A strange yet wonderful thing happened on my birthday. A youth that I had been working with for the past year called to wish me a “Happy Birthday”. It was not something that I had expected, but it was something that I greatly appreciated. In our cordial exchange, there seemed to be a deeper anxiety surrounding this youth’s first year of university. Move-in weekend was just a few days away and he had a ton of questions on how to deal with everything ranging from study habits to seeking help to what part of his closet he should bring.
I smiled and I took my time in answering his questions because I remembered feeling just as unprepared as he did. I distinctly remembered having packed my bags but not quite being ready to go. I wish I could have talked to someone who could reassure me that moving onwards was something I could handle.
This blog/letter is inspired by this conversation and also nostalgia for being excited and terrified by uncertainty.
Dear You (First Year Me),
Whatever you’re feeling right now is valid. You are allowed to be swept up in a blizzard of emotions as you embark on a new milestone. As excited as you may feel, many things will feel foreign to you.
Do not under-pack. If you have the space to bring some extra belongings, do so because sometimes, the convenience in having that extra clothing, blanket, books, food, etc. can help you remember the comforts of home and help you establish your “home away from home”. When you’re moving away, you are really moving away – bring what you need to help you be you.
Your introvert brain might feel over-stimulated during Welcome Week. There will be times where you’ll wholeheartedly engage in the odd traditions of your new school and there will be times where you’ll halt because it’s genuinely a “What on earth?” situation. There is a fine line between keeping an open mind/putting yourself out there versus withdrawing into yourself because it’s the easier thing to do. There is no requirement for you to suddenly change yourself or adapt instantaneously. It’s okay to have boundaries and push your limits bit by bit.
You will quickly realize that despite your school’s best efforts in matching you with a compatible roommate, there are gaps in the questionnaire you had painstakingly taken prior to moving in. It’s going to be slightly disheartening when you realize that you and your roommate actually have nothing in common nor does she want to be your friend. While this is not ideal, it is also not a big deal. Do not freak out – this is not an indicator as to what kind of person you are or what calibre of “friend material” you are. Sometimes, people are different due to various factors and you are going to learn how to understand, tolerate, and navigate these differences.
Meeting new people will be more of a breeze than you anticipated. Making new friends, however, will vary in difficulty. With that being said though, try striking up conversations with strangers. You are going to find a life-long friend in that person who lives on a different floor in your residence because you’re going out of your way to help another friend. You are going to meet people who share your love for Harry Potter (and books in general), movies, music, theatre, awkward dancing, shameless idealism, fashion, hot chocolate (even when you know too much sugar is inadvisable for you), and on and on and on.
When you decide to try something new like taking an introductory fencing (yes, with swords) class, it will feel as though you have connected an elusive piece to your never-ending puzzle. You are going to fall in love with this obscure sport even though you’ve never been big on athletics. You are going to be pleasantly surprised when you make it all the way to the varsity team, find yourself travelling frequently to different cities for competitions, and find joy in hanging out with some of the weirdest yet like-minded people you have met in your relatively short lifetime.
It can also be hard though to stay in touch with your “old” friends. Again, this does not make you a “bad friend”. Even if you go to the same school with your best friends, you will find that each of you falls into a different pace on your own because you are all growing up. You will each be busy with figuring out how to balance your new responsibilities. It might feel lonely, but you’re going to appreciate that each of you are entitled to personal growth through your unique experiences. Let each other be free to run wild, make mistakes, and create your own identity outside of your previous geographical constraints. But, don’t forget to make time for each other when you need each other most.
It’s okay to get homesick. It’s okay to miss your family even if moving away was something you looked forward to. You’ll come to appreciate the roots that you have and you’ll seek nourishment from your family more than you think you will. Call home when you need to and be honest about everything you’re going through. When you can, visit home!
Schoolwork can be challenging. You’ve worked hard to get into university and you’re going to have to keep working hard to stay in university. You will feel shocked and intimidated when you do not grasp new concepts in class at times. Do not panic – this is normal. This is what learning is all about; it is a process in which you take something unknown/abstract and make it known/concrete in your mind. Learning takes as long as it takes and when it takes you longer than your classmates, it does not mean that you are stupid.
Please do not feel embarrassed when you hit barriers in your learning process. Okay, I know you will, but I assure you, you will develop a much thicker skin by the end of your degree than what you have now. It is within your rights to do whatever it is you need to do to make sure you “get” it. This includes but is not limited to: asking your professor or TAs for help, forming study groups, consulting upper-year students, seeking tutoring, etc. You will encounter some people who will make you feel small because they have some preconceived notion of what a “good student” should be; in these scenarios, please remember the difference between “legitimate help” and “uncalled for opinions” is that you are asking for help. No one (and least of all educators) should act condescending or disrespectful towards you.
Take time to familiarize yourself with the resources both on and off campus. Outside of the classroom, get to know your academic advisers. Know where your campus health clinic and student wellness center is. Keep an ear out for what your student union is working on to better the quality of student experience during your time at school.
Your post-secondary experience will provide you with endless opportunities to strengthen your identity and shape your thinking. Meeting new people and trying new things will make you more cognizant of social issues and how you can do your part in being a better citizen. The more you engage, the more you explore your interests both inside and outside the classroom, and this will allow you to realize and pursue your passions.
Some time down the road, you might find that what you are studying isn’t at all what you thought you wanted to do. It is okay to change your mind. It is okay to take the time you need to achieve your goals. It is okay to explore new things and broaden your horizons.
Some final things: Build and cherish your support network. Find a balance. Know where the helpful/helping resources are and seek them out when you need them. Breakfast is important – so are naps. All-nighters are bad news and do in fact have an expiry date. Know you’re not alone.
First-year is going to be something like a roller coaster ride – there are going to be ups and downs. There will be moments where you’re screaming and hanging on for dear life. But, there will also be moments where you are thrilled. It’s not always two extremes – there will be some “meh” moments too. Remember that the ride only lasts so long, and have fun!
All images sourced from the movie Pitch Perfect (2012)
About Mariette Lee
A lover of swords, writing, music, reading, travel, long hikes, and epic snowball fights, Mariette believes in bettering the world with grace and pizzazz. As part of her mission to become a socially-conscious citizen, Mariette engages youth in the York Region through fundraising and volunteering projects via her role as the Youth Mentor of We Can Change the World Day. A Masters student in Counselling Psychology, Mariette aspires to work with youth and young adults who may be struggling during the critical periods of their lives, and empower them to be their best selves every day. Mariette is the Co-Founder of Gap-Gen and designs programs to inspire and encourage youth in their pursuits and connections.