As the winter break of my second year comes to an end, I’ve found myself reminiscing on my university experience so far. It’s as if my time at McMaster has flown by so fast, yet paradoxically slow at the same time. First year was a whirlwind of emotions and experiences that seem to have eased off with the progression of a more stable second year. Thus, after having taken this time to reflect and engage in meaningful conversations, I’ve become more cognisant of the good, the bad, and the undecided. Maintaining a holistic point of view when looking at my experience so far, has put a lot of hard earned lessons into perspective.
Lesson 1: Learn to Ask for Help
One of the most valuable lessons I learned was from my first year calculus professor. During one of our regular lectures, he said that if we were unable to figure out the question within 15 minutes, we should ask for help. This simple statement didn’t really stand out to me at that moment. But during a group activity at a MSU run program (SPARK), of which the whole point was to ask for help in order to complete the task, I realized the significance of my professor’s statement.
I was the only one who had not completed the activity because I refused to ask for help. I suppose many of us are like that; we rely only on ourselves and are independent problem solvers - that was certainly how I got through high school. However my previous work ethic and style had ceased to produce the results I was once used to. This knowledge, coupled with that particular the group activity acted as a spark of epiphany. I realized that asking for help doesn’t mean that we have given up. It simply means that we are doing everything in our power to grow as individuals. So by accepting our lack of knowledge at a given task, we are able to overcome any negative emotions and eventually do what's best for our learning - ask for help.
Lesson 2: There is Always Room for Improvement
As cliche as it may sound, there is always room for improvement. No matter how good we think we are at something, there is always something else we can work on. This is a lesson that I learned at the very end of my first year of university, and second semester of Inquiry. In spirit, Inquiry is a course that attempts to holistically engage students in meaningful conversations and group engagement to achieve a variety of goals. I can’t say I’ve fully understood what the course truly aims to achieve, but there are many things I learned in those two semesters.
Going into the course I was more than confident in my communication skills, believing my extroverted personality to be more than enough in social situations. But something our facilitators were quick to point out were the different levels of engagement that occur while one is communicating with others. The process of communication entails more than just talking, it is a process of acknowledging the information others are conveying, as well as, establishing both long term and short term goals. I remember this lesson magically clicking during the final interview with my facilitators. Since then, I have tried looking at everything as a dynamic process; an ongoing journey of learning. I’ve come to accept that any given point, there is always something more I can do to improve.
Lesson 3: Patience is Key
First year can be hard for many students; unfamiliar environment, people and education styles can be overwhelming. Like many students I had a hard time adjusting to my daily commute and new courses. Despite everyone assuring me that university is a learning curve, I couldn’t help but feel anxious from time to time; often obsessing over my declining marks. However, as time went by I truly realized that university does in fact pose a learning curve. And that everyone takes different times to adjust to this curve. Slowly but steadily I started overcoming the challenges I faced during my first semester of university. Being patient and having a positive attitude, while easier said than done, can help us through difficult times. This lesson itself is a learning process, but one that is worth the journey.
Like any new experience, starting university can be challenging for a lot of us. But the challenges that are presented to us are often the stepping stones for great things. We are only able to grow when we have left our comfort zone and are persevering through new experiences. University is a place of growth and self discovery. By looking at our remaining years of post secondary education as a learning process, we can emerge as better, and more mature versions of ourselves.