By Noor Gouda
Editor - Paola Duran
Photography - Vivian Fung
The first day of school is coming very soon (oh how time flies, even with covid-19 pressing the pause button on life). Naturally, when this “first day of school” marks the next stage of your life, like the first day of freshman year in high school, you become very nervous and you start to fear the worst for that next stage of life. You then reluctantly come to face the fact that you have to experience that mysterious “first day.” So, you get up, go to school, and become lost because you don’t know the layout of the school, as anxiety builds up because of your fear of being late to classes on the first day. Then, out of nowhere, you find yourself on the last day of school and anticipating the next year with a little bit of experience under your belt, and a little bit of knowledge of who you are and what you want. Nothing rings more true or is supposed to ring true, with the latter statement than the time from the start of senior year as you start to prepare for university, or any other path you decide to take, until the last month before university. And then university starts, and to a degree, you’re back to square one in that you don’t know anymore what you want, or who you are – mostly you lose a sense of what you’re made of. At least that was the case with me.
I entered university with a clear desire to major in English literature, and (hopefully) graduate in the year 2023 with a major in English literature, and a minor in philosophy and another in psychology. I was kind of excited, but still nerve-wracked and scared. Mainly scared – not only was I leaving the comfort zone of my small high school world and entering the large universe that is university, where nobody is there to constantly remind you of your duties and obligations so that you’re essentially alone and you actually feel the consequences of your words and actions in the form of money, and in the overhanging fear of being kicked out – because I was leaving my city, my family and friends and going to a whole new world. A whole new world where I would have to map out a seemingly simple route from home to school and this particular obstacle pushed me close to the edge of fear because I, dear friend, come from Windsor, Ontario. Windsor, a city that approximately 300 thousand people populate, and went to the “6ix”, in which approximately six million people live in. So, based on these numbers you can conclude that Windsor doesn’t have the complex, elaborate public transportation system that Toronto so beautifully has – it doesn’t even have streetcars or subways, only buses. Anyway, back to the main point – my first day of school, or rather my first day of university, was terrifying. It also seemed like the universe was constantly giving me warning signs through the daily hour-and-half route which consisted of streetcars, buses, and subways, that my first day, and therefore my first year (and maybe even my whole entire four years of university), was going to be horrible. But, with the help of my sister, I got on that bus, took that train, and rode the streetcar and faced the first day of university. And it was good. Great, actually.
I have the tendency to underestimate myself, and it isn’t until it is pointed out to me that I realize that I can actually do anything, like moving to a whole new city (and not just any city, but one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities), being able to learn and navigate new places, and surviving the first year of university. Speaking of surviving the first year, which is why you’re here reading my story, all that I thought I wanted, all the plans that I had planned, everything that I thought I knew about myself, was tested.
So, let’s start from the beginning: registration. I had a plan for the “most important” four years of my life. The plan was to finish my philosophy minor in the first two years, and then finish my psychology minor in the last two years, all the while finishing my English literature major. As an upcoming first-year student, I had thought that registering for courses would be the easiest thing in this significant journey. It turned out to be the hardest, and it still is the hardest if I am being completely honest with you. I had taken two first-year courses, with eight other second and third-year courses, because according to the English major academic calendar of my university, a first-year student can take second and even third-year courses as long as they take that one specific first-year course – which I had taken. I thought I was fine until orientation week came along, and a third-year student had advised me not to take as many second and third-year courses as I had taken. So, naturally, I booked an appointment with my registrar before classes started. To my shock, the registrar did not know anything about this condition of taking any second and/or third-year courses as a first-year student. This incompetent part on the registrar had forced me to take matters into my own hands, and I switched to as many first-year courses as I could. Since I had decided to switch courses so late in the year, I could only switch out of the third-year courses, and the only available first year courses were science courses. This felt like another warning sign from the universe.
