By Anjali Choudhary, April 9 2021—
My coming-of-age teen fantasy did not take place in my first semester of university — rather, the semester of Fall 2020 vaguely resembled a school lunch. It was kind of good, but kind of made me nauseous and was awfully inconsistent — overall, it left an oddly strange taste in my mouth.
The obvious shortcoming for the incoming class 2020 was the dreadful lack of social life. While painfully awkward breakout rooms are a close second, real human connection on campus simply cannot be replaced. However, a pleasant surprise I encountered was the ability to create a community bonded by misery. I have yet to encounter a class group chat that did not rush to answer a question, send a last-minute Zoom link, or simply join in the anguish of another. Different from the usual first-year rush, and the opportunity to make new friends, these connections revolved more around one confused, and slightly miserable, student finding others just like them to navigate this new territory with.
Unfortunately, when the course ended, so did the connection. Aside from the odd anomalies, the only traces of connection left from those classes are the individuals promoting their clearly fraudulent services. And unlike the other hindrances I encountered, the complete abolition of my social life does not have many solutions at this time. Nevertheless, the hope for real connections remains my largest source of excitement for the school year to come.
Getting past the initial logistical challenges, the most substantial hurdle I immediately encountered was the sheer amount of time that needed to be dedicated to each course. Along with each lecture came hours of reading, post-lecture quizzes, discussion questions and of course, actually attempting to understand what I was learning. Ultimately, I was left scrambling to find more hours in the day. I was prepared for a substantially larger amount of school work, as there is with any transition to a higher level of education. However, I was neither mentally nor emotionally prepared to spend three hours reading a $200 textbook, only for it to all fly above my head.
This obstacle was further aggravated with not only the huge leap in expectations but also my lack of understanding of these expectations. In a very writing-heavy course, I struggled to distinguish the difference between a high school English essay and an eight-page research paper. However, much of this blame falls on myself for neglecting to utilize very helpful resources such as the writing centre, the course’s TA and the professor themselves. In my defence, I was petrified of approaching professors — convinced they would somehow come to believe my questions made me an inferior student. This could not be further from the truth.
For some ridiculous reason, high school teachers set out to convince students that university professors are supreme beings who you shall not dare bother. While they are indeed very respected and knowledgeable individuals, they are still teachers who — most of the time — want students to succeed. There is definitely a larger sense of formality in the student-professor relationship, but it is far less intimidating than it initially seems.
Being tremendously wiser one semester later, my greatest assets have become my ability to be realistic in my expectations, and attempt to maintain a more positive and confident outlook. This overarching mindset has allowed me to not only drastically reduce the amount of unhealthy stress in my life, but also produce better work and be happier overall. At the end of the day, the structure of post-secondary education is one where tremendous amounts of work are inevitable. But, moving from the mindset of constantly being overwhelmed and quite frankly, miserable, I have come to remember that I am fortunate enough to have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be studying what I am passionate about.
To conclude, I must premise everything I have said with the phrase we have all come to despise. We are in unprecedented times. This is by far an abnormal initial experience. For any future first-years reading this — do not let this scare you from choosing U of C. As always, Go Dinos!
Year One is a column about the first-year experience at the University of Calgary. This column is part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.