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Dear First-Year Me,

As another year of university is about to end, I always like to reflect back on my past years at McGill. If there is any year that stands out to me, it is definitely my freshman year. It was a year for new friends, new experiences, and new mistakes. As I think back on my first year here at McGill, I want to share with you my journey and what I’ve learned from the mistakes that I made. 

I remember stepping out of the cab one August afternoon, feeling the cool breeze gently tickling my cheeks, my eyes wide with wonder and excitement. Me, a recent high school honour roll graduate with an IB certificate, Sooji Hah, the president of three different clubs in high school with many close friends, had just landed in Montreal to start laying down the same legacy at McGill as I had in high school. I was ready to be the successful, popular, and ambitious student I was in high school. Little did I know, this was the start of my demise. This is when the fall of the unbreakable Sooji Hah began.

Needless to say, my first semester at McGill did not go so well.  I finished my first semester of McGill having gained 20 pounds that all went to my already chubby cheeks (everyone lied when they told me I would lose the baby fat after puberty), no real friends, a truly horrific GPA (this shall be something we never speak of ever again), and a negative balance on my debit card.

So you ask, how did all of this happen? 

I get it. University is new, it’s exciting, and you’re suddenly granted this wonderful thing called freedom the moment you set foot in your dorm room. Before I share with you my story, let me first tell you my biggest piece of advice: do not stray away from who you are and what you value to try to fit into a certain mould. I’m not saying that you should try to be the same person you were in high school- definitely take advantage of the completely new environment you are now in and try different things. But do not forget who you are as a person. I was always a very casual drinker, but when I was exposed to this new culture of going out to Cafe Campus on Tuesdays, Suwu Wednesdays, Tokyo Thursdays, Ecole Fridays, and Mme Lee Saturdays, I started drinking excessively every day with “friends” that acted like my best friends for the night and in Instagram photos, but were gone by the time I woke up with a terrible headache and nausea and a feeling of shame and regret. I told myself, “I’m a first year, I’m here to try different things, I’ll eventually get better”. I did not get better. Everyone around me seemed fine not studying and skipping classes, which made me start doing the same and I justified it by telling myself I deserved this break because I was always the all-star student. I was so far behind that there was no point in going to lectures. I stopped calling my parents, my two best friends that I used to tell everything to, and instead I seeked companion in the wrong people that to this day, I regret. I started binge-eating after a night out to try to fill the void, growing hole of loneliness and shame that eventually swallowed me to my core.

One day I looked at myself in the mirror. My face swollen, my tired eyes hollow with two sunken holes under my eyes, my cheeks smothered in red and irritated pimples- who was I? I couldn’t even recognize myself physically; how much did I change mentally?

You don’t have to go out every night because that’s what everyone else is doing and you think that’s how you’re going to get friends. Don’t think that because other people get As without going to lectures, you can do the same. If you were the ambitious, hard-working student all throughout high school, take pride in that and work as hard as you always have. Have fun, experiment, and yes, you will grow and change as a person- but let it happen naturally. You got into McGill exactly the way you are so why try to force yourself to change now? You’re on your own. You have all the power to make your own choices now. It’s up to you how you decide to use that power to shape your university life.

Now, as I’m about to wrap up another year at McGill, I’m ending this year with a decent GPA, good friends, and I’ve involved myself in different clubs that I enjoy. It was a long and confusing journey to try to figure out what kinds of things in my life truly made me happy, what kinds of people shared the same values as I did, and now that I have truly found my place at McGill, I could not be any happier.   


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Sooji Hah

McGill '20

Sooji is currently a third-year student at McGill University majoring in Labour Relations with a minor in Management. Her life goal is to one day publish a book and see Frank Ocean live. 
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