University Has A Cheat Code And Here’s The Magic Word

With my undergraduate degree coming to an end, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the last five years that I’ve spent at Waterloo. It feels like just yesterday I was a teary-eyed first year, unpacking my dorm and starting my life in the crowded halls of Ron Eydt Village. Since then, I’ve completed more last-minute submissions and all-nighters than I’d like to disclose, created memories worth celebrating, learned a lot of interesting content through my courses, and developed lifelong friendships. As my family drove away down Ring Road, I thought the five years ahead would never come to a close, but alas, we’ve come a long way since 2016.

Like many of those graduating in 2021, I know I’m not alone in thinking that this wasn’t exactly the senior year we had dreamed and planned for. I, for one, had big plans to rent a house with my closest peers, celebrate birthdays with big blowouts, study hard, and finish the year gallivanting to all the hot tourist spots in Europe. Unfortunately, the world had other plans for us all. This past year has changed so much for everyone, and I am definitely no exception. 

Being the Type-A extrovert that I am, life at home has not been fun. Taking away the fact that I could not physically be around the people I love and had to cancel birthday reservations because the country declared an emergency just before I planned to celebrate, I also lost my co-op job. As someone who strives on plans, programs, and procedures, I felt my life coming apart by its very high-strung threads. Yet, here I am, ready to graduate and more excited than ever for what’s to come. Just when everything seemed to fall apart, I picked up the pieces and made a whole new picture. It’s not the same future I thought I’d be facing come graduation, but in some ways it’s even more meaningful than I could have ever dreamed. 

If there’s one lesson I’d share with anyone continuing their education or just starting out, it would have to be “always ask.” More often than not, asking takes you so much farther than you could imagine. Whether you need to ask for clarification on an assignment, an extension after a tough week, or just feel like you need to talk things through, asking works wonders. It can be so intimidating and even a little awkward at first, but once you start asking for help, trust me, you’ll never want to stop (and you never should!). 

This year I asked for help from a lot of people. I began by asking my friends to make time for calls and virtual ways to connect. It was draining at times to coordinate and find new ways to engage from home, but the payoff was everything. I’m closer to so many people now, and even had the opportunity to rekindle old friendships too.

I asked for help from my university, and (with a little work) it was amazing. As a student, I felt really lucky to have several resources available at my disposal. It was a challenge to know which services were right for me, but after asking for direction and setting up appointments, I found the right fit for me — kind of like a Goldilocks experiment, but for plans instead of porridge! I strongly recommend connecting with UW’s Counselling Services Team, CECA Advisors, Writing Centre Workshops, and the good ol’ trip to virtual office hours! 

I even asked for help from new people outside of my network, and this was the most daunting yet rewarding experience I’ve had. Figuring out what comes next is absolutely terrifying; for me, there’s always been a fear of the unknown. I feel confident that I can learn and rise to new challenges and experiences, but that also means I have no idea where to apply myself in the real world. The solution? Talking to people who are already there! Informational interviews through LinkedIn and Ten Thousand Coffees along with researching grad student profiles helped me open new doors and ask all the questions my heart desired. 

And guess what? It wasn’t scary after all. It was AMAZING! In my experience, an introduction to say hi, an email to ask a question, and a follow-up “thank you” really goes a long way. I’m so glad I started asking for opportunities and introductions this year because it gave me confidence and reassurance about my future. I wish I started asking earlier, but I won’t make that mistake twice!