Graduating from high school can be an exciting new venture. With newfound freedom and independence, entering university can be filled with self-discovery in terms of identity and passion, at least... until it is not, in my experience. My first year of university was chaotic; it was a period of many hardships and learning to navigate my mental health. As I recount all the difficult lessons I have learned so far, I hope this blog can help you feel a little less alone in this (sometimes dreadful) place we call university. Even more so, I hope I can help you realize that other students face similar struggles with school — even if it does not seem like it.
Studying suddenly became impossible?
One of the hard lessons I learned in my first year was how my old study habits weren't going to work any longer. Before university, I thought I had the best study methods that worked for me. I mean... I had gotten into university, hadn't I? With all the content I was expected to know, it seemed like studying how I used to wasn't possible anymore. I thought I was so behind since it appeared everyone else knew what they were doing — in other words, they didn’t seem to be struggling like I was. Boy, was I wrong! In fact, a professor in one of my first-year courses had a whole unit on learning how to study properly! I was shocked to find out that others were also having a hard time recalling a week's worth of information that would take a whole semester to cover in high school. Consequently, I want to let you know that it is okay to not know immediately how to study in this crazy, stressful, new environment. You're not alone. It will take time to find out what works for you, but you will get there and figure it out. It is a common struggle of many first year students, and believe me, you are not behind whatsoever.
Moving out is hard
Despite how much I wanted my independence before leaving home, I was a wreck when moving day came. Without any exaggeration, I cried every single day in September and October my first year. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. If you couldn't tell, it was incredibly difficult! I never realized how much my family truly meant to me, and having so much extra alone time wasn't as enjoyable as I thought it would be. Especially as I didn't realize at the time I wasn't alone in this ongoing battle with the hardships of university, I thought I was suffering by myself. It took many days for me to learn how to adapt to university-life and being alone, but I assure you it is possible! Taking on new things can be scary, no matter what people tell you. Your experience is your own, for you to figure out what works best for you. Take it one day at a time, little by little, and you will get through this — just like I did!
Making friends might be easier than you think…
Weirdly enough, something about feeling lonely and isolated from other university students turned me, a very adamant introvert, into an extrovert. Meaning, I made friends! It might seem impossible at the moment, but it is not as tough as you think. As a first-year, my go-to conversation starter was: "what program are you in?". I asked this literally every single day since I sat next to someone new every day (because no one sits in the same spot like in elementary? *Insert eye roll here*). Furthermore, there were no social consequences if I embarrassed myself since I would never meet that person again! In fact, one of my closest friends is someone I sat beside in class and started chatting with, bonding over our struggles with chemistry. I felt immediately less alone and like I had a friend I could rant to and study with. Joining a club was also beneficial since I had others to talk to, and felt like I had people around me who understood my hardships and what I was going through as a student.
School is soooo not easy
On top of adapting to the changes that come with moving out and discovering that old study habits aren't working, school can be insanely demanding! When they tell you university is a whole new level, they really mean it. With assignments in every class, multiple exams in the same week (or the same day), quizzes out of nowhere, and labs (don't even get me started), university can be a lot. Particularly with everything on social media about hustle culture, I felt like I was never working hard enough. Studying from when the sun rose to when the sun set, it seemed as though I never saw beyond the four walls of my room and was confined to my desk. In hindsight, this isn't it! I mean, my waterfall of tears in September and October was partly due to my inability to make time for myself. I had become so overcome with schoolwork and studying that I forgot to “live” in areas other than school. I lost myself in the sea of academia where burnout can be a challenging reality.
With this in mind, while school can be very time-consuming, it is crucial to make time for yourself and dedicate periods of self-care. Without periods of relaxation, there is the possibility of falling into a constant cycle of stress and worry over school. You are worthy of time-off, and you should never feel guilty for taking time to check into your own needs! While in the thick of midterms and finals, I encourage you to do at least one thing for self-care a day, or maybe every week, where you can indulge in what makes you happy — whatever that might be.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
As what I’ve shared is my unique experience, please take this all with a grain of salt. Know that what I went through may not relate to you and what worked for me may not necessarily work for you. However, if you are to take anything from this blog, know that you are not alone. The feelings of struggle with school are extremely normal, and there are many students who face the stressors surrounding university life. If at any time you find a need for support, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Peer Support Centre located in SUB 2-707. We can be reached at email@example.com with questions, and you are more than welcome to drop in or book an appointment with us. Lastly, you got this, you can get through this, and again, you are not alone!
Rachael Chew (she/her) is a second year Biological Sciences major at the University of Alberta and began volunteering at the Peer Support Centre this fall. Whenever she finds time outside of studying, she can be found dancing and re-watching every Harry Potter movie that exists.