The best and also scariest part about starting university is that no one knows who you are, and that means you can be anyone you want to be.

No one knows about your embarrassing elementary school days or your quirks, hang-ups and hobbies. Starting first year, the possibilities were endless if not expansive.

Western is a big, confusing place, and the academic abbreviations and slang don’t exactly make it easy for a new student to get around. Turns out I needn’t have worried. During O-Week and beyond, any question you could possibly have can be answered by people like sophs and professors. Questions like: what’s the difference between UC and UCC? How do you drop classes? Where do you go if you lose your student card? My biggest takeaway was that if you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to ask. It may not seem like it needs to be said, but it did for me.

I was never sheltered as a kid, but university opens up your world to other people in a way that other institutions don’t. I bonded with new friends over what was different and our similar experiences getting used to life at Western. My classes were certainly an adjustment from their sizes to the sharp increase in difficulty, but I learned to enjoy the challenge. I discovered all the places to eat on campus and all the little-known study areas. Campus went from being an imposing and mystifying place to a warm and welcoming one. Soon enough, all of my anxieties seemed to be a distant memory, and my new life started.

Unfortunately, the bliss of my fresh start didn’t last that long. Three weeks into the school year I came down with an infection. After spending six hours in the university hospital waiting room, I decided to return to Toronto that weekend to recuperate. Shortly after, I got a call from my parents telling me they had to put my dog down due to tumors in her lungs. I had no idea I would have to say goodbye to my best friend of ten years for the last time, and I was left with the cruelty of that one-two punch.

If anything, I realized after that the safety net of home was well and truly gone. While it wasn’t the first time I had experienced the death of someone close, it was the first time I was mature enough to understand it. In the days that followed, Western had lost its lustre, classes became a chore and I struggled to regain that sense of freedom I had relished earlier.

Luckily, my friends helped me get back to a good place, simply by being available. Even without the support of home, I wasn’t as alone as I thought. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but without realizing it, I had created that support system that everyone talks about when you come to university: the web of friends and other people that we all rely on to get by. It certainly took some time, but after a while I was able to appreciate my opportunities at Western once more.

To anyone reading this: during your four years here, there will be some brutal days where you wonder how you’re going to get through it all. But eventually you will, and then when you’re like me, going into your last year, you’ll look back on those first few months as some of the best. If that sounds a little heavy-handed, it’s because the truth sometimes is.

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