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8 Things I Wish I Knew in My First Year

When I was going into my first year at University of Toronto (U of T), I had mixed feelings. I was super excited, yet also a bit lost, not knowing what to expect or how to get prepared. As an international student from Hong Kong, I was very new to Canada. I didn’t have any friends or relatives in the country, and I didn’t know anyone studying at U of T who could give me tips on how to navigate my upcoming journey. Perhaps you’re feeling the same way, so I want to help! I don’t want you to feel as overwhelmed as I did in my first year. Let me share 8 things I wish I had known in my first year at U of T.

1. Study-life balance

In my first year, I was pretty much about hitting the book. Looking back, it would have been way more productive if I’d struck a balance between study and life. University life isn’t just about cramming for exams. It’s also about making lifelong friends, figuring out who you are, getting involved, and picking up skills you’re going to need in the real world. If I could have a chat with my first-year self, I’d say, “Hey, take at least one hour each day to do things you love.” It doesn’t have to be anything big – maybe learning a new language, hanging out with friends, diving into a good book, or getting some exercise.

2. Save money

Every time I saw my favourite food or clothes, I was like, “I’m going to have it!” without even thinking if I really wanted it. In my first year, I went a bit crazy on food, but looking back, I know I could’ve saved a great deal of money if I’d been smarter about my budget. That dough could’ve gone towards my graduation trip or tuition. I know it sounds super cliché, but always remember, the money you save is just as valuable as the money you earn!

3. Make new friends

Looking back on my first year, I can still vividly remember how scared I felt when I had to go up and talk to my classmates. But honestly, as I started making more new friends at U of T, life here in Canada got a whole lot more fun. So, don’t be shy! Everyone’s in the same boat as you. If the idea of chatting up a big group freaks you out, start small. Just strike up a conversation with one person in your class.

4. plan your courses

In my first year, I was totally lost with how the program worked. I had no clue that I had to take other electives too (also known as breadth requirements). Can you believe it? I totally forgot to take the first-year courses, so I couldn’t even sign up for them in my later years. If I could travel back to my first year, I’d map out my courses in advance and really consider which ones to take first, especially since some are strictly for first-year students.

5. great programs offered by centre for international experience (CIE)

Looking back on my first year, I wish I’d known about the awesome opportunities offered by the Centre for International Experience (CIE). I totally missed out on the Language Exchange Program, which would’ve been a great chance to learn new languages and meet folks from all over the world. And I wish I’d known about the Intercultural Learning Program (ILP) right from the starting point. That program was a total game-changer! Through ILP, I met some truly amazing friends from different cultures, and together we discovered the hidden gems of Toronto. These programs meant a lot to my personal growth, and I just wish I’d discovered them sooner. So, if you’re about to start your first year, don’t do what I did – grab these opportunities right from the start!

6. make good use of reading week

I regret how I spent my first reading week. I literally spent the whole time binge-watching shows on Netflix, not doing anything even remotely productive. But in my second year, I got lucky. My career advisor clued me into Alternative Reading Week – a 3-day volunteering program during the winter semester’s reading week. It was a perfect chance to connect with the community and meet some new faces. I even got to organize some conversational English activities to help the new folks in Canada feel more at home. So instead of wasting your break like I did in my first year, make the most of it! Volunteering not only makes a difference in others’ lives but also enriches your own.

7. embrace your own pace

When I was a freshman, I thought that I needed to keep up with everyone else’s pace. However, I soon realized that everyone’s approach might be different based on their goals and paths. So, it’s better to focus on your own rhythm rather than relentlessly comparing yourself with others. For example, while some of my friends managed six courses per semester, I found that it was too much for me. Instead, I chose to take four courses each semester, completing the rest during summer school. This balanced approach not only allowed me to juggle my academics with extracurricular activities and work but also enabled me to fully enjoy my university life. So, I encourage you to explore what works best for you. Trust your instincts and don’t hesitate to follow your own pace – after all, it’s your journey!

8. connect with professors

I know how intimidating it can be to reach out to professors. I used to think they’d chew me out, too. But when I finally plucked up the courage to hit up my first office hours for my linguistics class, things totally flipped. Turns out, my profs were really kind, patient, and cared about how I was doing! The more I started popping into office hours, the more I felt tuned into the class. It also helped me get to grips with the stuff that was totally going over my head before. Plus, it’s pretty cool to hear about your prof’s other interests and snag some life advice from them. So, don’t let nerves put you off – give office hours a go!

So, those’re 8 things I wish I had known in my first year. But remember, university isn’t just about study; it’s a life-changing adventure. Dive in, make friends, and take it easy on yourself! Cheers to an amazing first year