I know I said I would write this a few posts ago, but life threw some things at me that were more relevant to write about at the time so here you go – slightly out of order but hot off the press – my experience as an undergrad!
When I was applying to university I applied to four Psychology programs; one in my hometown, two a few hours away, and one as far away as about 7 hours in a car. I was nervous I would not get accepted, and I figured I would just go where I got in. So, when I got accepted everywhere I had a big decision to make – where will I go? I decided that I did not want to stay home and that I did not actually want to go to one of the other schools I applied for. Since it was down to two I went to the open houses of both schools – one was a big university and the other was a small university. We started at the big university which was relatively close to home. I was really excited about the research program there, but the bigger city and the feeling I got that no one really had time or patience for undergrads, and the idea that residence wasn’t guaranteed didn’t make me happy. So we went to the smaller university that was far away where everyone was very friendly, residence was guaranteed and actually quite spacious, and the professors emailed me back when I had questions about their research. I still spent a fair amount of time debating where to go – it was a really big choice for me to make as to how far away from home I wanted to be and where I thought I would fit in. As you might have figured out from previous posts I picked the small university far from home, and I have no regrets.
First year was amazing (and yes I am saying this looking back with rose coloured glasses). I was taking classes that I loved (most of the time), I made friends that I felt I had known forever, my grades had dropped from high school but I was still doing okay. Looking back I also remember that it was a hard adjustment. I wasn’t used to living on my own or sharing space with strangers, there was a lot of drama, I was far away from everything I knew, I had lost some friends along the way, and as much as that was scary I think it was something important. I found out a lot about myself and what was important to me that year. When I went home it was obvious to me how much I had grown and how much everyone else that stayed at home hadn’t, and I was really proud of myself for that. First year was really challenging for those reasons, but it was also really fun. For probably the first time in my life I was one of the cool kids, I was friends with the really attractive cool guy, I was friends with the fun older crowd, I got asked out on dates (one day I got asked out three times – I was floored and said no to all of them). My friend C (the really attractive popular guy) really helped me to open up and become less of the shy girl I was used to being and a little more of the adventurous woman I am now. I had a massive crush on him, but he had a girlfriend so I was happy enough to have his attention since she was at a different school. His friends became my friends and we always had a good time – regardless of whether it was drunk bowling, driving around, or watching the aquarium channel. Nothing ever happened between us and to this day he is one of my dearest friends, the only difference is that my crush turned into more of a brotherly love. I have so many memories from that year of late night walks alone or with company, of hanging out in peoples residence rooms, of doing laundry and painting at 3am; memories of just doing anything and everything that came my way. Of course in order to learn you have to make mistakes. Like most people I know I skipped a couple classes to sleep, got a bad mark on a midterm, broke a heart. I feel bad about that last one. This guy kept texting me to hangout and so I would because he was nice enough and because of my relationship with C I didn’t think anything of it. One night he tried to hold my hand and kiss me and I basically had to ‘break up’ with him because he thought we were dating (even though he never asked me to be his girlfriend). I do not regret it, but I feel bad and wish that I hadn’t made him cry…I wish it hadn’t come to that end. But like I said, you learn by making mistakes and I haven’t gotten myself into any situations like that since. One of my favourite memories from that year comes from a road trip to C’s girlfriends place for his birthday. I had a friend in the same city so I tagged along with him, T and G for an overnight drive to spend the weekend. T was the kind of guy some people would describe as redneck. He was in charge of the radio but instead of the country music you would expect (which he doesn’t listen to), he had brought along the latest Harry Potter audiobook. We made a stop at Tim Horton’s, and when he realized he forgot to pause the book he went screaming back to the car because he didn’t want to miss anything. The rest of the weekend was just as fun packed and hilarious but that part stands out in my mind. There are a million other stories I could tell about first year, but I will leave it at that for now.
