The highs and lows of being a Resident Advisor

This year I am a Resident Advisor (RA) at Steele Rudd College, one of the three Residential Colleges at USQ’s Toowoomba Campus and have often been asked what it is like to be an RA. An RA is a resident and student who is trained to help other residents with academic, social and welfare issues they may be having while living on college. There is always an RA ‘on duty’ outside of business hours at each of the three colleges who assists residents with things such as lock-outs, safety or security and maintenance issues, first aid and the hiring of vacuum cleaners. Being an RA is both a rewarding and challenging experience.

2015 USQ Resident Advisors celebrating the end of training

2015 USQ Resident Advisors celebrating the end of training with cupcakes

For me, being an RA is rewarding because I get to help people, something I have always enjoyed doing. I have seen first year students grow from being shy and unsure in the college environment, to being an essential vibrant member of the college community. I get to smile with and celebrate the big and small achievements of college residents as they move through their university journey. And it always brings a smile to my face (and makes me feel like a bit of a superhero) when a resident comes up to me with a simple ‘thank you for your support’ or ‘thank you for being there for me when no one else was’.

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As an RA I even get to plan events for the residents of my block to help foster friendships and create some fun and stress relief in to the chaos that is uni. #winning! I love organising events! Movie nights and block BBQs are always popular events (who doesn’t love free food?)!

Being an RA can also be challenging. Sometimes, other residents think of me as the ‘fun police’ for asking them to turn the music down during quiet hours when other residents are trying to study or sleep. And occasionally my friends shake their heads at me for asking ‘are you sure that is a good idea?’ when they talk about their plans to prank another friend.

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Some nights the phone rings for a lock-out or noise complaint at 3am when I have been up until 1am trying to complete assessment I know I shouldn’t have left to the last minute. And very rarely, it feels like I don’t get any sleep at all.

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Occasionally I will be helping residents through stressful times at uni while also stressing out myself. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Being an RA has been one of the best experiences of my life. The skills I have learnt along the way outweigh the occasional night of sleep deprivation by a mile. I have had the opportunity to make friends with people I never thought I would make friends with. Seeing residents overcome the hurdles they face and succeeding on their path to fulfilling their dreams is possibly the best thing I have ever witnessed.

If you have ever thought about applying to be an RA, my advice would be to go for it. There’s no real way you can know what it is like to be an RA until you actually are one, but I’ve never regretted my decision to apply.

Music- The Great Connector

I absolutely LOVE music. So much that I will pay a LOT of money and sit up many hours late at night doing assignments to study it at university and … hopefully… with lots of practice, become an expert at it. So far the only instrument I am trained in is vocals but I can play enough chords on guitar and piano to accompany myself for gigs and performances.

Kent Music

Music seriously connects people on such a deep level that we find it hard to explain. In simple terms, it involves a lot of invisible factors such as emotions and other brain related actions. When you listen to music your brain often releases dopamine. Dopamine, in case you aren’t aware of what it is, is a chemical that your brain releases when you feel pleasure, reward or happiness. Simple. If you feel happiness or pleasure, with say eating chocolate or playing music, and you do it with someone else or even a group of people, you automatically feel a connection with the others involved. It’s magical!

"Let Music Connect Us. Something Wonderful Will Happen"

I remember the very first day when I came to college back in the beginning of 2012, the RA who showed me to my room was sitting in the Junior Common Room with a guitar and playing little tunes and automatically the room felt more welcoming. We walked and talked while he showed me to my room. There was this understanding in our language between us – musician to musician. What’s even greater, music doesn’t only effect and connect musicians. Later that week, two of us (at-the-time) newbies, or as called at college, us “freshers”, spontaneously started jamming in the laundry at college. The acoustics were so different compared to when you jam in the bedroom because of the tiled floor rather than carpet. As you could imagine, just like singing in the bathroom, the sound bounces around and causes a reverb. The most amazing thing though was slowly but surely, song after song, more and more people started to join us. The harmonies from vocals to other instruments such as guitars and ukuleles filled the air and literally put shivers down my spine. It was so awesome!

