The Trouble with Teenage Study Buddies

During orientation week at UCT back when I started my first year, there were loads of fun activities arranged for non-res. dwellers: parties every night, trips to the beach, walks up the mountain, etc. There was also a series of important sessions designed to enhance academic success at university, such as tours of the library, for example. When one of the very cool third years in charge of O-week, reminded us Freshers about a beach activity taking place the next day, I – nerd that I am – pointed out that it clashed with computer skills training.

“Wahahahahaha!” he laughed. “Who needs computer training? Come to the beach, man!”

My campus street cred. (if it ever existed) evaporated as he shouted this across the large group of first years. He then hastened to add:

“But I do suggest that you go to registration.”

And that was when I gathered that if Mr Cool was urging us to be present at registration, it must be an important event.

Fast forward 16 years later to a couple of weeks ago on campus at Wits. Because most students at Wits Plus lectures are working full time, it was hard not to notice a guy who looked alot younger than the rest of us, who frequently arrived at 5pm lectures dressed in shorts. His attire led me to gather that it was unlikely that he was gainfully employed so I surmised that he would be flexible during the day. All of this led me to earmark him as a potential study buddy.

So one day I went up to him and introduced myself. He was indeed under the age of 20 and unemployed. Why then, wasn’t he a full-time student?

“You see, what happened was, when I arrived at Wits at the beginning of the year, they’d given my place away.”

That didn’t seem fair, I empathised.

“I know!” he replied. “I mean, I missed registration but I was in Cape Town. I was on holiday. I wasn’t, like, going to come up early for registration. You know what I mean?”

Totally, dude. Like, fully. Who’d cut their Cape Town holiday short for registration?

Perhaps I should’ve taken this as a warning sign, but he was available during the day, he lived in the Parks… these were key factors in his favour, I rationalised.

I decided to find out more about my potential study buddy. It wasn’t hard:

“I had a contract to play provincial rugby after school but that was before my accident…I know, you’re thinking I don’t look like a professional rugby player but I used to gym every day. But now I don’t play rugby so I don’t do gym anymore, ’cause what’s the point, right? But at least it was really easy for me to get into varsity – I didn’t need too many points because I’m previously disadvantaged. Because of my accident. Basically, I’m black.”

At this point I don’t know whether I am speaking to a teenager with a mild form of brain damage following an accident or a kid who looks pastier than Prince Phillip himself but who reckons he’s black and might have actually ticked that race group on his university application form.

Then he wants to know how old I am. I tell him I am 35 and he informs me that I am 5 years younger than his mom. Awesome. (And, as I tweeted at the time, my husband and his dad are exactly the same age.)

Nonetheless, we exchange telephone numbers.

The next day, I’m at my desk, busy with an Economics tutorial and I’m unclear on a few things. I’m conscious it’s 8:30am and I’m doubtful whether a 19 year old who only has lectures that evening, would be awake at this hour. So I text him. And then I wait. And wait. And wait.

At about 10am I get a missed call.

“Sorry,” says my study buddy, “I was watching rugby.”

We discuss as much as we can over the phone but it’s not ideal so we agree to meet that afternoon at 4pm after lectures. It’s his idea. He says he’ll be in the library from 3pm.

I fly into the Commerce Library just after 4pm, having dragged myself away from a screaming Chiara begging me not to go to “letchers”. I scan the desks for my study buddy but there is no sign of him. I figure he’s running late and I start working while I wait for him.

An hour and a half later it’s time for our lecture to start and I head to class. Still no sign of my study buddy.

The lecture starts and the penny drops. He’s not coming. It’s a non-compulsory revision lecture on a Friday night before our test the following Tuesday.

The next morning I arrive for our Saturday morning Maths lecture and run into my “study buddy” having a cigarette outside the building, looking a bit rough.

“I’m SO sorry about yesterday!” he exclaims. “I started drinking in the afternoon and …” His voice trails off and he smiles sheepishly.

I have subsequently found myself a nerdy, female, Actuarial Science drop-out, studying third-year Economics, whom I employ on an hourly basis to tutor me.

I guess it’s as the Economists say, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”.