A Letter to My First-Year Self

November 26, 2019

 

Dear First-Year Self,

 

I know you are feeling stressed, nervous, excited, and a million other emotions that you cannot quite name. You have had an overload of information these past few weeks about your classes, life on campus, how to figure out Courselink and Webadvisor, and all the different “Mac” buildings. You have craved this independence for so long, but now that you have it, you aren’t sure what to do with it. And to be honest, you feel a little lonely. You miss how loud your family is in the morning when you are trying to sleep, you realize you took for granted the presence of your dog, you crave the familiarity of high school and of knowing everyone there and your teachers not only knowing your name, but who your siblings are and that you eat a chocolate chip muffin from the cafeteria every morning between first and second period. The enormity of starting your degree and figuring out all the nuances of university life feels so overwhelming. But I promise you that with time, you will almost forget the feeling of not knowing where to go or how to do something. Soon, life on campus and being a Gryphon will feel like second nature. You will still be nostalgic for home, but Guelph will start to feel like home too. I know that right now, first semester feels like it will never end, especially since you just failed your chemistry midterm and it feels like the world is falling apart, but it’ll all be over before you know it. I know that sounds like a cliché, but the thing about clichés is that there’s usually some truth to them. You might not think you will miss the hustle and bustle of this first year of university, but you will. Here are a few things that I want to tell you:

 

  1. Explore the city that your university is in. You have four years to live in this city. Don’t just reside there; LIVE THERE. Think of all the cool places in your home town that are all SO cute—you know, the underappreciated nooks and crannies? Guelph has those too! Do the touristy stuff. At the end of your four years, you don’t want to look back and say that the only places you went to were the LCBO, the mall and the bar!

  2. In the name of exploring, explore campus! Campus is huge, and there are a lot of places on campus that you have no idea exist. Find good places to study so that when finals roll around and there is not one empty seat in the library, you can go somewhere else. Take walks (go to the Arboretum!) and check out all of the buildings. You’re in psychology? SO WHAT? Check out the Engineering buildings! The whole dang school is built for its students so take advantage of it.

  3. Moderation is key. I know this is cheesy and overused, but it is completely true. In university, you’re pretty much in charge of every single aspect of your life. If you sleep until 2:00 pm every day, no one is going to care. If you skip every single class, no one is going to care. If you eat pizza for every meal, no one is going care. So, eat the pizza, study hard, hangout with new friends, take a nap if you’re tired, sleep in if you need to, then get up, go to the gym, and eat something that makes your body feel good. Strive for consistency, NOT perfection, and don’t be too hard on yourself. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

  4. Speaking of being too hard on yourself, keep in mind that university is HARD. People would be lying to you if they told you it isn’t! If you get a low mark or if you fail an exam, it does NOT define you, and it doesn’t mean you’re going to flunk out of university or never get into a grad program. It means that you’re human and that you’re adjusting and figuring out the differences between high school and university. Don’t get discouraged if you are not doing as well as you thought you would be. No one is expecting you to be pulling off the marks you had in high school in your first year. People expect you to do your best, pass, and figure out effective ways to study and learn in lecture settings. Don’t compromise making new friends and ENJOYING your life because you’re obsessed with perfection.

  5. You cannot do university alone—ask for help. Find people in your program to do assignments with, and help each other. These people understand what you are going through, and having people to support you academically makes things so much easier. In the same breath, ask for help with other aspects of your life, not just academics. There are so many resources at school that are waiting to be taken advantage of: SLGs, the learning commons, student wellness… the list goes on.

  6. I know this seems pretty obvious, but it’s true: EVERY SINGLE PERSON IS IN THE SAME BOAT AS YOU. Every single individual you saw during O-Week is scared too. They are also experiencing something new. Don’t think that you’re weird because you miss your family or you haven’t connected with anybody yet—it’s 100% normal and comes with time.

  7. One day, my dad was driving myself and a friend (who’s from a farm) back to Guelph. My dad asked my friend why he was going to university if he wanted to take over the farm. He replied that these were the only four years of his life where he could completely dedicate himself to learning. And I thought, “Wow, he’s so right. These four years are completely YOURS to learn!” And how fortunate are you to be going to this amazing school and learning about what you are interested in?

  8. On the topic of feeling lucky, it is okay to understand that you’re very fortunate but still feel sad or lonely or have a bad day. I cannot stress enough that having bad days are what make us human! It is okay if you need to curl up in a ball and have a nap because you are stressed out. It is okay to feel “blah” and not have a reason. But it is important you go talk to someone if you continue to feel like that. It is really important to understand that your feelings are valid and important.

  9. It’s okay to not have an exact idea of what you want to do, or to change your mind. I know it feels like you must decide on a certain path and stick to it, but that’s not true. You are not stuck to one path, and I have learned through talking to many different professionals, that often their paths weren’t linear for them to get to where they are now. It is okay to change your mind and try new things.

  10. Get involved! Do something on campus, in residence or in the Guelph community. You don’t exist just to go to class and eat and sleep. Join a team, a club, or volunteer somewhere. You’ll meet like-minded people, have an outlet, and it may open doors or lead to invaluable opportunities. 

  11. Before you started school, a lot of people told you, “University is going to be the best time of your life”, but during your first year when you are lonely, homesick, and wish you could shower without wearing shoes, just remember that it won’t always feel this way. Don’t think that just because you aren’t LOVING every minute of it, you are having a different experience than these people. I guarantee they felt the same as you do now when they were in first year, but time turns memories golden. Instead of dwelling on the loud nights in residence and not meeting new friends right away, their memories focus on all the good that will come with the bad. This will happen to you, too. You may also think you are the only one out of your high school friends who isn’t having the time of your life. You see Snapchat and Instagram stories of your friends seemingly having so much fun with all of their new friends. But just remember: social media is a highlight reel. Your friends are sharing what they want to share, and are probably feeling all of the good and bad emotions that you are feeling as well; they’re just choosing to share only the good.

 

Appreciate first year. You won’t believe it, but in just a short amount of time you will write your last exam and move out of residence. Appreciate the struggles, appreciate the small rooms and the shared bathrooms, appreciate everything, because one day you will look back and it will be a distant memory.

 

I am so excited to see all the things that will happen to you, what you will accomplish, who you will meet, and the doors that will open for you. Be kind to yourself.

 

Love,

Your Future Self

 

a.dg

Antonia DeGroot, BAS 

MSc Candidate, Epidemiology