Maybe this is just to distract myself from the hours of studying that I should technically be doing…but whatever the reason, I thought I would make a list to collect my thoughts on the previous 8 months of my life, my first year of university.

What I’ve Learned This Year

1. What I’m really interested in

I’ve been pretty lucky my whole life, because I’ve always had an idea of what I want to do; what I’m truly interested in. A lot of my friends still don’t know. They know the general faculty that offers classes which they seem to be drawn towards, but they don’t exactly know what to do with that, or where their real passion is.

For me, I know I’m interested in almost anything under the heading of Arts and Social Sciences. Humanities and classics make me salivate, and sociology, psychology, human geography…well you’ve basically got me sold if your school has a stellar program that lets me take a variety of these things. But when I came into SFU, I thought I had my life planned out: major in International Studies, taking French classes on the side to gain a second language, graduate in four years and then grab myself a job with the United Nations for the rest of my life. Simple enough, right?

Well then why was it that my favourite, most amazing, life-changing class last semester wasn’t my international studies introduction lecture, but the small Friday morning geography lecture, “World Problems in Geographic Perspective”? I began to realize that being that kid who reads atlases for fun might mean I should lean more towards geography. Sure enough, my human geography class this semester covers a range of topics, all of which I am genuinely and passionately interested in.

And the United Nations? Yeah, that might be a possibility in the future, but I could have just as much fun in life as a researcher, going to field locations and collecting census or demographical data. There’s so many jobs out there that aren’t standard that might just be perfect for me, and I won’t know about them now. The best I can do at my age is take classes and programs that keep me interested, and look for employment during my school years that involves these interests, whether it’s with an NGO or a stage hand at a music festival. Which brings me to my second point,

2. Don’t plan too far into the future

Don’t get me wrong, planning is a great thing to do, and I myself am an addicted planner, constantly looking into course descriptions for my third year studies, or looking up the schedule and maps of bus routes before I wait at the bus stop. But things change, one of those things especially being your mind. I would never thought of doing a minor in Human Geography, but here I am with it as my favourite class. Not to mention my plans on transferring schools next year. I always thought I would be completely content staying in BC at SFU for four years of studying.

But as I came to learn more things about myself, I found out that maybe it’s not the best for me to stay at SFU. There’s really a lot of reasons for me wanting to switch schools, but the main one is that I need to take a program that is better designed for me than the one I’m currently in. While paying thousands more to study in a different province isn’t worth it just for the better party scene or the feeling of prestige saying that you go to a more internationally-known school, but when you find a program that looks like it was tailor-made for you, you really should consider it.

But back to what I was saying. Keeping an open mind is not only going to guarantee making new friends, discovering new hobbies that you love and widening your cultural tastes, but you’re going to be a whole lot happier with your life if you don’t restrict yourself.

3. Other people want to make friends too

This was probably one of my biggest problems this year. Starting university was pretty hard, but not really because of the classes. As an introvert, I found it hard for me to put myself out there and start conversations, or introduce myself to people. But in retrospect, those are the things I really wish I had done. I had it in my head that people would think I was weird if I just started talking to them, or sat with them at dinner during the first week of school.

Think of it reversed: I would have loved it if someone had just started talking to me in the elevator or in line at the dining hall. Having the illusion in your head that everyone is perfectly content with their group of friends and not willing to expand is stupid. One of my best friends lives on the floor below me, and I never met her until we had a french class together this semester. I had gone on for 4 months without even knowing she existed, but we totally could have been friends right when school started. What was the difference? I actually started a conversation with her.

Putting yourself out there is hard, and it’s not always rewarding, but that really is something I wish I did more of, and hopefully I can put that lesson into focus next year.

4. Jobs are good

This sounds pretty to the point, but let me explain. First semester of school, I really didn’t want to get a job at all; I didn’t want to have to deal with the stress of balancing school, studying, assignments, exercise, dinner with friends, readings, showering, and  partying with something else that was going to take up a ton of time! Who needs more stress these days anyways. But because of my parents constantly nagging me, I went along with their advice and applied for a job, and got it.

What I discovered? I am SO glad I have worked this semester. There have been so many good outcomes. I’ve met a lot of cool people who go to my school, so work is actually fun, and I have more people to hang out with on the weekends. By having an extra commitment in my life, I’ve had less time for slacking off and more pressure to actually get work done. Knowing that I only have two hours between finishing class and starting work in one day is going to make my study my butt off way more in those two hours than when I have two hours in the evening and Glee is on TV. Another thing? The benefit of money. Yes, yes money doesn’t guarantee happiness. But I was so stressed out semester one about losing all my money that I could hardly afford to go to a movie with my brother on the weekend. Having a steady source of income is one less thing to worry about, and gives you more money to afford those nights out at clubs, or buying drinks, or treating yourself to a shopping trip every once in a while.

