Memoir: Feeling disappointed and alone in first year

I’m sure I must have startled the Ross House residence with the large, echoey clunks of my massive hockey bags in the stairwell. It took a while to drag everything up to that fourth floor and there was certainly no move-in crew in sight — there’s no pomp and circumstance when you move into first year residence halfway through the year.

With only the guidance of my older sister, a campus map riddled with yellow highlighter and a faint idea of how UBC works, I was flung into campus and residence life head-first.

Once I decided in November of first year that I needed to transfer out of my program at Sciences Po in France, I clung to the idea of starting fresh at UBC and getting “the real” college experience. Arts Advising was miraculously able to hook me up with a single room in Vanier, and I started counting down the days until I would be able to have late night study sessions in the common room and grab dinner in the caf with my newfound besties.

There are a lot of things about Sciences Po that make it remarkably different from UBC — the small campus of about 900 or so students, for one thing. Aside from the overwhelmingly toxic atmosphere for student well-being (that’s another story), it just felt like high school all over again. I wanted to be somewhere with a bit of anonymity and endless opportunities to customize my university experience.

The whole North American school spirit vibe was also enticing, as I quickly grew jealous of watching all of my friends attending frosh events back at home in Ontario. It made me want to dye my body purple and drink myself to death in the streets on St. Patrick’s Day. I wanted to brand myself in UBC merchandise from head to toe. I was ready to be a collegiate, but I didn’t realize that that wasn’t necessarily the UBC experience.

I left my dorm room door wide open on that first day as I unpacked. I assumed that my RA told everyone that there would be a new student living on the floor and that they were expecting me. When a handful of girls walked by after class, some of them expressed they didn’t even know that whoever lived there in first term had moved out.

It was a little disheartening.

My RA eventually stopped by and said that she would try and get a group together to go for dinner at the caf. I’m pretty sure the dinner that night was the first and last time I ate with another human in the cafeteria.

At this point, the friendships had already been formed on my floor and I was late to the party. There would be no other group dinners or study sessions. I tried to put myself out there in the beginning, but it was tiring to try and infiltrate these friend groups — I didn’t get the sense that I fit in with them. I was under the impression that I was supposed to be meeting my best friends in residence, but I don’t think I could name any of the girls who lived on my floor to this day.

From that point onward, I confined myself to my room, leaving only for the occasional lecture I could muster up the strength to attend or to pick up dinner to-go from the caf.

For the first month or so of school, I’m pretty sure the only people I talked to were the cashier ladies in Vanier caf.

I wanted so badly to be successful and happy at UBC, but I felt like I was flung in the deep end of some warped post secondary-dimension. Where was my multicultural group of friends, strutting down Main Mall between classes, like the promotional booklets promised?

Nothing will ever really prepare you for the waves of loneliness or depression that you will feel in your first year of university, and no one will be there to hold your hand through it either.

This isn’t a total sob story either — I got involved in different clubs on campus and developed some pretty incredible friendships in places I didn’t think I would find them. It took a while and meant that I had to extend myself beyond the boundaries of Vanier, but my people were out there and they found me eventually. I guess that’s my fault for thinking they were going to be handed to me on a silver platter.

I can’t say that I ever got over my initial disappointment in UBC — in fact, I probably never will. But it did make me change my perspective on what the purpose of a post-secondary education is. I used to think of university in a purely social context, with the higher learning portion as a fun bonus. The minute I started paying attention to my classes and investing myself into the things that I was learning, that mindset completely shifted.

You can be here to make friends and you can be here to party — but you’re foremost here to get a degree. You don’t have to be a university student to make some adult friends and do some adult things. My high school self is definitely rolling over in her adolescent grave right now, but keeping this academic focus is in the back of my head at all times has really helped me get over my first year. I love what I’m able to study here, and ultimately that’s going to be more important than whether I had someone to sit with in the cafeteria.