My first day at UBC back in 2013 started out with me feeling lonely as hell in my dorm room, fearing that I’d be doomed to exist in isolation all year. A few hours later, I was decked out in a toga in the middle of a dance floor, surrounded by drunken frat bros and teenagers making out. For my sheltered 17-year-old self, it was quite the escalation.
Loneliness is a common feeling for first-years, but I didn’t expect that feeling so suddenly after moving into Vanier. I said “hi” to my neighbours and made some small talk with people in the halls, but in those first few hours, I hadn’t established any instant-friendships like you see in clichéd teen movies. Rather, I just felt awkward around everyone I talked to. To kill time, I decided to wander around the campus that would become my home for the next few years. I visited some of the locales that would become familiar sites to me over the years — the old SUB, the Bird Coop, Martha Piper fountain — but when I came back, the old feelings were still there.
Panic set in. Why is everybody so social and not me? Am I gonna be this lonely all day? For weeks? All year?
The turning point came at 5 p.m., when I ran into someone I met briefly from Frosh who I knew was also on my floor. She invited me into her room, and I found myself in a circle with three of my floor-mates. Talking began to feel a little easier and my guard started to lower. Look at me, ma! I’m making friends!
There was a floor meeting where everyone got to introduce themselves, and then a floor dinner. Like many first-years in their first week, I stuck to small talk. Where did you go to high school? What faculty are you in? Do you know what you want to major in?
So far, so good.
As the afternoon turned into the evening, the liquor started to come out. Everyone on my floor began to feel comfortable around one another, and making conversation became a lot more effortless. My confidence started to shoot up — I’ve made the connections I need, now it’s time to have a great night.
The big topic on campus was whether or not people were going to head over to the toga party at the Sigma Chi fraternity building. I’d never been much of a person for loud, unruly parties, but something like a toga party sounded so stereotypically college that I just had to experience it. With some help, I found myself wearing a toga made out of my bedsheets that got a pretty good reception from everyone around. It was just the validation I needed.
At around nine p.m., we went over to the frat house, which seemed like it was at least an hour away from Vanier. There was a big crowd around the entrance that suggested not everyone was going to be admitted, but one of my floor-mates knew people in the Greek system who were able to let us in.
It was an exhilarating sight, but also a bizarre one — hundreds of people consuming as much alcohol as possible, all crammed into a tiny house where the only way to communicate was to shout your lungs out. And then there’s the dance floor: people mashing their bodies together and sucking each other’s faces while crappy EDM music — the soundtrack to many a greasy dancefloor in 2013 — blared from the speakers.
I was, of course, absolutely hammered out of my mind as well, but the initial excitement of it all soon started to blur into uneasiness. I was a pretty social guy in high school, but I knew where my limits were and this was way past them. And then there was the biggest problem of them all: I had no idea how to dance. I still have no idea how to dance, but back then, I was worse than hopeless. So I spent the night mostly hanging around my floor-mates and wandering around by myself. I tried to strike up conversations, but it was hard to do when Avicii drowned everyone’s voice out.
I left, feeling like a loser who couldn’t fit with the cool kids. My toga had also fallen apart, which I took as a sign interpreted as a pretty apt metaphor for my confidence. I tried to walk to Vanier, but where the hell was Vanier? And thus began my attempt at walking home, in which I accidentally explored UBC at night. Just like it did in Grade 12, my iPod soundtracked my sulks with depressing indie music like Grizzly Bear and Grouper.
I got tired and sat down behind a building, staring at the sky and thinking about how this was only the first day of my university experience; how I was going to see and learn so much here; how I had no idea what to expect of the next four years; how I was completely shitfaced out of my mind. At the time, I obviously had no idea that a “fifth-year” was an inevitability.
After about an hour, I found Vanier and collapsed in my bedroom. Had the night ended there, it would have been a pretty anticlimactic ending for such a monumental day. I heard knocks on my door — it was my neighbour and a few other faces I’d met that day. We chatted a bit, and even though I don’t remember much of what we said, I remember that it was enough to lift up my spirits. The night ended on a positive note.
This was over four years ago — I’m writing about it at a point where I only need two more classes before graduating in April. And if all that could happen in one day, you best believe that a lot happened in between.