While I was still in first year I applied to go on exchange – C was doing it so I did too. I had always loved to travel and I figured that going to France would give me the perfect opportunity to practice my French, I also really wanted to go to Australia. I got accepted to go on exchange to Australia for the first semester of my second year. In the summer I went home and it wasn’t fun. My home life was worse than I remembered, I didn’t really have friends there, and I wasn’t happy. I made a trip to visit one of my friends from university for a week and we had a lot of fun. We stayed up all night, went out dancing, went out to the lake on boat rides, basically all the fun summer things packed into a week. During that summer I was also dating someone I had met at university that lived a couple hours away which was okay at first. I saw him a few times and we had fun. A couple weeks before I was leaving he didn’t text me back for a number of days and I called him out on it. He was furious and told me I was being a child and ruining his night and that it wasn’t a big deal he hadn’t texted me back. He broke up with me, he didn’t want to try and make it work. I was completely devastated and heartbroken, but I was also leaving so I had to pull myself together and try to forget that I cared about him.
I will write about my exchange experience in another post because I have a lot to say about it. But when I got home it was really hard for me. For one thing I had arrived in December (or mid-summer in Australia) to a cold Canadian winter. One day I put on shorts and then realized that it wasn’t exactly appropriate attire for snow. Talk about reverse culture shock. Christmas has never been my favourite holiday but that year things actually went pretty well. I was excited to get back to school and see my friends though – as much as Skype had kept us somewhat in touch I needed them fully back in my life. A part of me wanted to get back together with the guy I had been dating, but I found out he had been cheating on me when we had been dating in the summer and so that squashed those feelings. Coming back was hard because in the time that I had been away my friends had made other friends, friends I had that were on exchange had left, and C was still on exchange. I didn’t realize how much I had relied on him until that point. So I made sure that the friends I was excited to see knew I was home and tried to adjust to the new way of things. It kind of felt like starting first year over again but with familiar faces. On Wednesdays I had two classes with a dinner break between them so I would meet up with my friend N who had the same break and we would have dinner. One day she was waiting for me to meet her and she was there talking to this guy I thought was pretty cute. He left, but then came back shortly after to have dinner with us – he was in the same class as N. He had left to go to the candy store and offered to share his candy, which was a mistake on his part because I love candy and basically ate half of it. A few days later I was at school early just sitting at a table and he happened to be there early too and asked me for my number. We started texting at the end of January, finally hung out in early March, and haven’t looked back since. We have been dating for more than 4 years now, and I am forever happy that N kind of introduced us and also that he was willing to share his candy. The rest of second year is a blur, mostly spent between hanging out with friends and the boyfriend and trying to get homework done in-between.
The summer between second and third year I spent working as a research assistant. It paid well and gave me free time to take classes that I had missed while I was on exchange. One of the classes was taught by an S-LP and her career sounded really cool. I didn’t move home that summer, but the boyfriend and I did visit my home for a week. We went to my brothers wedding together, it was nice to have someone to show off to the family.
In third year things got serious. For one thing, I was a Frosh leader for the first time and I wanted to properly introduce these new fresh faces to all of the wonderful things about the university. These were also the grades that ‘really matter’ for grad school, and you had to have an idea of programs you were applying for so you had the right pre-requisites. I didn’t know what I was doing – at the time I was torn between research and Clinical Psychology, with an after thought of S-LP. I worked as an assistant in student services and they needed me to put together information packages on applying to professional programs, so that provided me with the perfect excuse to figure out what I wanted to do. I also started to volunteer with an S-LP and CDA at the public health unit to learn more about the career. In the meantime I was focused on spending time with the boyfriend and less so with friends. I kind of lost touch with a friend, J, that was really good to me and I still feel that gap now. See, when you say no to hanging out enough times eventually people stop asking. I don’t think that its a fair thing to do because sometimes timing it bad but it is what happens, and again I learned that the hard way. I worked really hard for my grades that year. But I did have an issue – my French prof that year was a nightmare. She spoke in a lot of English, and had a nickname for me “petite souris” (little mouse) because I spoke quietly. She also poked fun at the clothing or accents of some students. At one point I wrote an essay and met with her for feedback and she told me that I did not have the knowledge or ability to discuss the topic I had written my paper about. I was furious because she was wrong – I had written the paper, she had understood the paper, so how could she say that? I was also devastated because she said that I would not achieve an 80 or above in her class. I did not have to be taking French classes but I wanted to because I loved French, and for the first time in my life she was making it unenjoyable for me, and something that could ruin my chances of grad school. Thankfully we had a brilliant exchange student from France that I had gotten close with, and he helped me with my papers. He had actually helped me by editing this paper for me, and so from that point on he also helped me to brainstorm topics and ideas as he was very philosophically and theoretically minded. I still did not get the grades I deserved but she did not say anymore absurd things to me, other than calling me her little mouse. My French friend left after that year, and I was quite saddened by it. I remember when he came to say goodbye I was working in the student services office and after he left it was different, more empty. We kept in touch for awhile but now we do not…it is hard to keep ahold of international friends when you live such different lives. Around this time my boyfriend also found out he was accepted into the grad school program he applied for, which was great – but it was also a 10 hour drive away. It was a really hard time for me with so much changing out of my control, but I put my efforts into studying and being supportive – I knew he had to go.