They felt the music together and something amazing happened – From the street to TV in a few days:

The other magnificent thing about music is that it not only connects people with other people, it also connects us with memories. College is awesome! Don’t get me wrong. But sometimes it’s nice to escape to another place. The great thing about music is that it can take you to another place even while your still in your same bedroom. You can just put some music on, lie down on your bed and shut your eyes. You can feel like you’re somewhere else because the music connects you with memories or images in your mind. It’s powerful, yet serene.

I could talk all day about music because it’s my passion but I won’t put you through that.

Thanks for reading- Kent

The Dark Knight At McGregor

“What did you do on your holidays?”

This is the standard week 1 conversation starter. Well, I answer, what else do you do with your time when college has been over-run by middle school age rugby players and all the other Resident Advisors (RA) have left on ski trip?

Make a batman video, obviously.

Don’t question me.

Harlem Shakes & Protein Shakes

“You’re only up to fifteen push ups, you biscuit eater!” 

I’m back at college early from the holidays to begin my Residential Advisor training.   The lessons are difficult, but I must be strong to walk the path of the RA.  I squeeze out a final push up, wipe the dirt from my face and begin to stand but I am knocked back down.

“It took you half an hour to complete lockup?  Not good enough, maggot.  No dinner for you tonight.  From this point onwards, you are only to eat protein shakes, falcon eggs and rocks.”

Just kidding guys, the real training I’m doing has more air conditioning and power point presentations.  It went for a week and a bit and was a great opportunity to meet the people I’ll be liaising with in 2013.  We also had two days of team building out at the Murphy’s Creek Campsite, which was fantastic.  We slept in large military-style tents and had the opportunity to try a Mid Ropes course, a flying fox and partake in many team building activities.  My highlight of the camp, however, was scaring the pants off everyone in the dark.  Last year, my mother had invested in a dinner plate sized, remote-controlled robotic hairy spider to give to me for my birthday.  Needless to say, I took him for a walk through the tents while everyone was playing cards and preparing for bed.  Fun times.

After training on the calendar was Orientation week at college.  It was packed full of great activities like the inter-college toga trivia night, the pub crawl, red frog visits and many more.  Aside from the joy of seeing all the old faces again, we were joined by a fantastic new group of freshers; I’m really looking forward to spending the year with them.  To summarise some of the highlights, here’s a few pictures with stories from the week that was.  I’ve also included two Harlem shake videos we put together – Look out for more mint vids from the colleges coming soon!

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New room! Loving the couch to bits.

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Took my good friend Josh (He’s 6’5) to Jay Jays, and he’s a bit tall for the change room.  This is his ‘not impressed’ face.

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Classic Red Frogs visit.  As always, they supply the pancakes, soft drink and UNO cards. Along with playing cards and hanging out, they are endeavoring to teach us noobs to master the art of skateboarding.

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Some of the freshers we have the pleasure of living with as of 2013.  A good looking, well mannered bunch if I say so myself.

Onesies

The latest order of onesies for the colleges! If you are unaware, a onesie is a fluffy jumpsuit in the form of an animal to keep one cuddly and warm during the winter.  And we all know that winter is coming.

Harlem shake at Toga Trivia: The magnificent starting dance can be credited to the skilled Thomas Hooley.

Second Harlem shake in Brodie’s room.  Yours truly is responsible for the first thirty seconds.  Also, it’s interesting to note how many people it is possible to fit inside a standard college room.

I’ll conclude with a quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger to encourage all those re-commencing their studies this year.  Feel free to read it in his voice and add an “All be bock” or “Hasta la vista baby” at the end.

“What we face may look insurmountable.  But I learned something from all those years of training and competing.  I learned something from all those sets and reps when I didn’t think I could lift another ounce of weight.  What I learned is that we are always stronger than we know.”

Just stop, and think, for just 1 second

Do you ever sit down and realise what is happening in the present? I sometimes feel like I am living my life, without actually realising what is happening, and what has happened.

If you are thinking

“what in gods name is she talking about?”

which, I’m sure you are. Let me take you back a few steps.

Last night I was sitting down, whilst watching McLeods Daughters re-runs (LOVE that show!) and I thought to myself,

“What do you have to do tomorrow Nicky?”

My response, to myself, was

8:00 – 12:00pm – WORK
(I work at a swimming academy as a Learn to Swim Instructor for kids from about 3 years to 12 years)

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12:30 – Sushi lunch date with my friend Rianna

1:30pm – Go to the Residential Colleges and pick up a key to my new flat for my Residential Advisor (RA) position.

