Students have a week of heavy partying

Another year of questionable hygiene, parties, hard work and adventure commences on Monday for the 2013 crop of Waikato University students.

That heady mix of young adults, freedom and alcohol, known as O-Week, is about to begin.

The police have their own line on the annual event calling it "No Week". That is, ‘no, I'm not going to become a victim' or ‘no, I'm not going to leave my flat unlocked for burglars to waltz into and take my stuff'.

While the intention is good, the more fitting title would be "Yes Week".

Yet the drunken nights and days of excitement will soon tick over into lectures and assignments.

To get an idea of the varied and changing face of tertiary study in Waikato and New Zealand, Matt Bowen tracked down three characters spanning three generations of student life.



Meet dentist Murray Robertson, 60.

When Murray Robertson started studying at Otago University in 1972 everyone wanted to look like James Taylor. Long hair and beards were in. Branded clothes were out. And everyone smoked.

Yet students were more socially conservative back then, Mr Robertson says.

He's a different beast today, sitting in the waiting room of central Hamilton's Medford House dental care that he bought in 1986. His hair is short and his leather boots are polished to a shine.

Politically, students were more left wing back then, he says.

"It was the end of the Vietnam War. Feminism was fighting against old prejudices. Students aren't politically active these days, for the most part."

Mr Robertson moved to Dunedin from his home in Gisborne and fell into the student life.

He lived in a flat with six others and, after a while, even the rats got sick of the filth. But the rent was good at $5 a week.

There were no student loans in those days but the banks looked favourably on medical students and happily loaned Mr Robertson up to $3000 a year.

These days, he says students pay up to $25,000 per year over five years of dentistry training.

Computers, cell phones and the internet didn't exist. Mr Robertson and his peers scrawled notes on paper during lectures then went home and tried to decipher it into something readable.

The workload was heavy, from 8.30am to 5pm, with more study afterward.

Still, there was time to drink and a jug of beer went for a $1.

On the record player were Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

There was mischief too.

"Selwyn College would always do a prank," Mr Robertson says.

"But they weren't destructive. Like painting pedestrian crossings in the middle of town at 3am in places that went nowhere.

"[Or] putting footprints from the Robbie Burns statue down to the lavatories and back again."




At community radio station FreeFM89, general manager Phil Grey has a different tale to tell.

The fellow Gisborne export enrolled at Waikato University in 1987, studying a "strange" combination of philosophy, his major, with business papers on the side.

But due to a "lack of attention" he changed course and graduated with a bachelor of social science majoring in sociology, in 1991.

He had no idea what he wanted to do with his life.

And his qualification came without debt as the state paid for everything, including accommodation and fees.

What he remembers most from those days are the parties.

And the music.

He was deeply into Kiwi bands and many played on campus.

One of his favourite bands, The Verlaines, played that first year.

"I thought, holy s..., here they are playing 100 metres from the Student Village hostel," he says.

"The bands that used to play at the Wailing Bongo and Oranga . . . those were band venues. We're talking Straitjacket Fits. The Clean. Iconic New Zealand bands. The Bats. The Chills. All these guys would go through town.

"They were great days."

Mr Grey says students have much more direction and career support these days.



Second-year software engineering Alena Choong has direction in spades.

Her dream is to one day work for Google or Pixar.

She's originally from Panang, Malaysia, and after switching onto the computers at Hillcrest High School she enrolled in the Waikato University school of computing and mathematics.

Ms Choong lives with her mother and sister at Hillcrest and manages to avoid bills for rent, food and power.

But tuition fees are always rising, she says.

It costs up to $7000 per year and a student loan covers that cost.

"The price changes every year and gets higher and higher."

Ms Choong also works six hours a week, serving, washing and putting away dishes as a catering assistant at the Bryant Hall university hostel.

She doesn't drink much but still went on a pub crawl last year.

At the mention of the 2013, she sighed and bowed her head.

With five papers this semester, it's going to be a lot of work, she says.

Waikato Times