Over the summer between third and fourth year I moved into a house with an acquaintance. I also worked with a few of the Psychology professors on research projects and continued my volunteering. I was very fortunate to be working with A, who is without a doubt one of the brightest shining stars in my life. She is beautiful and smart and she just cares so much it hurts sometimes. She is the kind of girl you brag about being best friends with. Together that summer we took on the world and faced all sorts of childishness. While at work we were doing science, planning for our theses, and also organizing a charity run, at home I was dealing with an unfortunate roommate situation. I have a lot of stories you may or may not believe about that summer with that particular roommate – I can touch on them more later. But to start my roommate apparently liked to smoke, and when she thought I wasn’t home she did it in our basement apartment. She also never cleaned the bathroom. When I found black mould that the landlord insisted was nothing I knew it was time to leave (for my physical and mental health), so I found a new house and moved out within a week – just in time to start the new school year. While this was going on, A and I were combatting administrative staff and unhelpful people on the student union in order to get our charity event going. We had planned a “colour dash” (similar to the colour runs that were popular at the time) to happen on campus to improve student life (which was lacking) and also help the community by donating funds raised to the local hospice. People told us that we would be lucky to have 30 people to show up to the event and it wasn’t worth our time. But when the university finally agreed to have the event as part of homecoming, we were also told to stop promoting the event from our personal social media accounts. It was frustrating to say the least, and those are just a couple of roadblocks we ran into that come to mind, but when October came around the event went off better than anyone had imagined. We had a lot of people sign up and raised over $2000 for the hospice. It was one of my proudest moments of my university career.
When fourth year started it was hard because not only had C left to go on exchange again, J had left to start her masters degree, and my boyfriend had also left to start his masters degree. Thankfully I had a thesis class full of friends, including A, that became fairly close knit and felt like a real support system. My boyfriend came home a few times, and while he was gone I threw myself into school work and my thesis. I also spent a lot of time applying to graduate programs – I applied to a Masters in Psychology, a Masters in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and 3 S-LP programs. I also had another interesting roommate – she was very religious and made dietary choices (aka fish heads) I was unfamiliar with. Overall she was harmless, kept the kitchen clean, and was friendly most of the time. Half way through the year she moved out and another girl moved in – she was a train wreak. The stories I could tell about this girl would also blow your mind, but for the most part she was messy, rude, and inconsiderate – I really wanted the other roommate back. It was a busy year, and doing a thesis project in such a short time is no joke. But I think that together my thesis class and I made it a good time. There are a lot of jokes and good times we shared, and everyone was really supportive, including the professors. Our thesis conference day was amazing. We had all worked so hard, and the presentations were really great. The thesis prof got us all a little drunk after at dinner, and together the thesis students went out dancing. It was really hard to go back to class after that, even though there were only a few left, because it was just such a perfect end. Shortly after that I found out I had been accepted to the Psychology program, and waitlisted for two of the three S-LP programs. I was set to interview for the other program in May. At the end of April after exams were done and I had handed in my school keys and rental keys, it was time to move home. In June I went back for the graduation ceremony. It was so lovely to see everyone again, celebrating all of their accomplishments from the past 4 years. It was also hard to only see them for such a short period of time, goodbyes and see you soon have never been my favourite words to say. But I have to think that if I hadn’t had such a great growing experience there that I wouldn’t have been as sad as I was to leave. Sure there were hard times, but I made best friends, I met brilliant people that were respected professors that also respected me, and it was a beautiful city to study in. I will forever be happy that I chose the university that I did, although it may be small it was exactly what I needed. I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything.