There’s no better time to be pretentious than when you’re in college

Patrick Freyne’s guide to living, learning and being when you make it into third level


Be interested in things. Study things you are interested in. This is basically how to “cheat” at college. It’s easier to learn things if you they’re things you actually want to know. Sometimes it might be necessary to do a module or two that don’t interest you to get to the stuff that does interest you but you can ride that out, right? Also, don’t prejudge things. You may have your mind blown by medieval French literature or 19th-century accounting techniques or the smile on the face of a rare iguana. You’re an individual after all and as a result a big weirdo.

Be pretentious. There’s no better time to be pretentious than when you’re in college. Smoke a pipe. Wield a silver tipped cane. Ride a Penny Farthing. Suck on a gin soaked rag. Trade in 19th-century pornographic playing cards and listen only to music that plays from a wax cylinder. Carry a “newspaper” (basically an olden days paper version of the website you’re reading this on). Wear a cape.

Alternatively you could become “Authentic.” This is basically being “secretly pretentious” but no-one will dare call you on it for fear of mocking your heritage. So, for example, if you’re from a rural town play up your accent and act like a salt-of-the-earth man of the soil.

Read the Farmer’s Journal. Call everyone “horse” except for horses, which you will call by their racing track names. Occasionally observe the behaviour of birds, crouch down and touch the ground of the campus, then lick your finger and stick it in the air and say “there’s a big wind coming”. It’s Ireland. There’ll eventually be a big wind coming and you’ll be considered a legend by Dublin people who are basically thick.

Big ideas

Faff around drinking caffeinated beverages and talking shite in cafes and parks and around kitchen tables. Have big ideas. Concoct schemes. Find friends who will encourage your crazy schemes. Formulate bands and films and businesses and mad inventions. Make them happen but most importantly talk about them. Be inspired and over confident. Write Mark Zuckerberg off as a mewling underachiever. Dismiss Isaac Newton as an “apple-concussed physics twat”. Read Shakespeare and think. “Pff. Lightweight. I can write something better than that.” Faffing around, talking shite and having overly ambitious plans is the source of most cool stuff in the world and college affords you time and space for this behaviour.

Eschew realistic plans. Some of your student fellows will have more prosaic career trajectories in their heads. They will talk about “five-year plans” but five-year plans are for Stalin and members of young Fine Gael. Yes, if there are things you’d like to do in the future you can start looking at them now (if you want to be a journalist join the college paper; if you want to be a solicitor start being a terrible person etc) but I think if you follow the “be interested in things” directive of which I wrote in paragraph one, you should be fine.

Be nice to people. Remember that the best, most interesting people aren’t always the seemingly cool people or the loud confident people. Always make an effort to talk to the person who looks like they’re a bit left out. If you’re the person who feels a bit left out ask people questions. People like being asked about themselves.

Go to the “library”. Think of it as being like the internet except made of paper and flammable. Do not burn down the library. Read some of it. Reading paper makes for a better more immersive learning experience without any of the distractions you’ll find on an iPhone or whatever internet channelling ocular implants you young people have these days.

Befriend a mature student. These elderly people in their mid-to-late 20s have lots of knowledge to share with you about the olden days. They can tell you about MySpace and the rainbow coalition and golden oldies music like Stormzy and Rihanna.

There are other exotic types to marvel at. There’s the student union person who is on her second PhD and will never leave. There’s the American student whose parents are richer than God and who is writing a structureless novel that gives everyone headaches. And then there are private school people. Skip the next bit if you went to private school.

The privately schooled

Observe the private school people. See how they gambol. They all hang out together and will ask you instantly where you went to school. You’ll think about your own school – a bunch of prefabs that was recently swept into a river – and you’ll wonder why anyone would possibly want to know the answer to that question. Well, it’s because they were educated in a castle and only 500 people currently matter to them – all the other people their age who went to private school. They will, eventually, through no skill or fault of their own, run this country, however private education has made them naïve and easily confused. Be kind to them. Don’t terrify them by being too “authentic” (see “Become Authentic”) or talking about life in a less salubrious suburb.

I’m joking. Lots of private school people are very nice.

Don’t drink too much. Most people have psychological warning signs on their way through a night out. “Oh I’m ranting about Ireland’s Eurovision strategy, I must be on drink three” or “I’m singing Crazy in Love to the night bus driver, probably shouldn’t have had that fifth drink.” Knowing yourself is very important when it comes to booze and other substances. Also, if your psychological signposts on a night out include becoming depressed or being mean to people, alcohol isn’t really for you.

Free stuff

Find out where the free stuff is at. Scour the notice boards and society web-pages for free food, drink and events around campus. Live like a bankrupt 19th-century aristocrat on the largess of others.

Better still, take over a nearly defunct still-on-the-books college club or society then run it like it’s your own personal fiefdom. On Freshers’ Week find the most distressed, least attended stall. It will usually have a name like The Continuity Ornithological Society or the Gentleman’s Whittling Club and it will be manned by prematurely elderly second-year students who look like they’ve “had a good time” (this is a euphemism) and know nothing about ornithology or whittling. Tell them you know what they’re up to and that you want in.

Return home from time to time like the prodigal son/daughter you are. Amaze the clay-pipe smoking townsfolk with never-before-heard tales from the big city/mid-sized regional town – the good broadband, the exotic pale ales, the horseless carriages, the gin craze, the tulip mania, the burrito bars, the fidget spinners. They will, no doubt, soon make you mayor.

The Worst Person in the World

Try avoiding The Worst Person in the World. At some point during your years in college you will meet The Worst Person in the World. They may come to you in the guise of a friend or flatmate or lecturer or boyfriend/girlfriend but one day they will say something bizarrely bigoted or mean and it will become clear that they are The Worst Person in the World. Twenty years from now you will picture them and think, “How did such a being live until adulthood?” You will survive them. If they are not actively criminal, your options are to treat them like a sociological specimen, distance yourself or, if they’re stupid as well as evil, lure them with a trail of duck gizzards and racist literature onto a cargo vessel that’s headed around the world.

Fret that you might be The Worst Person in the World. Ah, you’re not really. You’re nice. But as you meet new people it’s good to be aware of the privileges and prejudices you have that you never thought about before. That’s okay. One minute you’re pontificating about “reverse sexism” or “Why True Detective is good” the next you’re staring at your reflection in a beer glass thinking “Could I be a complete jerk and am only realising it now?” This is life. It happens to me once a week. Without such moments of clarity we never learn. It comes with being a thinking creative being. It’s forgivable.

Treat your living circumstances as though they are the premise for a classic sitcom. All student living situations are based on Father Ted, Three’s Company, Rising Damp or Alf. This is heightened by the fact that we’re back living in overcrowded tenements thanks to “capitalism”. Just roll with it. Ride through the inevitable dramas and squalor and food theft by playing a laugh track in your head and treat particularly objectionable flatmates as though they are “breakout characters” and their bizarre lovers and friends as though they are “special guest stars”. “Oh he’s stolen my salami again? Classic [insert flatmate’s name here]!”

Ask for help when you need it. There is no place in the world better resourced to help you than a university campus. So whether you feel like you’re failing or are having problems at home or in love or are feel generally low, there are many student union, departmental advice and counselling services for you to avail of. Allowances can be made. Help can be provided. Nothing can’t be fixed. Ask for help.

Dance. Dancing is the best, cheapest and easiest way to have a good time. Don’t be self-conscious about it. Anyone judging you for your dancing isn’t having half as much fun as you’re having. Trust me, your moves are awesome.