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You First: Tips For a First-Year From One Herself

Hi, I’m Britt! I’m a first year at McGill and I’m just getting my bearings. Along the way (the month I’ve been here), I’ve acquired a few adaptations that have helped me and that I hope help you. To give you a background on me, I’m an international student from a very small town in Massachusetts, so coming to a new country, and my very first city, felt like I was a baby seeing the world for the first time. Oh, you felt the same way? Okay, keep reading! Whether you’re at McGill or another university, or maybe you’ve just moved, I think these tips are universal to any change you undergo in life.

1.  Don’t underplay it.

Your life just changed markedly! I equated it to plate tectonics shifting beneath my feet and the security of everything I once knew quickly disappearing. Sure, this is a bit melodramatic, but describe as you wish. You may, like myself, have come into college expecting it to just “work out,” whatever that means. The friends, the academics, the atmosphere would just fall into place because everyone loves and thrives in college, right? Well, maybe, but it’s not instantaneous. Try and rationalize this expectation: you likely had years in the place you were living before, you knew where to go, who to go where with, and what to expect on the daily. Now, leave your friends, family, environment and fly little birdy! Again, it’s not the same for everyone, but it can feel this disorienting at first, and that is okay. Somehow, we have to sit in the discomfort and tell ourselves we’re doing something big and good and it will pay off.

2. College doesn’t have to feel like home.

This idea really helped me when I was feeling very homesick my first couple of weeks. Honestly, it was mostly the first week where I did not participate in Frosh (I’m scared of bar crawls?!) I imagined myself at boarding school, which is basically what college is minus the expectation of thriving and adulting. I found solace in recognizing that I have a home back in Massachusetts, and it’s not going anywhere. I’m just out here in Montréal exploring on my journey, expanding my horizons and all the rest. My family and my home and my dogs and my friends- none of it is going anywhere. It’s all going to be comfortable when I get back, but for now, we need to dig in and be present and curious about where we are!

3. Your comfort zone is your superpower.

Finding comfort while you’re outside of your comfort zone is invaluable! At first, I felt emotionally and physically exhausted every day because it was like I was in overdrive all day every day, in a constant state of sensory overload. Everything was new and scary…but wait, not everything. I had Starbucks back home. I had bookstores (similar to Indigo) back home. I would read or play guitar back home to relax- these were all things I could do at McGill, too. Suddenly, I felt a little more at ease knowing that I could transport myself into a more comfortable and familiar state of being.

4. Self-care is important!

Please, do not forget about yourself. You! I mean, you’re a person with a body that needs to be nourished and cleansed, so take a shower. Eat the food you like. Drink the coffee you like. Sleep!! Listen to music that makes you happy. Talk to people who you miss (because they miss you too!) Don’t forget to exercise (endorphins are so beneficial to your mental health). If you struggle to put yourself first, just think what you would say to your best friend if they were off doing something big and scary for the first time. You would want them to put their health and wellbeing first, right? So why should it be any different for you?

5. Make a ritual.

I’m a creature of habit, so I especially love this tip. I love mornings even though I’m not a morning person (how does that work?…it’s fine, don’t worry). My ritual is to get a vanilla hazelnut Van Houtte coffee every morning from my Rez café. Whatever works for you! There is something calming in having a routine and knowing where to belong in a given moment. This being said, somehow having to go to class doesn’t always have the same effect (but if it does, good on you!). So, whatever it is that you can add to your schedule and rely on, do it for you! I know you can. xx, Britt


I'm a second year at McGill University double majoring in Psychology and English Literature. You can email me at britt.burliss@mail.mcgill.ca!
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