Similar to the obstacle of the route, with the help of friends and family, I was able to finish my courses with pretty good marks, and believe it or not my highest marks were in the second-year courses which had become my second fear for university. It also turned out that taking the science courses in my first year had helped me finish the “science requirement” of my degree, and seeing as I hate science everything turned out great as I would be getting it over with. The fear that all my plans for my future were being thrown out the window settled down halfway through the year. It first started with my philosophy minor, or rather the course titled “Introduction to Political Philosophy.” Because of this required course, I came to hate philosophy. But seeing as how tricky it is to switch majors and minors in the faculty of arts and science, I decided to finish this minor and try to revive my love for the subject. The second change to my plans happened with my other minor, and again because of registration. Long story short, last month I came to enroll in a psychology minor, but for some reason, I was blocked from enrolling for some apparent unknown reason. So, I ended up enrolling in an art history minor which I was starting to become more interested in than psychology.
Speaking of shifting interests halfway through the year, my major started to feel like a mistake. When applying to university programs, I had applied to journalism as well as English literature. I was accepted to both, and I (obviously) went into English literature. My reasoning then was that I had no desire to go into journalism, but after finishing the first semester and acquiring a little bit of self-awareness, I found that journalism was the better option considering the career path I plan on taking after graduation. As well, I had discovered a love and talent for writing that felt non-existent in high school. If anything, my writing experiences were extremely restricted throughout my pre-undergrad schooling. And that was the other change in “the plan.” If I took anything away from first year, it’s that nothing truly goes 100 percent to plan. Life cannot be planned, and life has a penchant to test humanity in every way possible.
And that was my experience with first year, in approximately 2000 words. If you should take anything from my experience, I urge you to take these two bits of truth I’ve learned. The first being that all of the overwhelming feelings you will feel of nervousness, exhaustion, and confusion, are natural when facing and taking on such a challenge. University is a challenge. It is a challenge because, in a matter of days, you go from being a kid to a young adult. The minute you’ve stepped onto the campus ground, you will officially lock the door of childhood and open the door to adulthood. You have now entered into a world where getting a second chance is harder than ever; mistakes cannot simply be mistakes and words and actions weigh more than they did one year ago. However, everything in life comes to an end. The overwhelming feelings will come to an end. The challenge of lectures, tutorials, exams, assignments, labs, will all come to an end.
The key is to remember that focusing too much on these hardships can consume you, which will take away from you being able to acknowledge the achievements that you will gather as you progress. Most importantly, you won’t be able to see and recognize the little, but important bit of self-knowledge that you’ll gain. In short, every struggle that you will face in university and in life will come to an end, and you will come out of each struggle better and wiser.
The second piece of truth is to always have a healthy circle of family and friends to support you. As I mentioned earlier, university is not easy – not when you’re moving cities or countries. If you’re moving away from your family, and an established circle of friends, stay in touch with them. I got lucky that my sister was also moving to Toronto with me to pursue her graduate studies, so I had her to support me. Without her, I truly wouldn’t have survived my first year. It was just me and her living more than 300 kilometers away from our parents and brother, and let me tell you, there were times when things got hard. Having her with me in the first year eased a lot of things for me, and I’m not talking about not having to take the subway alone, no. I’m talking about being lucky to have someone there to make sure I was on top of my studies (even though at that point in my life I shouldn’t have someone do that for me), to make sure I ate dinner, and most importantly, to make sure I was okay. So, thank you Aliaa. But you might not be as lucky as me in that sense, so this is where friends come in. Even though I had Aliaa, she was pursuing her graduate studies all while being an engineer, something I can’t relate to. So, despite her being there for me, I couldn’t ask for her help in essays and assignments, but I could ask my friends. Look, I’m not saying that getting my English essays checked is the only reason I have friends. I am simply pointing out that academics was one of the many things that my friends helped me with. And it goes without saying that the bond you have with friends is different than the bond you have with anyone else. There were experiences of mine that I could not talk with my family about, like developing a crush for the first time, because they wouldn’t be able to relate like a person my age going through the same situation would. With my friends, I could be crazy and relax in a different way than with my family. Even though first year creates this desperation of having friends, you need to be careful who you’re friends with. Again, I got lucky with my friends. Most likely you too will befriend classmates that will be become lifelong friends.
So, this is my experience, and all I can tell you is that first year is challenging, overwhelming, will force you out of your comfort-zone one way or the other, and will be the beginning of the best years of your life.