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HBA · Ben King, Nick Zhang, and Priya Chaudhari

Dear future freshmen

Mar 20, 2023

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Ben: With finals becoming an increasingly looming presence as the days slip away, I’ve realized just how exhaustive, yet rewarding this year has been. September 3rd–the day of my move-in – feels as if it were merely a few weeks ago; but the same anxious, overwhelmed individual no longer exists. Throughout each semester, trials and tribulations have been thoroughly experienced, while genuine goals and accomplishments have been reached. As first-year comes to a close, I’ve learned a plethora of lessons that I will be sure to carry forward for my remaining time at Western.

One of these, which I wish I could tell my September self, is that you’re going to be fine. For a healthy chunk of time my days were marked by the burden of self-doubt. No matter how well I would perform on an exam or well-received project, the paralyzing thought persisting in the back of my head was, just wait until you can’t do it for the next one. This mindset took a bit of time to unlearn, but through an increase of confidence in my capabilities, and armed with the knowledge that hard work will always get you across the finish line, I have been able to dismantle this thought process.

Something that I also struggled with was maintaining a school-life balance. At the beginning of the first semester, my days were entirely filled with school; I left no breaks for myself to socialize, have down time, or partake in hobbies. By winter break, I couldn’t wait to escape London, as I felt incredibly burnt out due to the unrelenting schedule I had created. After a rewarding but slightly destructive first semester, I vowed to change things for the second semester. On the first day back from winter break, I still packed my agenda to the brim but made sure to block out specific times for myself; and the difference has been incredible. School is of the utmost importance – but not when it comes at the expense of your life.

Priya: If I could go back to the beginning of the year, I know exactly what I would tell myself: do not define yourself by your grades. As a chronic overachiever, this is something that I have always struggled with. My success with academics in high school led me to believe that who I was could be wrapped up entirely by the number on my report card. Coming into university with this mindset led me to set incredibly lofty standards for my first year; a grade range expectation of which I incessantly reminded myself of: this is who you are, you must do this.When I began to receive back exams and assignments though, I was shocked; shocked at how much lower my grades were than those in high school, and dissatisfied with the number on my report. I felt lost, like I was missing a defining part of myself. It took me a while to realize that really, “success” meant so much more to me than just a number. My September self would be taken aback to be told not to forget that personal growth, happiness, and health (both physical and mental) are priorities too. Priorities which should be considered when defining who I am.

As I look ahead to my second year, I am proactively setting new standards; standards that go beyond my grades. I will seek to push myself outside of my comfort zone in my social and professional life. I will choose to find happiness – even when I am struggling – and I will take care of my body. I owe it to myself. At the end of the day, if I am working hard, I know that I am doing enough. My first year as an AEO student has taught me to be proud of myself for doing my best and to be passionate about all aspects of myself. Grades do not define you.

Nick: With my first year of university wrapping up, there is one thing that I will always tell any incoming freshmen: look for friends that you really enjoy spending time with, and don’t settle for the bare minimum. During O-Week, it’s exceptionally easy to settle into a group of friends out of convenience; ones that maybe live in your residence or are in your program. However, make sure that these friends are ones you agree with, who you trust and feel comfortable around. I’ve heard many horror stories about friend groups breaking-up due to major disagreements, drama, or mishandled situations. Along with the other stresses of first-year – such as increased workload and a new living environment – this is going to be detrimental to your mental health. If you notice trends, values, or certain behaviors within your friend group or individuals which make you feel uncomfortable, do not be afraid to speak up or distance yourself. At the end of the day, you need to make friends who are there for you for the long-term through all the ups and downs of university. So, don’t forget to get out of your comfort zone! Speak to others, meet new people on campus, in your program, and in your residence; the last thing that you want happening is friendship drama occurring the day before a set of finals.

Adding upon the previous point, don’t forget to spend time with these newfound friends. While it may feel like endless studying is required to do well academically, it’s also important to realize that your friends are going to be the ones to help you through rough times, not your textbook. If it’s not crunch time, go have fun! The lifelong memories made in first year chilling in a study lounge together laughing or going on mini excursions to Masonville mall are going to be memories that you will always remember. This is your first year away from home with full control over how you spend your time, so make sure you spend it well!