Five Years On and the Lessons Learnt


Technically, less than five, but who is counting, right?

Anyway, back in 2012, someone somewhere gave the bright idea that I should go to university to learn some more stuff. If you haven’t caught on, I was talking about myself…😁😆 (lame, I know)

Fast forward to 2017 (hence the five-year remark), I have come out the other side, well, better educated than I went in, overwhelmed, slightly traumatised, but with a sense of achievement and that I still have loads to learn. Looking back, I am really glad that I did go to Uni. Although, towards the few weeks/months leading up to my final assignment deadline, I wasn’t too sure why I put myself through it all. Writing my dissertation was a nightmare. I was on the verge of asking for an extension and at one point I almost quit, but none of those was an option. I was determined to see it through. After all, I deferred half of my final year so I could have more time to pace myself and this also meant graduating a year later. Getting an extension would just prolong the ‘trauma’ of writing my 10k and quitting would mean I would not graduate with honours. So, I soldiered on and made sure I submitted, beating the deadline with a few hours to spare….YAH ME!!


Here is the thing, I started my university journey when my eldest was 2 years old. By the time I was in my second year, I was pregnant with my second child and instead of taking time off, I went back to uni in my third year when she was around 4 months old. Hence my determination to see it through and why I split my final year credits in half. As much as the course was part-time (4 years), it didn’t feel like it when you are also juggling family life and freelancing. It was not easy that I decided going back to employment was not an option anymore until I graduated, as I was already stretched thin. So, during my maternity leave, I made the easiest yet difficult decision to quit my job.

And here we are, recovering from the dissertation writing nightmare that kept me from this blog (asking myself why I couldn’t wait until now to revive it). You can also tell by now how much I have mentioned I hate writing and yet, here I am filling this blog entry with more words than pictures. Writing a blog is not the same as writing an academic paper and I find writing them a bore, disliking it with a passion. In other words, it is not me/personal or an exciting read. It is one of the things I didn’t enjoy throughout my university experience, but more on this on my list. Having said that, I did learn a lot and I am going to share my TOP FIVE lessons…now…

Lesson 1 – Time Flies

I remember when I got my student card in 2012 and it had, July 2016 on it (later changed to July 2017). It really looked like an eternity. Look, here we are in 2017 and I came out the other side unscathed and better for it. If there is anything to learn here, as always, time waits for no man. Knuckle down and get busy as it will be over before you know it.

Lesson 2 – Deadlines Cannot Be Ignored

Deadline dates are given at the beginning of every semester/module and cannot be ignored. You think you have all the time in the world (see lesson 1) and before you know it, you are rushing towards the end to finish that practice project that needs access to the darkrooms/studios or in my case literally sleeping in the library to finish my essays with hours to deadline. Thank goodness for 24 hr library access.

Lesson 3 – Abundance of Resources

In order to make your journey as a student much more pleasant, the university is full of resources that are easily accessible. This may not be apparent when you start out, but the more you start working on your projects, you will find most of what you need on campus. Well stocked libraries, access to darkrooms, photographic studios/equipment, workshops, lunchtime lectures, etc. Sometimes, though, some of these resources are accessed when it is too late to make any real use of them. Having said that, when I was researching for my dissertation, I found that most of the books I needed were not available. Let’s just say, my topic of choice hardly has any theory behind it. So I had to make due.


Lesson 4 – Photography Books are Doorstops

The moment you are given a reading list by your lecturer and venture into the library, you soon realise that your backpack just won’t cut it to carry the books home. You will have to invest in a suitcase or spend a lot of time in the library. A typical reading list will consist of at least 10 texts (books) and most of them are as thick as bibles and quite heavy. And if it is published with a hard cover, be assured that the library will purchase those over softcovered ones for the longevity of the book. Let’s just say as I wrote my dissertation, my bag of choice was a bag with wheels to ferry my research books back and forth. It got to a point I just purchased the ones I wanted to add into my collection to avoid carrying them around. Yah for African Photography books.


Lesson 5 – Having Support Helps

Be it at home, at work or on campus, having that support helps you get through it all. University is not for everyone as it is not easy, but if you decide to go, having people encourage you along the way gives your something to look forward to when it all ends. In my case, I had two young children and my family and friends have been a tremendous help physically and emotionally. I haven’t seen or spoken to most of my friends for months, but their words of encouragement helped me through it. When I was deferring my credits, my personal tutor helped me through it. Even having support from my peers really helped as we kept encouraging each other when times were getting tough and deadlines getting the better of us. In campus especially, there was always someone available to help you through any struggles you were experiencing as a student.

I know I have left loads out, but I don’t want to be a bore. So, I will leave it there and just say, follow your own heart and path. You are the master of your own destiny. Mine was to go to university and see it through and I did. Now for the next chapter.

Let me conclude this post by sharing with you a personal story.

One day, I called my mum in Kenya and she happened to be visiting my grandmother (may she rest in peace). My grandmother kept asking why I don’t call my mum so often and I had to explain to her I was busy with school amongst other things. She went on to ask what I did and I mentioned that I was studying photography. Now, here is the thing with my grandmother’s generation, learning anything creative doesn’t need a university degree or constitute one to be in an educational establishment. In her eyes, I was wasting my time and money. She thought I would end up being a street photographer like those found outside KICC or used to roam the residential estates photographing house helps/maids if ever I was to practice my photography in Kenya (truth be told, I would as a project – sorry Cucu). She sounded disappointed and it broke my heart. I had to ask mum to explain it to her and that I wasn’t wasting my time and money. My mum did try, but bless my Cucu. She just could not see past it.

A few months later, I visited Kenya and as part of my trip, I went to see my grandmother. On this visit, I had my camera with me and the pictures I took of her were the first and last since I started my photography degree. They may not be the best photographs of my Cucu, but they are the most precious. I suppose being there and her seeing me taking her photograph, kind of made her understand. I could see she was proud of me even though she still did not understand. I left Kenya not knowing that I would be back four months later for her funeral.


And this is one of the reasons I wanted some sort of foundation in Photography. The appreciation of capturing memories, to educate me and others, networking and most importantly, prove to myself you just have to try something once even if it is just for the experience and better understanding of the world around us. If anything, whatever photographs I take will be part of my story and legacy.

My undergraduate journey will come to an end in July. It has been a long and arduous journey, but well worth it.

It is the beginning of the end.

Are you contemplating going to university/college? Let me know if there is something you would like to know in the comments below and I will answer where I can.

Comment. Like. Share.


All images © Elsie Kibue / EK13 Photography

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