As I write down these words, I have been living in London, Ontario for exactly 5 months and seven days. I am well into the first month of my second term at Ivey Business School, where I am pursuing my MSc in Digital Management and trying to figure out how to be a responsible young adult while still being young and carefree.
It sounds a little contradictory, but now that I am done with my first term at Ivey, I cannot help but feel that I truly belong here while also feeling like I don’t quite fit in. I feel like I have learned a lot about life, and still not know where to begin. I have come a long way from where I have been, and yet I still have so many miles more to go, so many new versions of myself left to explore.
I know I am not alone in my unique experiences. I know that I am walking the same path that others have walked before me. And one day, dear reader, you will be stepping in my shoes and walking this same path too. So here’s what you can expect should you decide to begin a new chapter of your life at Ivey.
The First Month Is Always The Hardest
Whether you have been living in Canada your whole life, or you are an international student like me who had to pack their entire life into two 23 KG suitcases before hopping on a plane and landing in a new country–the first month at Ivey is always the hardest for everybody.
From adjusting to a new city to learning to live alone on your own and away from your family, there are tons of personal challenges that you will face. Amidst all of that, you are also expected to bring your best preparation in the classroom every day, at 7.50 AM in the morning.
Admittedly it was a bit easier for me to adjust to Ivey’s case-based curriculum, because I did have a prior academic and professional experience in business. Even then, I found myself being pushed to my limits to think differently in every class, to consider different perspectives and gain new insights.
And I can tell you this with absolute certainty: during your first term, it might be a little challenging to adjust to Ivey’s way of participating in class discussions to break open a case and learn from each other instead of the traditional way. But it will be worth it.
You will find yourself listening with awe (and sometimes, with skepticism) as your classmates share their own insights. You will come to class with a particular opinion only to find that your entire perspective has changed by the end of the class discussion.
And like every other grad student living on their own, you’ll find yourself scrambling to meet deadlines while also hunting for a part-time job, cooking and cleaning and paying the bills and still trying to carve out a slice of time just for yourself. There will be times when it will feel overwhelming, but know that you are not alone. Reach out to your classmates and laugh it off together—sharing what’s been weighing you down is one of the easiest and fastest way to recharge for a new day.
Embrace Every New Challenge
Some people will tell you to take it easy during your first term. Some people will tell you to throw yourself at every new opportunity and shoot your shot.
My personal opinion is that you should do a little bit of both. Yes, you should absolutely embrace new challenges, it’s the only way you will know what you are truly made of and what kind of career opportunities you would like to explore.
So go ahead and participate in that case competition even if you have zero knowledge about that industry. Go ahead and apply for that exec position at the club you like. Do what makes you uncomfortable because that’s the only way to rediscover and redefine yourself.
At the same time, remember that life is not a competition. It’s not a race to the end. There’s no finish line. So don’t push yourself so much, that you burn out before you have the chance to ignite your inner spark.
Find Your People And Cherish Them
At the end of the day, we are all human beings and we all need that human connection. And with Ivey’s diverse cohorts, it will be very easy for you to find your people.
By “your people”, I do not mean people from your own culture or country, though it’s completely fine if that’s the crowd you seek out. When I say “your people”, what I really mean is find the kind of people who brings out the best version of you. Find the people who will lift you up when you feel down.
The MSc program at Ivey is fast-paced and intensive. It can wear you down. But it’s not a burden to bear alone. So reach out and connect with the people you see on campus, attend the social events that the MScA hosts every month.
I say this as an extremely introverted and socially awkward young adult: the more you open yourself to people, the easier it will be to go through your first term at Ivey without feeling stressed out and overwhelmed.
Don’t Hesitate To Lean On Your Friends
As the eldest daughter in the family, I grew up believing that I had to do everything by myself (cue Taylor Swift’s Your Own On Your Kid). My first term at Ivey taught me that it doesn’t always have to be that way.
Ask for help when you need it–be it for an assignment or something personal. Lean on your friends. Let them know when you are not okay. If you are sick and you need a friend to walk you to the clinic, tell them. If you received bad news and you do not know how to bear it, tell your friends. If you cannot make sense of an assignment or paper, tell your friends and learn from them.
At the end of the day, the vast majority of MSc students at Ivey are living on their own and away from their families. If we do not take care of each other, who will?
Home Is Not A Place, So Call Your Loved Ones Every Day
Finally, here’s my last advice for surviving your first term at Ivey. As the bright warm colors of fall bleach into dreary December rains, you will see most of your classmates packing up their things, excited to go back home and spend the holidays with their families.
Not everyone will have the privilege to do so. I know I didn’t. While several of my friends went back to their childhood bedrooms, and ate food at the same table with their family, I got on video calls with my family every day to prepare breakfast while they prepared their dinner. On New Year’s Eve, I watched my family light fireworks to welcome 2024 on my phone screen while I was still living in 2023.
I thought I would experience the worst of loneliness and homesickness in December, but because of those daily video calls, I felt my family’s presence with me even though we were living continents apart. Home is not a place–it’s made of people, so call your folks every day as much as you can.
I will end by saying that the first chapter of any phase of your life is always the most challenging. But it can also be the most exciting. And without a doubt, your first term at Ivey will be an unforgettable one, as long as you remember that you are not here to be the best of the best. You are here to be the best version of yourself.