Navigating Post-Secondary: The Campus Experience
Transitions are some of the most difficult, yet inevitable parts of being young. When you’re young, everything is constantly changing. One of the most difficult aspects of transition is new environments; university is a staple of the unknown. Unlike most high schools, universities are made up of multiple buildings, filled with a bunch of people who you don’t know. In hindsight, that sounds terrifying. Not only are you thrusted into an environment where you know no one, but you are expected to do some work there too! It’s all incredibly overwhelming, and difficult to map out and understand.
Not gonna lie, I used to be terribly anxious before heading to my campus at University of Toronto, especially after the pandemic. This new generation of college students not only has to deal with the transition from high school to post-secondary, but the transition from remote to in-person learning. That said, our lives lately have been filled to the brim with transitions and things that we have to adjust to. I’m not even going to sugarcoat it, at first, going to campus was like getting a root canal done. It was terrifying to me. My campus is about 15 to 20 minutes from home by car, and I’ve never actually been in a school that wasn’t five minutes away from home. Plus, I had not made many friends over remote learning; the one close friend I had was on a different campus. The first week was the most difficult, as I tried to familiarize myself with the campus and all of the faces on it. It wasn’t like I hadn’t been prepared; I’d been to campus a handful of times before. A week before classes started, I toured the campus to find all my lecture halls and classrooms.
I knew where I was going, but I felt like such an amateur despite being in second year. I remember after one of my classes was over, I decided to take a little walk in hopes of calming myself down. It was a cloudy day, and it seemed the world reflected how I felt on the inside: grey. Everything looked so lifeless and unknown; the buildings loomed over me, and all of my fellow students looked like they knew exactly what they were doing and where they were going. Everyone seemed to know each other, making me feel like I was constantly missing out. Campus was lonely in those first few weeks, the kind of loneliness that swallows you from the inside. You may feel small, sitting in that huge lecture hall filled with unknown faces. That kind of loneliness can be hard to shake, but if you’re experiencing something similar, you will get through it. Below, I have included my main tips for making yourself at home on campus, and how you can soften this transition even in the simplest of ways.
Find Those Windows of Opportunity: There are little windows of opportunity that allow you to meet people, and I would highly suggest taking advantage of them. Think of those few minutes before class when everyone’s waiting for the room to clear out, as well as group work and when you’re sitting in class. Even just being brave enough to say hi to someone can be the little seed that a friendship needs to grow. Sometimes it’s not even about making friends, but putting names to the faces. When I got to my in-person classes, I saw many people who’d had their cameras on during online class. I said hi, and we made some small talk in the classes we had together. Slowly but surely, that sense of community began to grow.
Know That It’s Okay to Be Alone: If you’re having a hard time making friends, it can be easy to blame yourself or assume that something is wrong with you. Believe me, nothing is wrong on your part. Keep in mind that everyone else around you is also trying to navigate this transition to campus. Plus, many people have become used to the isolated nature of online learning; no one’s used to socializing like they did before Covid. Take it day by day; be gentle and kind to yourself.
Join a Club: This one may sound typical, but hear me out. A club is a place where people who have common interests gather together. If you’re having a hard time connecting to people, try joining a club. Plus, clubs aren’t like classes. It’s not like attendance is mandatory, and there is not necessarily homework. In fact, some people have clubs solely to help each other with homework. Look at it this way: it wouldn’t hurt to try. If you’re worried about clubs taking time out of homework or studying time, remember that it is highly important that you set aside time for yourself.
Don’t be Afraid to Explore: Something that makes campuses too intimidating is the thought of getting lost. In my case, I’d built my campus up as a big building, almost like a labyrinth that was filled with twists and turns down hallways I’d never been in. I was scared it would swallow me, that I’d never familiarize myself with it. That said, the more you know something, the less afraid of it you are. In between classes, don’t be afraid to take a stroll through the buildings and have a little tour. That way, you can find some good study spots and food places! Or take a day to do this, perhaps during your reading week or when you have a day off.