My mum asked me today if I was ready to go back to school, as I will be hopping on a plane in two weeks to the day. I shrugged.
“Yeah, of course I’m ready.”
She looked unconvinced. I am rarely, if ever, prepared for anything.
“But you’ve got two weeks, and you’ll be in Vancouver this week… don’t you have a lot you need to do?”
“No. Mum, it’s a bit like having your third baby,” I said, about to inform her on the complexities of something she, after all, has experienced, and I have not. I haven’t even had one baby, let alone three.
“By this point, I pretty well know how it goes. All I have to do is pick up a bag of diapers and drag the crib out of the garage.”
I had stolen this anecdote from a couple I used to babysit for, so it has some credibility, but my Mum still rolled her eyes.
Regardless, the moment reminded me that it hasn’t always been this simple. Now, I know exactly what I’ll do the moment I get to Ottawa, but two years ago, the city was a blank slate – on which I was actively projecting my most fantastic, but also most terrifying, notions of university life.
So I have utmost sympathy and compassion if you are a first-year university student, especially if you’re throwing up right now. I threw up too. It’s okay!
If you’re like me, the most terrifying part is probably not knowing what to expect once you get to school. I’m not the best person to inform you – I had approximately two friends for most of the year, and probably went to the grand total of one party (not a success story, per se).
But, especially if you’re going into residence, I hope I can provide a few pointers, or at least points of comfort, to start you off:
1. Think of it like high-contact summer camp.
The first few days of school can be a bit mad-cap, so it’s important to get off to a good start. If you’re like me, and find socializing with people your own age nerve-wracking, this is an important time to scrounge up all your courage and be at your most social. Friend groups (initial ones, anyways) are often made within the first day or two, so that’s game time. And, uh, it’s supposed to be fun.
2. Put yourself out there. Shamelessly, if required.
First of all, introduce yourself. No, really, it’s not that dorky. Almost everyone will be feeling awkward, and sometimes you have to make the first move. After all, introductions are a tried and tested way to meet people. Don’t be afraid to go to events alone, and don’t turn down invitations because you want to write your best friend or call your mum. You have the rest of the year to be homesick.
3. Don’t limit yourself to a friend group immediately.
You want to meet people quickly, but you don’t have to commit to them. It’s easy, and in fact quite natural, to find that mid-October, you’re eating lunch with people you met during frosh week, simply because they were the first people you met, not because you actually like them. And it’s also common to be eating lunch with a different group of people by mid-October, with those frosh-friends only a distant memory.
4. Don’t hook up with anyone on your floor in the first week.
Uh, yeah. It may be tempting, but it will probably haunt you for the rest of the year.
5. Find yourself a mentor.
This is an important one. You will find plenty of people to party with, but it can be a real life saver to have an upper year to show you around and give you advice. They are often especially helpful if they’re in your program or from your home town.
Mentors are not hard to find. But they will usually require you to leave your residence room, and the other first years. Program societies often have mentorship programs. At Carleton journalism, you can sign up for one – mine took me for coffee and edited my articles when I was having panic attacks.
Even if there isn’t a program, you can get a mentor just by hanging around and looking really lost. Some of these will become your closest friends (hey there, Laura Baziuk!)
Stock up on extracurriculars (I’ll elaborate on these another time.) I may be biased – but if you like writing, join your student paper. I was an editor last year, as was Jenn Pagliaro, and we were always keen to have new students to take under our wings. In fact, it was part of what we were paid to do. So don’t be shy!
6. Get started now
Like my Mum would say, sometimes a little preparation goes a long way. You may wonder how you can get started on any of this when you’re just sitting at home agonizing. But you can get yourself in the social mindset – start talking to people at the bus stop or in the grocery store to warm up. And if you know of someone who goes to your school already, meet up with them for a coffee, and ask if they can show you around once the year starts.
Of course, if you’re heading to Carleton this fall, I would be more than happy to show you around. And stay tuned, for in the coming days I plan to extoll not just my mother’s advice on leaving for university, but my father’s as well (spoiler: it involves salmon!)