What To Do If Your University Experience Hasn’t Been Perfect So Far

Five months ago, my mom and I packed my stuff from my home and took an almost 8-hour trip from Montreal to London. Moving into residence as a 21 year-old was intimidating, I felt like an old lady surrounded by a bunch of 17 and 18 year-olds. Sometimes I felt ashamed of the choice I made to switch programs and transfer schools (I was previously a student at Concordia University). When I explained my education path to the girls I met in residence, I felt as though I had failed and was trying again. In reality, all I did was recognize that I wasn’t loving my current program and decided to make a change.

Going away for university is a totally different experience than living at home and going to school. Social media doesn’t help with this. I imagined parties with lots of friends and cute boys being interested in me. I imagined walking around campus recognizing people and having friends to sit next to in class and study with. Instead, I only had watching Netflix alone in my room, eating meals by myself and weekends that felt extremely lonely because the few friends I made would go home.

By no means can I say it was all bad all the time, but I definitely did not love my first semester here, and I am not blaming anyone for that. I met lots of very nice people but I didn’t really feel like I connected with anyone. I put pressure on myself to meet my best friends here (doesn’t everyone have at least one bridesmaid they met in university?!). But  you don’t have to. I have some of the most amazing people in my life at home, and while it is always fun making new friends, I will be just fine if I leave this place without making more.

Once I started opening up to people who have already been through their first year away from home, I discovered that a lot of people experienced the same things. I’ve done a lot of reflecting over winter break, so here are some tips for anyone feeling the same way.

Join Extracurricular Activities

I know this seems obvious, but it’s honestly one of the easiest ways to meet people. If you can find a club that sparks your interest even a little bit, join. Most of them are pretty inexpensive ($5-10) and only require as much commitment as you are willing to put in. A lot of them also do fun social events (with food!) that you can pop in and out of if you’re feeling social that day. I joined 2 at Western, one that really worked for me and one that didn’t, and that is totally okay. I am thinking of applying for an executive position to get more involved in one of them, and I probably won’t join the other next year (again, totally okay).

Living in residence can also sometimes leave you feeling a bit stuck, so it may be beneficial to look for something outside of school too if you feel like your whole life revolves around one place. I started helping a dietitian with her social media and working on that for even a couple of hours on the weekend is something I really look forward to.

Talk to People

Again, super obvious. I can be very shy and I pretty much never talk to people unless they talk to me first but I met some really amazing people 3 months into the school year that were living a few doors down from me. We were all studying for finals in the same room and we ended up chatting. Since coming back to school, we’ve shared many laughs and quite a few tears. I’m looking forward the spending the rest of the semester with them and I’m sad we won’t be living so close to each other next year.

When trying to talk to people in class, I like to look at it as if it’s a cute boy I’m trying to talk to. It sounds silly, but when I see a an attractive guy out, I will find any excuse to talk to him. So ask that girl in your class a question you already know the answer too and maybe she’ll end up being your BFF.

Find Something to Do that Doesn’t Involve Staring at a Computer Screen

I found that especially during exams I would study with my computer all day and then watch Netflix on my computer at night and it left me feeling fried with a headache. So I trekked to the mall and bought a puzzle. Yes, many people thought this was lame, but it gave me something different to do in the evening. Other ideas could be reading, painting your nails, going to the gym, stretching/yoga in your dorm, making cookies with your floor, etc.

Take Care of Yourself

Being so far from home can be very tough on your mental health. Reach out to administration, practice whatever form of self-care works for you, or exercise in a way that makes you feel good and don’t be afraid to book an appointment with a counsellor or psychologist. I’ve dealt with anxiety for most of my life, but it seemed to amplify when I came to school. Sometimes calling my mom made me feel worse because all I wanted was for her to hold me and she obviously couldn’t. I am not a super touchy person when it comes to friends, but I found opening up to some of the girls on my floor about my feelings made me feel better. There really is nothing that compares to a hug.

Say Yes

I know I just said take care of yourself, so when I say “say yes,” I mean this in terms of social activities. I like to see this as increasing your surface area. The more times you say yes, the more opportunities you have to meet new people, and the more experiences you expose yourself too. Think of all the friends you may not have met or experiences you may not have had if you had said no to a certain party/social event. I am not saying you should go out every night of the week, but saying yes to opportunities you may not be crazy excited about may just end up surprising you.

Going away for school has been a huge learning experience for me, but I think the most important thing I’ve realized is that a lot of us share the same struggles. It took a little bit of vulnerability and opening up, but I discovered that nobody’s life is as perfect as they seem on social media. So here’s to all of us who haven’t had the easiest time adjusting to being away from home, you’re doing just fine so don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Let’s make second semester count!

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