My First Year at University

It’s time for summer vacation now (at least for university students), and this is the perfect moment to look back upon the past school year. As you read through this article, you’ll find out what I did and did not do in my first year in university, and my thoughts and feelings for my time at school. University is certainly very different than high school, but since I didn’t flunk out, I can safely say that I have adapted to this new style of learning, at least for the first year. Read on to find out about my exciting escapades and unforgettable experiences (or lack thereof, yeah, mostly the lack thereof) during my first two terms at a post-secondary institution.

It’s only May right now, but I’ve already been out of the classroom for around a month or so. Time sure passes quickly, and university terms sure are short. For the thousands of dollars spent on my education, I’ve only received 6-7 month worth of instructional days. Then again, that’s what universities do: charge lots of dollars to try and cram large amounts of info into a student’s head in a short amount of time. Whether or not the “cramming” is successful is up to the individual of course. Due to my fairly good grades in my graduating year in high school, I didn’t have to pay a lot for my first year, so there is less for me to whine about, but I couldn’t help but feel that some of my purchases were kind of useless, especially on certain textbooks. I’ll elaborate on that later. Anyways, now is the time to formally start this “looking back/self reflection” article. I’ll write down all the events roughly in chronological order, and we’ll start from the very beginning. No, I’m not going that far and go into how I was born and write my autobiography. What I meant by “the beginning” was the beginning of my university career, which really started in the summer vacation before the first term.

I didn’t have to do too much during the summer before university. The only things I had to do were to register my courses, pay my tuition and buy textbooks. For the program I chose, all first years had to take the same set of core courses and there were a bunch of standard time tables to choose from. Besides the standard courses, I had to take two electives, one of which must be an English course. For the other free elective, I just chose one that fit my timetable. As a new student, I wasn’t sure where exactly to get cheap textbooks, so I got all my books at the campus bookstore. I bought pretty much everything that was listed for my courses, even the optional books. The first impression I got for my books were that 1: they were heavy, even for a big guy like me, and 2: they were really expensive. I realize though, as a university student, these are the facts I had to bear with for the next 3+ years, so I’ll just have to get used to them. After everything was bought and paid for, it was only a few weeks from the real start of my post secondary education.

I have to say back then I wasn’t terribly excited about going to “college.” For me, going to university mainly means more work to do and less free time. Even though I don’t usually do much with my free time, I still rather have free time than to do work. I don’t consider myself to be an especially hard-working person, so the thought of spending more time to do homework and study doesn’t really appeal to me. And since I also have no interest in partying or drinking, university was basically just another bigger school to go to. Mind you, I didn’t dread the thought of going to university. I always try to approach new things with an open mind, so I thought maybe something cool and exciting will happen along the way.

Classes started in early September. The weather was still fair so walking around the large campus of my university wasn’t too much or a chore. The first thing I learned about university life is that students don’t need to bring textbooks to classes. I found that out the hard way as I carried my textbooks, including a large 2000-page physics textbook, in my backpack for my first day of classes. My back was sore the whole day. Needless to say I learned my lesson and I rarely brought textbooks to school after that day. Other than carrying textbooks, my first day or first week of classes wasn’t really overwhelming. Most of the professors didn’t do anything important or bothered giving homework in the first week, so those few days passed by like a breeze.

Things began to become a little bit tougher on the second week. All the lab sessions started on that week, and the professors were starting to give homework. The total amount of homework was a little bit more than what I got when I was in grade 12, but the thing is that unlike high school teachers, professors don’t actually teach. They just read off their notes or the PowerPoint about the material and it’s up to the student to figure things out for themselves, so for the first time in my life I actually started to pre-read material before going to class. The reading and the homework started to take quite a chunk of my time. This actually wasn’t too much of a problem for me since I had next to no social life anyways, so I might as well stay at home and study. Academics have always been my first and foremost priority when going to school, so if I spend more time for school stuff that’s fine with me.

First term actually wasn’t all that bad. I had five courses with a pretty sparse schedule that usually allowed me to leave before noon three days of the week. All of my lectures were in the morning, while labs were in the afternoon. I am usually not that good at doing labs since I seem to lack the neatness and attention to miniscule amounts of detail needed to get a very high lab marks, but thankfully the experiments were pretty easy, and I only had a few labs in this term. Other than academics, the social aspect of university was also different form that of a high school. In high school, I at least knew the names of pretty much all the people in my grade, but in university, there are a lot more people so it’s a bit harder to get to know somebody else. That didn’t affect me much though since I’m one of those people who do fine on their own. After three weeks in university, I managed to find a rhythm and settled into my life as a university student.

Out of all my courses in the first term, the one I had the most trouble with was calculus, and I was supposed to be good at math. I’m not sure if it was me or the professor (most likely the latter), but I didn’t understand half of the stuff the guy talked about, and I actually took calculus in high school and did pretty well. In calculus class, my hand was moving and taking notes, but my brain was at a stand still. When the first midterm came along, I was definitely not ready, so obviously I didn’t do too well. At that point of time, I thought, “Maybe I’m not that good at math after all.” and also, “Why did I enroll myself in an honours class?”

Despite the fact that I was starting to hate math, I joined the math competition “club” at the school. The primary reason why I joined was because there was free pizza and pop served at the meetings, and of course my parents encouraged me to do some extracurricular activity, so I might as well go somewhere with free food. The “club” was pretty small. Only around 20 or so students attended the club regularly, in spite of the advertisement of free food. Looking at the faces of the other students, I could tell that I was in a company of ner… uh… very smart people. The contest the club focuses on was actually extremely difficult. After looking at some sample questions, I gave up on the contest, but I still attended most of the meetings for the food.

The other extracurricular activity I did for the term, and the rest of the year, was working out at the school fitness centre. I have been working out since grade 9 or so and despite the fact that I don’t have much muscle to show for my efforts, I do like to work out if I could. The school facility was pretty good in terms of size and variety of equipment, so I got myself a membership and went there three days a week during the break between morning and afternoon classes. Since I don’t have a lot of time at home for doing stuff other than homework, working out at school was a good way to get me some much needed exercise, and it also allowed me to take my mind off of school for an hour or two.

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