Most importantly though, if I didn’t have a job this year during school, there is no way my plans for school next year would be possible. It’s going to cost me a lot to pay for textbooks, residence, food, flights, and everything else that comes with being a student (*ahem* partying, drinking, buying that cute dress, etc.), which I never took into account before because I had never known I would be transferring schools. And even though I haven’t met my financial goal yet, and I still have to work on not splurging all my money when I go to the mall to buy one thing and come back with $100 less in my bank account, but if I never had a job, next year wouldn’t be possible for me.

5. You have to force yourself to study sometimes

There are times (like right now, merely 4 days before my first final exam) when you are to the point of exhaustion and are in the state of mind where you honestly couldn’t care less anymore about studying, or editing your paper, or getting to class on time. Everyone gets burnt out. I had a quiz worth 20% of my grade this morning, and a midterm in 3 hours. Of course I’m not studying for the midterm right now, I need a break right?

But it’s in those moments when you get your test back with a whopping 68% accompanied by a sinking feeling in your stomach that you think to yourself, Okay, I’m going to get myself back on track and study 3 hours everyday!

What I’ve learned is how to actually make that happen. The key is variation. Studying in the library is great, because there’s no distractions; it’s silent, you’re friends aren’t around, and you feel like an idiot if you go on facebook while surrounded by a hundred other students working hard on their assignments. I’ve written quite a few of my papers in the library, and managed to stay focused and get a lot of work done. Sure, it’s boring as anything, but if you need to get the work done, it’s ideal.

Studying in my room has worked best for tests, quizzes and exams. I like to be able to spread out all my books on my bed, have some music or a movie going on my laptop, and spend a few hours going through notes and textbooks.

For finals, though, it’s kind of a different story. I need a lot more variation. These next two weeks I’m going to be all over the place. It gets really boring staying in the same place for too long. But I’ve definitely learned that sometimes you really need to seclude yourself fully in order to get yourself going. And promising yourself a reward after, like some pizza on the way back to your res, doesn’t hurt.

6. Including your parents in your life is a good thing

Sure, they’re annoying most of the time, they stress you out, pressure you and you’ve finally managed to break free of them by moving out. But what I’ve learned my parents has actually been actually pretty valuable. Firstly, I’m so thankful for them spending the thousands of dollars that they do for me to go to school, without them, I definitely wouldn’t be in school right now. Secondly, their advice is (almost) always beneficial. My parents nagging my to get a job has really (literally) paid off, and when I’ve got mysterious flu-like symptoms, they usually know what’s up. But something that’s really become clear to me is the knowledge that they have. Before I start writing a paper, I always call my mom to talk to her about what I think about the assignment, and she always has some opinions too. Getting some ideas from her always gets me looking from different perspectives, which is something key to writing a good essay. More than that, sometimes they have great resources; one of my essays was based entirely on a book my mom happened to have, that I never would have had access to if I didn’t ask her for ideas.

7. The World is trying to rip students off. But there are ways to thwart the world.

Okay, so maybe this sounds a bit conspiracy-theory of me, but let’s break it down.

Exhibit A: the university bookstore. During my first semester, I went with my mom to the campus bookstore with my list of required material, and came out with a $300 receipt, and I hadn’t even bought all my books! (On a side note, I know lots of people who have spent upwards of $400 per semester on books). I had even managed to buy some second hand books at the store, but it still added up really quickly.

Semester two, though, was different. I didn’t buy a single book from the campus bookstore and saved over $200. I made a profile on, and posted my used textbooks for sale (about $20 cheaper than when I had bought them), and searched for others who had books that I needed for sale. I got all of my textbooks this way, meeting people on campus and exchanging books. Another trick I learned: don’t buy the textbooks until after the first week of classes if you can. There have been so many times when my professors or TAs have noted that even though the book has been listed as “required”, you might only be reading a chapter out of it. How to deal with this: I never bought books that were “writing guides”, I searched for books online at google books, and, more commonly, I took books out of the library. You can always take the books out again before finals if you need to review them, but most of the time I’ve never had to deal with this.

