Developing a New You

by Siphosethu Matiwana

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Photo credit: Anete Lusina

Personal identity is a concept regarding our personal development over the course of our lives. This may include aspects of your life that you have no control over, such as where you grew up, the kind of people you grew up with, society and family. Identity is controlled by culture, meaning that there is no identity without culture and vice versa. Throughout my research I interviewed number of students in response of identity growth in Rhodes University.

As students we come from many different backgrounds which natured our different identities and different cultures. Our identities can either grow or change in response to our surrounding influences. Identity growth is a good thing as it means that you are developing new characterises as a person. During my first interview with Zikhona Nyumka, I asked her what kind of influences that could cause her to change or grow her identity. She said, “Nothing can ever change my identity. Everything depends on what kind of a person you are, depending if you are easily influenced or not. It’s a choice”. She explained that in her previous high school drinking alcohol was one of the popular corrupting factors, but she found her voice and said no because drinking was not part of her identity.

We try so hard to fit in, always comparing ourselves with others and striving for something new. Wanting something new is natural. We are still young and trying to shape our futures,which means it is better to learn something now than later since we are still flexible. Many students agreed that they are not the same as they were during their first years. They have learnt so much. Many students regard language, clothing style, hairstyle and makeup as some of the characteristics they developed ever since they came to Rhodes. Since Rhodes is one of the most comfortable Universities, there are not any competitions where one judges your style, therefore you can wear whatever you feel comfortable in at any time of the day. “I am becoming more of an engaging person now” said Ntsikelelo Vumazonke, a second year Politics and International Studies student. He reveals that in terms of language he was trying to fit in because he went to township schools where isiXhosa was often used.. Since English is an international language, which allows us to connect with others, it was important for him to adapt and get used to the language. Identity growth allows us to be more open minded to try new positive things which can groom us to be better people. Since identity can generate our wellbeing due to identity growth, we becoming better people through our experiences of learning.

Maintaining your original identity is sometimes the best thing to do, which can be achieved by not being easily influenced. Many students living in res go out almost every weekend which can be seen as part of their identity. As Bulelani Mvengenya, a second year Anthropology student, pointed out that when he came to Rhodes he was a religious person but now religion is no longer part of his identity. Identity growth does not happen randomly. It, rather,  is a long process which takes some time. No one ever woke up as a new person, but rather change slowly sinks within yourself, allowing you to have a choice over it. Since being a student in university introduces independence for the first time to the most of us, it is very important for us to be responsible since there won’t be an authority calling you into order. You will need to be your own life coach at all times.

Many of us develop a sense of responsibility over our everyday actions since we will be the ones who suffer from their consequences. Identity is broad, therefore you can observe a person through his or her actions, personality, decision making, manners and how they interact with others. Those features can show a full picture of his or her identity. It is important for us to be able to learn new things while simultaneously keeping true to ourselves. Being more open minded towards other identities and cultures so that we can benefit and learn new things is also something one should strive for. Identity is not biologically inherited but is socially constructed, and what we learn everyday has an impact on maturing our identities. It is necessary for us to monitor our everyday activities so that they benefit our identities in a positive way. Identity growth, in university, is essential so that we can be able to adapt to and cope within this new environment. This continuous development can create a physical environment that contributes to our wellbeing, allowing us to grow even further.

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