The Most Transformative 3 Months of my Life: What I learned in my first semester at university

After finishing my first semester, I went into the winter break reflecting on everything I had learned in the past three months. The highs were HIGH, and the lows were LOW. After a lot of self-reflection and realization, here is a list of generally applicable lessons regarding health, academics, and lifestyle I learned in my first semester as a university student.

Health & Wellness

Some photos I took throughout the semester of Western’s beautiful campus.

1.Go on walks as much as possible. It will keep your body moving and allow you to be off your phone and appreciate the nature on campus.

2. Do not rely on the hot, unhealthy foods of the dining hall ALL the time. Be mindful and make sure you are not eating chicken fingers and lasagna every day because it catches up QUICKLY.

3. If you have a gym on campus, use it. When I’d go to the gym in the morning, my days would be more productive. You will need physical activity to make up for the constant Starbucks/Uber and dining hall food. Trust me.

4.Vegetables! No one told me how easy it is to forget about vegetables when you decide what you eat at school. The residence vegetables taste like steamed plastic, so people diverge from them. Nevertheless, try not to forget about them, or your digestion will get compromised, and you will get sick.

5. It is unrealistic to get 8 hours of sleep EVERY night but try your best to get as much as possible. 90% of the time, the work done after 1 AM will be unproductive. If you are operating under 6 hours of sleep, there is a low chance you will be productive the following day.

Academics

1.Your grades will not be your best in the first semester. Even if you were top of your graduating class, I can almost guarantee it will not be up to the standard of what you are used to in high school. And that is OKAY! Failing a midterm is normal. Contemplating switching majors because of unforeseen circumstances is more common than you would think. Imposter syndrome can occur but you have to always remind yourself that you are here for a reason and have all the potential to adapt and succeed.

2. Plan out your week on Sundays. Having everything laid out like a checklist is very powerful and gives you an objective every day of the week.

3. Do not study with your friends unless you are sure you will be productive with them. If you have a midterm or big assignment coming up, try to do it another time. It will be more rewarding to spend valuable time with your friends after having the satisfaction you did your best on an evaluation.

A hilarious photo captured by the lecturers of my favourite class, Business Foundations 1220E (I’m in the purple hoodie hunched over). The exam was 4 hours and nearly broke my neck, but revived my love for business and became one of my favourite moments from the semester.

4. DO NOT PULL ALL-NIGHTERS. I did this two nights in a row for my finals. You will not be significantly more ready for your exam after an all-nighter than you were before.

5. Take classes you LIKE. Read the syllabuses beforehand and reach out to people who have taken the courses you might take. If you like the content, you are more likely to perform well on evaluations and end with a better grade.

6. Although it is easy to get lost in the incomprehensibly huge first-year classes, stand out and make an impression on your TA’s/Profs as much as possible. They can tell you what might be on exams or how to improve on evaluations. They are people too! They appreciate connections with their students. Plus, you never know when you may need a letter of recommendation!

This semester one of my favourite places to get work done was at the Ivey Business Building. Amazing views, a built-in Starbucks and a bunch of business kids running around was my favourite atmosphere.

7. Go to the libraries and faculty buildings to do your schoolwork. I found that being in an environment where everyone else was doing work inclined me to want to blend in and do my best as well. I have a goal to study in every library and faculty building on campus in first year.

General LifeStyle & Mental Health

1.You will make mistakes. You will say something you probably should not have to your roommate. You might forget to take out the garbage one too many times (speaking from experience). And that is OKAY! There is nothing wrong with making mistakes because truly everyone is making their own as well. What matters is if you can learn from it and grow.

2. Embrace meeting and getting to know the new people around you. My first day in residence was overwhelming as I was going door to door meeting more people in 45 minutes than I did in the 16 months I had spent at home in lockdown. Everyone is in the same boat, some more than others, but everyone starts overwhelmed and wondering how they appear to new people. There is a community for everyone, and you will find your people one way or another. You must make that uncomfortable step and TRY.

3. Sometimes it is okay to be selfish. I found myself straddling the line between doing what was best for me and gratifying the people in my circle. Bottom line, it is you or your parents’ money and time on the line, and sometimes it might be the right decision to do what is best for YOU.

4. Be ready for disappointment. Amidst all the chaos and tragedy on campus, my first two weeks at Western were probably the most accelerated transition to adulthood I could have ever imagined. I learned a lot of harsh truths and how sometimes the right outcome may not occur because of preexisting conditions above my comprehension and control.

5. Parties are not the end all be all of the university fun. The most memorable night of my first semester was when my closest friends and I made Pillsbury cookies after the most boring party of our lives. You do not HAVE to drink or do the other typical things people our age do at parties. It can be fun at times, but it is not the ONLY thing. Make sure you join clubs, attend workshops, hang out with your Soph’s and Don’s. The stereotypical university experience painted, especially at Western, is not the only thing that makes the time spent there fun.

6. Use your resources. Sometimes I felt very alone away from home. But there are hundreds of people on campus who get paid to care about you and your problems. Talk to people! Reach out to councillors, talk to your don, lean into upper years, tell your Prof/TA when you have circumstances that affect your work.

My closest friends and I during my first birthday away from home.

7. Quality>Quantity. This applies to the way you study, the amount of clubs you join, and the people you keep in your life. Making valuable notes, experiences and friends is far more beneficial than having the largest quantity of them.

8. FOMO is real. It is easy to log on to Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok and see better parties, bigger friend groups, nicer clothes, and higher grades. Telling you to stop comparing is unrealistic. But when you compare, remember we are all on our path and have aspects of our own lives that others may admire or want for themselves. The grass is always greener on the other side!

Summing it up

My first semester on campus was the most transformative and fun experience of my life. I have dwelled and looked back on things I wish I did or approached differently, but that does not mean I regret any of it. The biggest lesson I learned is that every experience is valuable, and it is on me to actively learn from them and never stop trying to be better. And be present. The time flies by you so quickly, so make the most of every single day.

One of my favourite Peloton instructors, Alex Toussaint once said that

“you learn to fail, fail to grow, and grow to succeed.”

Embrace this.

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