7 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Western Student

A photo of the Natural Sciences building enteranceWritten by: Ivan Quan, 4th Year Medical Sciences

The journey through university isn’t an easy one, and everyone's looks different. My years as a Western student have taught me many lessons, most often the hard way. There are many things that would have helped me a lot as an incoming student, especially knowledge extending outside the classroom. To our future (and current) Western students, here are seven lessons that I would tell my first-year self.

1) Building strong habits is key.

Habits have always kept me going when motivation has failed. While we all have our highs and lows, it always feels like the most schoolwork arrives when we are least ready to tackle it. This is where the power of habits comes in. Personally, keeping strong habits helped me stay on top of my schoolwork during tough times, completing much of my work in an almost-automatic routine. While study or work habits look different for everyone, practicing these routines early makes your university life more manageable, and can spare time outside of studying.

2) Lists break down overwhelming messes into manageable tasks.

This seems like a small topic compared to the others, but trust me when I say it has helped me just as much. I first discovered the art of list-making during midterm season in my first semester. Overwhelmed with the sheer number of things I had to do, I wrote down everything I had to do, both inside and outside of school, no matter how small. After condensing my mess of thoughts into a manageable list of tasks, my responsibilities started to look feasible. To this day, I still keep a to-do list on hand not only to help me remember which tasks to do but to make each day a little more manageable.

3) Be open to opportunities.

There are so many opportunities presented to you during university that it may seem daunting. It could be through clubs, volunteering, social events, internships, athletics, or elsewhere. Taking on a little more than you think you are capable of can help build confidence in your capabilities. You would be surprised at how much you can do when working near your limits—just make sure you don’t overwork yourself. Remember that university is the perfect time to make mistakes. Our mistakes, whether they be academic, career-related, or social, allow us to reflect on our experiences to learn to improve ourselves. Keeping an open mind to opportunities also means you will meet a lot more people, and there is something you can learn from everyone.

4) Learn to be comfortable with yourself.

As much as meeting new people is important, it’s also essential to be comfortable spending time alone. At the end of the day, there’s no one that understands you quite like yourself. University is an important time for self-discovery. For many of us, it’s the first time we experience a great deal of independence, living by our own clock, and following our own passions. Reflecting on my thoughts and experiences has led me to discover a lot about the way I make decisions, helping me work my way through tough times. Time spent on yourself is never wasted.

5) Your career isn’t a race.

There’s always someone who possesses your desires, whether they be grades, experience, successes, jobs, opportunities, or passions. It’s natural for us to compare our personal pace to the pace of others, but this often only makes us feel bad about our own progress. It’s important to accept that we all approach life at different speeds and trajectories. Instead of comparing yourself to others, try to strive to become the best version of yourself by setting goals at your own pace and celebrating your own achievements.

6) Follow your passions. No plan is set in stone.

It’s completely normal to realize that the field you pick isn’t right for you or to realize your passions for a different field in the middle of your degree. High school is an awfully early time to decide your entire life’s trajectory anyway. Stay open to the idea of changing your career path, since you never know what passions might grab your interest next. Personally, I entered university dead set on a career in the medical field, as was the same for many other medical science students. Discovering a passion for computer science, I’ve since been pursuing a double major in medical science and computer science to keep my options open. I’ve also seen many of my peers make similar pathway changes—it’s normal to not know what you want your future to hold.

7) We all feel lost at some point… and that’s completely normal!

There always comes a point in our university lives where we feel lost. During this time, it’s easy to feel alone in our hardships, but it’s important to recognize that it’s something that everyone goes through, no matter how successful they may seem. A piece of advice that has always stuck with me since entering university is that feeling lost in your journey is part of the university experience. Don’t define yourself by your struggles, and try talking it out with friends and family. Chances are, they have gone through similar experiences, and will tell you that through life’s up and downs, it does eventually get better.

Final Thoughts

Taking each day as they come, taking time to enjoy your university life, making the mistakes you need to make—there’s no wrong way to complete university. Just remember that throughout your journey, there’s no such thing as traveling backward—every experience we have is a step forwards, building us up to the people we are today, and the people we want to become in the future.

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