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Year One: The reality of a first day in 2020

By Anjali Choudhary, November 18 2020—

The first day of school is an annual rite of passage for students across the globe. Embarking on your first year of university, this day supposedly marks the beginning of the best four years of your life.

Growing up living in a world of Gilmore Girls and Pitch Perfect, I fantasized about what my first day at university would look like. By the time my very underwhelming online graduation came around, I had practically prepared myself for every possible situation — what to wear, what classes to take, and how to avidly avoid upper-year students. Unfortunately, dealing with a global pandemic had not shown up in any of my survival guides. 

Amongst the usual chaos of the transition to university, students now face issues with navigating multiple unfamiliar online platforms, an unexpected increase in classwork and the dreaded fear of unknowingly having their video turn on during a Zoom session. Not only did an online entry create difficulties in learning for many students, but it took away the crucial and appealing socialization aspect. The remote delivery option for most classes stripped incoming first years of the thrill of becoming immersed in a campus community, leaving instead a strong sense of dread and emptiness. The isolation is further enhanced with numerous classes being asynchronous. Thus, not only are you experiencing your very first university lesson alone and online, but it is, in fact, just a voice-over recording — devoid of any personalization or interaction. 

My first day consisted of a rollercoaster of emotions. Determined to make the best of an undesirable situation, I wore a prized fake smile to my first Zoom session. However, all enthusiasm was quickly lost within 50 minutes of staring at a laptop full of individual black screens and a few apathetic faces. The rest of the day, filled with hours of readings, asynchronous lectures and looking for hope in group chats left me reminiscent of high school –— which I had been rushing to escape just a few months prior. 

Being a strong believer of first impressions — both of individuals and situations — I believe the first day of classes has a great impact on the tone for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, the tremendous expectations that each student undoubtedly brought in were rebutted with tremendous disappointment. When select first-year undergraduates were asked to describe their first day, the most common descriptions were “stressful,” “confusing,” and one very passionate response claiming they “should have taken a gap year.” 

I left my first day with dread regarding the rest of the year. As a very academically-focused student throughout my years of learning, I had hoped this new experience would allow me to explore the opportunities I had heard so fondly described —on academic, extracurricular and social levels. Although I do not doubt that the University of Calgary faculty are putting in immense efforts to improve our academic experience, remote learning poses unavoidable consequences which unfortunately hinder the true first year experience. 

I craved the stimulation and excitement of being in a large lecture hall, an experience I had been idolizing since initially receiving my acceptance letter. The idealization and emphasis placed on an individual’s first year of university and specifically, the first day of classes is what largely contributed to my personal disappointment. I wondered if I would ever experience the “best years of my life.”

These feelings, to variable extents, are likely shared by first-year students across all faculties. While many students attempt to remain positive, this becomes increasingly difficult as the number of hours spent in a bedroom alone go on. The University of Calgary may be trying to drown out all emotions in extraordinary amounts of readings and exams, but the lingering disheartenment refuses to leave, even as the semester wraps up.

Year One is a column about the first-year experience at the University of Calgary.  This column is part of our Voices section.

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