By Shashank Vishwanath and Devansh Batra
“Jab koi baat bigad jaaye, jab koi mushkil pad jaaye, mein dungi saath tumhara”
For how long have you worked with students from our age group, precisely children who are between 15-23 years of age? What are the common grievances you come across?
I have been working with college students for more than 15 years now. Students approaching me have had various concerns – simple ones like being unable to understand one particular subject which is bringing their scores down, losing the hard-working and dedicated attitude during school, balancing academics and societies, feeling disconnected within student societies, being unable to make friends, unable to adjust to college atmosphere and being home-sick to name a few. I have also been asked for advice by students regarding relationship issues. I also meet students who are unable to decide between a technical and a non-technical placement, or have other career uncertainty related issues. Each issue has been very close to the student who reached out to me.
People have a fear reaching out to a psychiatrist or a counselor, as they believe it means there is something wrong with them. There is this societal taboo associated with visiting Counselors. How can students overcome this hindrance?
Visiting a psychiatrist has always been a difficult task. This can only be improved by increasing the acceptance of oneself and avoiding a state of denial. If someone has a problem with their eyes, they need to seek an eye specialist. If someone has a problem with their tooth, they need to seek a dentist. Similarly, if someone has a problem with their thoughts, moods and behaviour, they need to speak to a counselor. If the college is offering them the services of a counselor, they should readily consider it when they feel a need for a more experienced person to understand their perspective and help them sort out their thoughts. I would welcome everyone and encourage them to pluck up the courage to enhance their self-acceptance and nurture the desire to make their lives better and take their first step of walking into my office.
Have you received issues involving academic life stress or stress related to the stringent attendance policy?
Students complain having to maintain a minimum attendance without wanting to attend classes. They sometimes present varied reasons like waking up late in the morning, living far away, enjoying extra-curricular activities, sports or working for societies. I would also like to point out that the case of discipline, being stressed upon from outside, bothers every student. However, before being able to regulate ourselves, we will have a need for an external control. But any aversion to such external forms of control will vanish once the youth builds up their internal control mechanism.
I would like to stress upon the point that if you get responsible towards your life, your life will be very responsible towards you.
Have you ever come across students who have been forced into a particular stream against their wish? How would you suggest them cope with such issues?
I have. Students, many times, make choices that they do not wish to pursue later in the future or are forced into a certain direction. You have a very talented painter in your college who was never even interested in becoming an engineer. But she is doing extremely well at NSIT, and this validates her parents’ decision to push her into science to some extent. But she tells me that she can’t wait for her course to finish so that she can get into art, as she feels suffocated here.
If you have already taken a major decision which you can’t undo without major consequences, we are left with two options. Either you completely forego your commitments, or continue treading upon the same path until you reach a point where you can reverse your previously made decision.
I sit with the students and try to make the students look into this situation more realistically and only then take a call. There was probably some element of one’s choice, before taking such a decision. So let’s be honest with that small element, and execute this decision. At the next stage you can bravely decide which path to choose.
How different are the questions you encounter at NSIT, as compared to those in other colleges with non-engineering backgrounds?
Students, here are more confined among themselves. There is very little interaction between the faculty and the students. While the societies are actively working here, the faculty’s role within the societies is minimal. It’s more of for the students, by the students, and of the students. The concerns are circular in nature from one student to the other, linear in nature from students of one department to the other and from students of different years. Students here are trying to help themselves, and the adult intervention is strikingly missing. There are some very responsible faculties at NSIT who genuinely do take a very real interest in the problems being faced by the students.
How important do you think are extracurricular activities for the social development of a young student, in colleges like ours?
All round development calls for putting in efforts across all dimensions. Along with their academics, the other aspects definitely have a huge role to play. It’s all about balancing one’s life. Every person has 24 hours in a day – be it a highly successful person, a person yet to achieve success, or a person faltering with daily tasks. The art of managing these 24 hours is something anybody can learn, practice and work upon. The students firstly need to work upon some inner engineering themselves.
As you have worked with Teenagers and “Just Left My Teens Behind”-ers for more than a decade, have you noticed a change in the psychology and psyche of students over the past decade or so?
There is a difference in the way that the students think today. However, I do not criticise the change. With changing times, the students themselves have to change. The student, today, is walking and thinking faster. They want to accomplish more in a short time and achieve several things in less time. While there are boons and banes to the changes coming up, students are unable to make out whether to balance their lives well or multi-task their way through college. This is leading to an increase in stress levels. They spend more time in virtual world built up by recent technology. Students are more like isolated islands, unable to intimately connect with others closely. Companionship between students are genuinely lacking. I would say that the students are losing out on their soft skills. On the other hand, the students are ambitious, critical thinkers, innovators. Some of the students have several innate entrepreneurial skills. But the students are missing out on the softer notes of life, which actually matter and lets them enjoy themselves.
What is your motto as a college counselor? The first year I was here, I told the students who used to come to me “Jab koi baat bigad jaaye, jab koi muskhil pad jaaye, mein dungi saath tumhara.” And whenever those students used to meet me, even outside of the college premises, they used to greet me with this song. (chuckles)
On a more serious note, my primary motto as a counsellor is only to make them feel better and their lives happier. I want to help them adjust themselves to the weathers inside them. It is the weather inside which creates the climate outside. If they regulate the weather inside them, they will be able to cope with the conditions outside.
Do you think that an academic institution offering professional courses like ours give enough emphasis on the students’ overall social and psychological development?
There is always a scope to do more. The faculty and policymakers at NSIT should consider keeping up with the technological advancements and changes across the world and develop some more insights into this sensitive area.