I then GASPED to myself. NO WAY, you are not actually an RA now are you??! (for those who are unaware of what an RA is, they are students employed by the Colleges, someone who is in charge of pastoral care of residents, especially the Freshers).  This means I get a room twice the size of everyone else in return for my services.

I am so overwhelmed that I gained this position, after the fairly gruesome 2000 word written application and 30 minute interview.

After I composed myself with the realisation of the responsibilities and position I am going to hold at Concannon College next year, the next thing hit me.  I had to study for my Law exam on the 29th of this month. That voice screamed at me again

“You are NOT studying law are you? And are you really HALFWAY through your degree?”

A shiver runs down my spine at the fact that it will all be over in 2 years. And if they go as quickly as the last 2 have, it will be happening before I know it.  I don’t ever want to wish my days away, however, I wouldn’t mind them taking a bit longer so that I can prepare myself.

I remember like it was yesterday not knowing what I wanted to do when I graduated school.  It’s been over 2 years since I walked out the gates of school, and to be honest, I am pretty happy I don’t have to go back.  With year 12’s from 2012 starting to get QTAC offers, I cross my fingers that if given the chance, they take the plunge and not only go to USQ, but move onto Residential Colleges.  And I am not crossing my fingers for myself, I am crossing for them.  That they would get the chance to experience living on campus, just like I have. If I was to write about why someone should live on college, I’d be here all night.  All I can say, is if you are given the possibility that college is an option for you, then just do it. And if you are sitting on the fence about whether to or not, and which college to choose, I have 5 words for you.

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Last night, I became suddenly overwhelmed with what has occurred in my life throughout the past 2 years, and what is to be expected in this year.  Its daunting yes, saddening yes, but most of all, its exciting.

As I conclude this blog, I’ll lighten the mood with some outtakes from my quest to get the best image for the Phoenix T-Shirt Competition, hope I win!

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Bring on 2013, may you be the best year yet.

Until next time,

Nicky

The last taste of holidays.. and an exciting new year ahead.

“I need you to do something for me.  Can you grab a pen and a piece of paper?” he asked.

“Is a coaster okay?”  I responded.

I’ve returned to my old job working in a popular pub in my hometown of Maryborough, pulling beers for the entire population of middle to late aged men in town.   It’s been great to get back into work and save up some money for 2013.  Plus, working in a bar guarantees air conditioning as well as the opportunity to chat to many people I wouldn’t usually get a chance to.  That’s one thing that I really enjoy; meeting and talking to people and hearing what they have to say.  Even if it’s just about how bloody hot it is outside, people from all walks of life can sit down and congregate on an equal playing field with a beer in hand.  However, as you can expect, there are a few exceptions to this rule.

“Yeah, a coaster is fine.  Now can you write your phone number on it please?” 

At this point, I realised that I really should have seen that coming.  Don’t worry Steph, I tell myself, the creepy tattoo beard man who doesn’t own a toothbrush and won’t follow you back to college.

Other than the good, the bad and the ugly of my job at the pub, my holidays have been great.  Especially with the news that I’ve been chosen to join the esteemed ranks of the Collegiate Team as a Residential Advisor (RA)!  For the non-college readers, this means I organise nightly study hall, living-learning community (basically activities and events) and have rostered duty shifts after business hours to be the point of contact for McGregor College residents who may require after hours assistance (study hall, lock outs, College rounds and respond to emergencies.. well at least fire alarms!).  This is done in exchange for free board and a room twice as big as everyone else’s.

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Me, Jan (the VC) and Lachlan (Concannon RA)

Begin my jedi training soon, I will.

“But wait Steph!” I hear you say.  “How did you apply for such a position and what would you recommend for others applying to be an RA?” 

If you are thinking about applying in the future, the applications open at the end (September) of each year.  I was required to submit an application online and then participate in an interview.  I won’t tell you how to sit an interview or put in an application, it’s pretty obvious and you’ve probably over dosed on ‘how to’ instructions at school/university.  My main advice to you is to get involved within the College community.  Become an active member that people can rely on, and have fun while you’re at it.  Make an effort to get to know as many people as possible, and experience everything College has to offer (go to everything!).  Also, especially if you will be a fresher in 2013, make an effort to come along to the O-Week festivities.