Exhibit B: government cuts on student funding. Oh, the government, how do I love thee? This one was easy to deal with; even though my school offered me minimal scholarship money, and I’m not enough of a genius to be considered for their academic scholarships anymore, I was able to get some free (yes, free) money that I don’t have to pay back. Referring back to number 6 on my list, it was my mom’s genius that made this happen. In BC when you apply for a student loan, you are automatically considered for a student grant (aka, money they give to you, to spend on whatever you want, that you don’t have to repay). So I got my student loan funding each semester, which I put into my mom’s bank account to not touch (I don’t plan on using it unless I somehow find myself needing to), and got a nice $400 per semester as a grant. I used this to pay for textbooks (so basically, free textbooks!)

Exhibit C: the meal plan. Chartwells has lost all of my respect. Charging 15 cents for a cup of hot water? Or how about 80 cents to put a slice of cheese on your sandwich? Yep, it’s all overpriced, and even though it was my parents paying for it this year, it made me realize how much money I could potentially waste on food next year.

Exhibit D: this one isn’t really money related, but not everything in life is (I think…). Knowing that you are one of 250 students in one class, and one of possibly 80 students that your TA has to deal with, doesn’t really promote establishing relationships with the people in charge of teaching your classes. Although this year I never really talked to many of my professors one-on-one, I managed to get to know my TA’s pretty well, and I found that this really helped with my grade, as they’re the ones marking my work. I’m not saying that they’re biased and easier on me, but when I spent time after tutorial one day talking with one of my TAs about my essay, trying to get some ideas and topics going through my head, I found that the comments that he made on my essay when it was returned were referring to both my essay and the conversation we had after tutorial. He knew that I had really wanted to understand the topic, and he was able to see my ideas develop and understand them better. Note to self: go to office hours sometime in my life…

Learning from this, I managed to stretch my meal card balance out by eating all my breakfasts in my room (after discovering that my spending $10 on breakfast every day for just an english muffin with egg and a smoothie was quickly depleting my funds). Working at a bakery, I often come home with free extra food, and when I go home on the weekends I always bring back a bag of fruit. Muffin + fruit for breakfast isn’t that bad, it lasts me to lunch, is healthy and tastes great too. I bring leftovers from home to snack on to keep me from those stupid impulse buys on slices of pizza or a side of fries.

Also, I’ve come to learn that sometimes the stuff that costs the most money doesn’t taste the greatest. My dining hall always has some kind of stir fry every day (that’s what you get for living in Vancouver) priced at $8. The thing is, it doesn’t even taste that good. What does taste good? The custom-made sandwiches, the chicken wraps, the soups, the pizzas…basically all the things that are the cheapest. So those are what I swear by now.

These are only a few things that I’ve noticed sucking money out of my (and mostly my parents’) wallet. Plans for next year: don’t go on the meal plan, apply for a student loan every semester and avoid the campus bookstore at all cost.

8. There’s a lot out there that you can miss

There are always so many things going on around campus that are free, cheap, or just all around great experiences. Screenings of documentaries, $1 barbecues in convo mall, plays or dance performances…the list goes on and on. What I really wish is that I had taken more time to go check out all of the things offered for students. I went to a documentary showing and loved it, got some free pancakes for breakfast one morning and met a friend, and learned about some volunteer experiences from the clubs days at the start of the year. All of the things I tried out turned out to be a lot of fun, and I’m really going to take it upon myself to do more of that next year. Signing up for newsletter emails that give you a heads up about cool cultural or academic events can’t hurt at all.

9. It’s good to get off campus

You’re friends are all concentrated into one area, you have a meal card that gets you (seemingly) free food anywhere on campus, there’s a campus pub where everyone always goes and…well…you’re stuck inside a bubble basically. Some of the most fun I’ve had this year was getting off campus with friends! Shopping trips to either the malls or the thrift stores, heading downtown to go clubbing on Thursday nights or even going out to a movie have been some great times, because they weren’t the same old routine watching TV in the common room, or heading to cheap wings night at the university pub. Exploring the area has been pretty eye-opening.

10. What you put in is what you get out

I think this last one is probably the most important. When you think about it, it applies to pretty much everything. If you study well and do your assignments, you will get good grades. If you put yourself out there, introduce yourself to people and have a friendly attitude, you’ll make friends. If you manage your time and get yourself to the gym three times a week, you’ll be healthier, have more energy and look great. If you get enough sleep, you won’t be tired. If you open your mind up to new opportunities, you will grow more culturally, academically and expand yourself as a person. If you put in the effort to take some extra time to do little things like posting your used textbooks for sale or browsing the library catalogue for books you need for class, you will save money. If you take the initiative to go apply for jobs, you will (in most cases) get hired. If you go into university, or even your day, with a positive attitude, a willingness to try things, and a clear idea of your goals (eg. going to the gym for one hour, studying for 2 hours, etc), you are way more likely to appreciate the things that come your way and get much more out of life.


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