Everything I wish someone told me before University

“Only seven more days until I’m gone!” I would proclaim to my parents in the final moments before I left home for UVic, “seven more days until you never see me again!”

I remember counting down the days on my calendar that summer, and feeling a sense of euphoria to start my university life. Meet new people with similar interests to mine, leave home for the first time in my life, and enjoy that newfound freedom.

It’s not that I had a miserable high school experience, since I started university two years ago (jeez I’m getting old…) I keep in contact with many of my high school friends, but I was ready for a fresh start in a new city.

My pet Lexie clearly wanting to hop in my suitcase and come to university with me.

So, when the big day finally arrived and all my suitcases were packed for the Island, that excitement instantly faded away.

As we drove off our driveway in Coquitlam (a suburb of Vancouver), I looked to out the cherry-blossom trees and wondered if I’d ever see them again, I glanced over to the basketball hoop on our driveway and envisioned myself as a curly-haired toddler shooting baskets in the summer sun, I saw myself as a high schooler tossing a football on the street across from my house late at night with only the lampposts making it visible, and I felt a sense of heartbreak.

My dad was pulling out of the driveway and I wanted to tell him to stop, ‘I’m-I’m-I’m not ready Dad! I can’t leave home, I don’t want to leave home, my pets, my bed, my sister,” but I couldn’t bring the words out. After a summer of explaining how excited I was to be leaving, I didn’t want my parents to start thinking I was getting cold feet, so I sat in the car and saw my childhood pass by for the final time.

When we arrived in Victoria on campus move-in day, that nervous feeling only increased as I saw a sea of other first years like me carrying plastic containers of school supplies, bedding, and posters into their dorm rooms.

I looked back to my parents and forced an awkward smile on my face to hide the fact that I was terrified on the inside, and headed in the direction of students waiting in line for room keys. In the line, which was longer and had more twists and turns than a Disneyland rollercoaster wait, students were already starting the process of forming friendships and getting to know each other.

Being an introvert, I easily feel uneasy in social settings – especially ones with thousands of students sprawled across a lawn waiting for dorm keys – and have trouble sparking up conversation. I wanted desperately to find out what the other students in line were studying, where they came from, if we had similar classes, but was too shy to initiate any talk.

Finally, when I got my keys and unlocked room 333 in the Poole Residence building, I gave an emotional goodbye to my family and sank into my bed and almost broke into tears. The late-summer sun was just peering through the window, and I remember hearing conversations from other students on my floor.

Again, I felt the rising anxiety of the social situations brewing outside my door. I questioned how to start conversations, avoid stumbling, and thought about how to challenge those fears. One of the lessons my mother and counsellor in high school taught me was to first ease the anxious feelings with ‘circle breathing’ – closing your eyes and pretending to breath air in through one nostril and out the other – and when you’re calm, count to three and tackle the situation.

Hours after entering a new city I used those techniques, spent a few minutes practicing my breathing, counted to three, and opened my door to other first-years chatting in groups. A few eyes peered at me with the noise of my door opening, and most of them smiled and were excited to meet someone new.

In the end, the aspect I took away from that first day at university was that everyone is in the same boat. Some of us, whether we like to admit it or not, were scared at leaving the security of home for the first time. It’s where our parents cooked dinner for us, picked us up from school, watched TV with us in the living room. But, transitioning away from those comforts is the next step into adulthood, and once you learn the new rhythm of university, you’ll wonder why you were so scared in the first place.

Here are some other things I wished people told me before coming to UVic:

Be prepared to step outside your comfort zone

University is another step in the journey of adulthood, and as you step away from the comforts of home and high school, prepare to test yourself in both school and social encounters.

If you’re an introvert, talk to people in class or your dorm that may look like they are lonely. Ask where they are from, what they are studying. Who knows, maybe you two will have a class together!

If you are the shy one, challenge yourself by sitting next to someone in at least one class a day, finding a familiar face in class can help you form study groups and have someone who you can rely on for notes in case you missed class one day.

You won’t lose friendships from high school

Maybe you’re worried about losing the circle of friends who are going to school in different parts of the country, but I can ensure you there is nothing to worry about.

In fact, as the adage goes, ‘distance only makes the heart grow fonder’, when you return home during Thanksgiving, reading break, or Christmas, you’ll have so much to catch each other up on and can laugh over the new experiences and stories from your different schools.

Everyone is in the same boat

You aren’t alone. Since UVic is a renowned university, attracting students from across the country and world, many other students will be leaving home for the first time. A lot of other first-years will be scared and intimated that first week.

Go to Clubs Day and Thunderfest

These two days early in the first week are great opportunities to form new friendships, our yellow and blue face paint on to support the Vikes, and join clubs.

I was lucky to stumble into the Martlet office my first year, and grateful I found a group of likeminded people that are dedicated to journalism.

There are over 200 clubs at UVic, and all of them are spread across the lawn outside the SUB waiting for you to join!

Explore the city

Head down to Cadboro Bay or Willows Beach, take a hike up on Mt. Doug, or explore the trails of Mystic Vale. There are so many different outdoor spots to explore near campus (and lets face it, take a much-needed study break). Also, head downtown to try out new restaurants, wander along Beacon Hill Park, or check out the Parliament buildings are harbour.

There are support services across campus

If you are feeling anxious, don’t be afraid to take part in the numerous counselling services available on campus. UVic is an amazing university in regards to mental health, and for the past two years has held a week-long event dedicated to mental health awareness. So, if you sense your anxiety is becoming intolerable, don’t be scared to walk into the counselling facilities to talk. Someone is always available to listen!

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