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What I Learned Outside the Textbook in University

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at York U chapter.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t think I was going to finish my degree. Throughout my years at university, there were so many ups and downs: heartbreaks, mental breakdowns, illness and much more that were massive roadblocks for me. I don’t know about you, but when I was going into university I was told that my degree was much more than just a piece of paper. At first I don’t think I fully understood what that meant. It isn’t until now that I look back on my last five years that I realize how much I have learned about myself and the world. That’s what I want to pass on through this article: the things I have learned outside the textbook from my time at university.

In my first year, not only did I learn about alcohol and its effects, but I also learned a lot about meeting new people and coming out of my shell. In high school I was the quiet one. I was always self-conscious and nervous to speak up in classes or talk to people outside my friend group. When I chose to go to a university where I didn’t know anyone (except my roommate) I had no option but to step outside of my comfort zone and start interacting. I made it a habit to say hello to someone new everyday, and soon enough I had met so many people. I remember being in line to get my room key and there was a guy in front of me, and my mom pushed me to say hello to him because we were going to be in the same residence, he turned out to be in my program and majority of my classes. And we have been friends ever since. So, here’s a piece of advice if you are going into university or if you’re a commuter who wants to meet new people, or maybe you are just shy like I was: say hello to someone that you sit beside in class or compliment someone’s clothing. You have nothing to lose and only a friendship to gain.


In second year, I learned a lot of life lessons; I don’t even know where to start. For one, I learned about living with strangers and that I like living in clean houses. I lived in The Village, which is the off-site area where students at York live, with 11 people in a townhouse. Try to keep a kitchen clean with 11 people; you can’t! I had so many days where I almost took a trash bag and threw out everything. I learned that I liked my space, but I did get to experience a large family feeling with someone always being home to talk to and hang out with. I also learned that I can get depressed. I started a new medication that year and was crying all the time. I couldn’t focus and I remember sitting at my kitchen table, head in hands with my housemate washing the dishes (rare occasion) and saying I was going to drop out and that I couldn’t do it anymore. This was also around the same time I lost my closest friend from first year; we were inseparable but for some reason our friendship had an expiry date and we stopped talking. I learned what it felt like to lose a close friend. I think in many ways it is worse that a breakup. But after a year or so, I realized this person was not someone that was bringing me up. They tore me down and got me into old bad habits and ways of thinking that were not good for me. Sometimes when you remove someone from your life, someone better is waiting to come into it.


In my third year, I moved back home and learned the benefits of living alone. I had tasted freedom and didn’t want to go back. This is around the same time I started doing e-Learning to avoid the treacherous commute. I got into thinking about what I wanted to take from my degree and where I wanted to go with it. To this day, I am still not sure what is next, but that’s okay. I got my first ever full-time job and started working more while studying to save money to travel. With some of this money, I bought a plane ticket to Whistler, BC to visit a friend and see if moving out West was still something I was interested in doing. This was a year of love, work and travel and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Fourth and fifth year are meshed in a sense, because I took a semester off in fourth to work full-time. I learned it was okay to take time off and re-stabilize, which was something I always thought was scary to do. I realize now that if I hadn’t taken some time off I may have very well dropped out. I didn’t have any massive self-discovery during my semester off but I did decide to finish my degree only on my terms. I was done with in-class learning and had done all my credits that needed to be done in class already, leaving me with the option to continue my studies online.

I think that living away from home, in a different province, working full-time, studying part-time and having to pay bills, can teach you a lot about life at a young age. I have learned that the world is a great place but not everyone is. I realized that not everyone cares that you are a young adult, alone in a strange place, and they will fire you regardless because they over-hired. I learned that when crises come in your life you need to roll with the punches and not dwell on it because crying isn’t going to solve anything. And finally, I learned that being alone is okay. I also knew that I am a massive procrastinator but it’s okay because I have finished my degree

Until next time, keep your heads high and your wine glasses full. And if you are someone who just finished their degree like I did, congrats and cheers to you!


Sam is a Cinema & Media Studies student at York University. She is passionate about LGBTQ+ issues, mental health, and intersectional feminism. She loves dogs and grilled cheese and knows way too much about pop culture.