As an incoming third year at a university far removed from home, I can confidently say that the university experience is the opposite of easy. My first two years have seen great highs and extreme lows – with too many mistakes in between – but finally, I feel like I’ve reached a stage where I’m comfortable where I am. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. JOIN CLUBS/ACTIVITIES
I’ll be honest: it’s not that easy to make friends. At least, not in the way you used to in high school. High school friends were made through being in the same classroom together for years and years, but in university, you may never see the person you once sat beside in during a lecture for the rest of the semester (or the rest of your life). To make such a big world feel smaller, and to foster real connections with others, I strongly recommend putting yourself out there! Seek out clubs and groups that interest you – there, you can make friends with people that share at least one common interest. If you stay in dorm, make an effort to attend bonding activities with your floor-mates to get to know them better! Foreign Filipino students can benefit greatly from joining their university’s Filipino or international student network; adjusting is easier when you find yourself people that remind you of home and understand your mindset.
One of the many activities you can sign up for at my university is being an Orientation Week leader; something I got to do with new and old friends!
2. EXPLORE THE CITY
Being dropped into a completely foreign city is daunting. It’s easy for many students to slip into a habit of staying around campus because the surrounding area is too unfamiliar and they are hesitant to explore. But my advice to those people is: explore! There’s no better way to start feeling really at home than making the city your home! Check out what the area has to offer — their museums, their parks, their restaurants, and their nightlife. Find your favorite places – maybe bring a few friends along – and make good memories to make the city feel more like your own.
3. UNDERSTAND THE UNIVERSITY SCHEDULE
High school does many things, but what it does not prepare you for is the schedule (or lack thereof) of university life. University classes generally consist of lectures an hour or two long staggered throughout the weekdays; despite students being enrolled in 4-5 classes a semester, the total time spent in class only averages around 12-15 hours a week. This translates into a lot of free time, but far too late students realize that at least some of this downtime should be spent in reviewing lecture notes, keeping up with readings, and going over course material — or even getting ahead! Freshmen are quick to experience the struggle of getting too far behind in their courses because of this lack of time management. I’ve done it myself, and from experience, I can say that there is nothingworse than having to spend consecutive all-nighters in the library trying in vain to cram too much information into your brain because you’ve spent the last few weeks doing no work at all. At university, you’ve got to make your own routine – and stick to it.
Find your favorite study spots and visit them frequently! Cafés or just a nice, clean desk at home (with no distractions) works too.
4. TAKE NOTE OF UNIVERSITY RESOURCES
Universities are amazing in terms of the resources they have in their arsenal for students. My own university has everything: from a writing center that allows students to submit essays in for revision to a program for international students to ‘buddy up’ and make connections to regular ppenuppy therapy sessions during exam time to help students de-stress. It’s all about finding the resources that you may need, because they’re all there for your use. So use them! Use them to make connections, use them to get better grades, use them to keep your sanity. Just use them.
5. KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOUR OLD LIFE, BUT ACCEPT YOUR NEW ONE TOO!
An older student that I’m acquainted with once told me that her biggest regret during first year was that she had never managed to overcome her homesickness. She spent so much time and effort talking to her family and friends back home that by the end of her freshman year, she felt so removed from everyone at her university that she seriously considered moving back home for the rest of her college experience. To avoid this, she said, it’s best for freshmen to understand that while being homesick is understandable, it will never get better unless you start to make a place for yourself in your new world. Make plans to stay in touch with family and friends – weekly Skype dates or frequent texts and calls – but remember that this new environment is your home now, whether you like it or not. It’s useless to be stuck in old friendships when there are thousands of people around you that are willing to be friends with you too! Don’t close yourself off because you’re stuck in the past; live in the present and make new memories!
ODESZA in Montreal – it was an unforgettable concert, and I got to go with my closest friends!
Gabriella de Guzman is an intern at Edukasyon.ph. Manila-born, her family made the move to Canada when she was 10 years old, where she has lived ever since. Gabby is currently an undergraduate at McGill University, studying International Development and Psychology.