Finding your place within the McGill community

How one chance encounter changed my university experience

Are you a freshman still trying to adapt to McGill? Are you enjoying your university experience thus far? Are you finding it hard to meet new people? We have all been through this and rest assured that things will get better. I am a third-year International Development student who was raised in Montreal and attending McGill has always been in my plans. That being said, I found it difficult to find my place here – especially in the beginning. I still can’t believe this is my last year of undergrad. A chapter of my life has flown by and I find myself wondering if I took full advantage of this experience. Cégep is completely different from university, and if I am being honest, I wish I had more guidance to smooth out the transition.

Initially, I found it particularly difficult getting used to the size of my classes. Forming a relationship with my professors and classmates was extremely tough. It was difficult to ask questions and I sometimes left the room feeling unsure about what I was learning. Although many of my high school and Cégep friends enrolled at McGill, most of them were not in Arts. As much as I love socializing, it was not that easy. I felt like most of my classmates (myself included) were preoccupied with getting to class on time, listening to lectures, taking good notes and getting good grades. Interacting with one another, besides group projects, was tough.

Consequently, two months into university, I had yet to find my sense of belonging to the McGill community. Having attended rather small-sized institutions in high school and CEGEP, I felt lonely in a 40 000-student community. In Cégep, there were less than 2000 students and meeting people throughout our two-year stay was easy. I thought everyone else at McGill was living their best life – until I realized they were not. To my surprise, friends and classmates opened up to me, admitting they had been experiencing the same struggle. In fact, we all had this common feeling of being “lost” in an ocean of people and agreed that our daily (and rather unhealthy) routine at McGill consisted of going to class, studying at McLennan, attending another lecture and heading back to the library.

Looking back, my friends and I believe that we needed to find the “missing piece of a puzzle” early on. In other words, something or someone that could help us make sense of this new life-experience. For me, this missing piece was found in the first week of my second semester (Winter 2017). I am a huge soccer fan and one of my close friends, a member of the soccer team, invited me to tryout for the team. Although the trial was unsuccessful, I met a bunch of very interesting people with whom I became friends with shortly afterwards. I can’t imagine what the rest of my time at McGill would have been like had I not went to that trial or met these new people. A two-hour soccer tryout literally changed my university experience – for the better.

If you are struggling to find your community or sense of belonging at McGill, remind yourself that it will happen. Focus on your studies, but never neglect the social side of student life. Join a club or organization - you never know how much you can benefit from it. While studies tend to be stressful, the way we deal with stress will define our ability to make the most of our university experience. Stay positive and remember that the person sitting right next to you in class may be feeling the same way as you. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that you should never suffer in silence, but instead, open up to those in and outside your circle. I hope your time at McGill will be one of your most memorable life experiences. Cheers!

Here is a list of things to keep in mind during your first year:

  • Study hard, but always make time for fun. It’s all about balance!
  • Some classes will require you to stay on top of your stuff right off the bat, so be prepared. Avoid cramming.
  • Choose your classes in function of your curriculum and interests. Do no take a class just because your friends are taking it.
  • Approach your Professors and TA’s during office hours – they don’t want to feel lonely either!
  • Don’t skip a class to study for another – break that cycle or prevent it from happening in the first place.
  • Get involved! Sign up for clubs you're interested in
  • If the workload seems excessive, don't be afraid to start with 4 classes. You can always take summer classes or even delay graduation
  • For sports lovers – intramurals and drop in hours are great ways for you to practice your sport while meeting new people.
  • Interested in studying abroad? Attend their info sessions!
  • Looking for someone to talk to? Consult Peer Support Center at McGill and/or the Counselling Services available.
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