Furthermore, there are lots of great clubs and groups you can get involved in too.  For example, I was the Secretary of the Charity Committee in 2012.  We ran many great activities such as the shave for a cure, raffles and trivia nights.  Our flagship event for 2012 was the Charity Royale, a James bond themed casino night.  You may have seen those aesthetically pleasing, well designed posters around USQ.

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A great way to show off your leadership development and community involvement is to sign up for the USQ Phoenix Award.  You can achieve this award by accruing 1000 points by taking part in non-compulsory extra-curricular activities.  Each activity has designated points and points build up gradually over a number of years, which perfectly balances the time taken to finish your degree.  There is a great list of formal activities and volunteer jobs to get involved in, and they will also assign points to approved activities that may not be on the formal list.  It’s very easy to do, and it only took me a year and a half to complete.  I strongly recommend getting involved because it looks great on your university academic transcript (as well as your resume!) and is easy to attain through some activities you are probably already doing.

Lachlan (another charity committee member) and I at the Charity Casino Night

Lachlan (RA & charity committee member) and I at the Charity Casino Night

I’ll conclude with a quote, this time from the Dalai Lama.  Do not read this in the voice of a llama.

“Happiness is not something ready made.  It comes from your own actions.”

The next chapter..

Nearing the end of my degree (I finish in February!), I realised I needed to get my name out there if I wanted to get a job. So, back in September, I sent out my resume to every company that I could think of.  After at least 20 rejection letters, and even one phone call to personally tell me that even if they did have a vacant position they still wouldn’t hire me because I’m ONLY a graduate, I have found a job!

Doing what you ask?  I’m working in the Marketing Department at FK Gardner and Sons Group (FKG), a Toowoomba construction company, and I have to say I’m pretty excited. This is the kind of job I had been looking for. I get to wear fancy corporate clothes and heels, work in a nice air-conditioned office and help plan events like the work Christmas Party (my first job was to order $3000 worth of alcohol!).

Oh, and on top of that, I get a work phone, laptop, a company credit card for wining and dining our clients, and when I need, a company car to drive around.

“Not bad for a  graduate right!?”

Here’s the catch, I’m only doing this two days a week. The other three days I have a second role as a Community Liaison Officer working on the Gore Highway Reconstruction Project.  It’s a mouthful I know, but basically it means I have to keep the public updated on what we are doing and if there are any complaints, I get to deal with them. This role is completely different from my Marketing one…

Lets just say wearing a men’s, fluoro yellow, high-visibility shirt, steel capped boots and a hard hat, and working in a donga on the side of the highway with a bunch of male engineers is certainly not what I had in mind. But you know what? I’m actually enjoying it and my team has been fantastic with helping me understand all of the construction terms like Geotechnical Investigation (basically digging a bunch of holes).

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It can sometimes be hard keeping track of everything when I’m running back and forth between two different jobs but if there is one thing that I learnt from Uni, internships and being an Resident Advisor (RA) for McGregor College, it’s how to juggle!

As if starting a new job wasn’t enough of a change, I’ve also moved off college now into an amazing 3 bedroom unit with a couple of friends from McGregor College. I have to say, it is so nice having my own lounge room and kitchen and being able to cook what I want, when I want it.  Of course my favourite part of our house is my MASSIVE walk-in-robe!

It’s different living with just two people rather than an entire college. Breakfast is really lonely now since we all have different work schedules, but we always try and have a “family” room-mate dinner together.

Family dinner night!

When I finished my position as RA in December, handed in my master key and left behind my empty college room, I felt a wave of sadness wash over me. For the past three years, it had been my home and my family.

“Every year I have watched friends graduate and move on but I never stopped to think that one day it would be my turn.”

I’m excited to test out my domestic skills, but one thing I know I will miss is the convenience of coming home from work and uni knowing you don’t have to cook or knowing that someone else will be cleaning your bathroom and washing your sheets. Of course there are some things I won’t miss too, like being on RA Duty and getting 3am wake up calls from someone who has locked themselves out of their room.

Looking back at when I first came to McGregor College, I can safely say I am not the same little princess who showed up, never having done laundry a day in her life, and had to call mum three times just to work out how to make the washing machine start. The confidence I have gained and the friends I have made will stay with me as I venture off into the next chapter of my life.