My first year in university, I started at UVIC hoping to pursue a double-major in creative writing and linguistics (which I did end up doing!) I found the first few weeks of September to be very overwhelming because the expectations were higher, I was far away from home (Ottawa –> Victoria) and trying to meet new friends, be social, be ahead of the game in my readings, stay fit, stay in touch with family and friends, get to know my new campus, get to know my new city, look nice for school, volunteer/join clubs, start school work, keep my dorm clean and well-decorated, eat healthy balanced meals, take time to ‘relax’ and the list went on and on and on.
Wallace Building: My residence at UVIC in 2010. First home away from my parents!
Excitement and anxiety really can go hand in hand and those feelings seemed to take turns sneaking up on me. One day, I’d be excited to begin a new reading in my women’s studies class on Hawaiian Women’s Surf Culture and the next, I’d be anxious that I’d misread the whole article and the discussion in class between my profs and peers seemed to go over my head. One week, I’d attend 3 fitness classes at the rec centre in a row with my new residence friends and another week, I’d be lucky if I got out of bed to attend class because I felt so stressed and tired. The yo-yo of the new school year felt very real to me and all I could do was embrace it and listen to my body and my mind, push myself one day, and embrace when I needed extra help or extra sleep another day.
An even larger shock to my system was when I received a grade on my first assignment. It was near the end of September and it was a small reading/response sheet for an introductory English Class. I thought I understood the themes of James Joyce’s short story “Araby” and had perfectly answered each question and re-edited an excerpt of the piece for grammar flawlessly (a bonus question!)
To my dismay, I got a grade way below what I was used to getting in high school. Red marker with lots of circles and comments from the prof were littered all over the assignment and not only did I feel stupid for thinking I had done well, I was also nervous and questioning whether I really did belong in University and if all my grades in the future would be low and I’d drop out after having wasted tuition money, I’d never get the job I wanted etc etc. Basically, my mind went in a million scary directions.
The over-achiever in me wanted answers and I thank myself to this day for scrambling up the courage to ask my prof in his office hours what I did wrong in more detail and how I could do better in the future. He was kind but firm and said that University expectations are just way higher and to get a high grade, you have to go above and beyond and stretch the conversation, make new arguments, be creative and even question the question at hand. Woah. Answer a question with more questions? Creatively?? It seemed daunting but what I learned from him that day is that University is a chance to break from the robotic right/wrong answers of high school and learn how to interpret questions, question the question and actually provide an opinion (Obviously this doesn’t work in all types of classes, but it sure applied for social studies and English classes).
The prof said, I wanted to know what did YOU think of Araby, not what did you think I wanted you to think of Araby?
In the early weeks of my Undergrad degree I lost a lot of sleep, met a lot of friends, and realized that this would be four+ years of my opinion and how to make it count and how to make it reach. Grades aren’t everything but they do matter but it was valuable to know I didn’t need to abandon my point of view to get decent grades. In university, you get to collage logic with creativity, curiosity, and collaboration to learn. It is a scary learning curve but something to be embraced rather than feared! I wish good luck to all new students leaving high school and starting a new pathway to university, specifically here at UBC. I hope you aim high for yourself, have fun, stay safe, make friends, listen and talk to your profs, enjoy attending class, attend class the whole term, and if you make a mistake or do feel disappointed academically, I hope you see it as a moment to learn from, not something to be ashamed of.
If you want to learn how to cope (and overcome) other common learning challenges, check out our Top 5!