add Response

Click here for our privacy statement.

Since January 2022, Observant only publishes comments of people whose name is known to the editors.