University

Introducing the Back To School Series!

Hi guys! Today I’m going to share with you something I’ve been working hard on for next week: my first ever blog series! Starting Monday and going through until Friday, I’ll be posting every day on various topics about going back to school. I chose to do this series next week, because that’s the week before I actually go back to school, but I apologize if you go to school in Ontario and your school starts a week later than mine (lucky things).

Anyways, here’s a sneak peek at some of the possible topics I’m considering!

  • Making, sticking to and loving your budget!
  • Kick-starting your search for the perfect note-taking style
  • Stress-busters and special treats
  • Creating a dynamite routine
  • The non-believer’s guide to easy organization
  • Dorm + Apartment staples
  • Fall fashion!
  • And more…? :)

Click here to see all the posts so far in the series!

I have a few posts already in the works, and I’m getting really excited about this! It’ll be a way for me to:

a) share my hard-won knowledge about getting into the university groove and

b) diminish some of my own stress about second year!

If you have any topics you’d love to see covered in the series, email me and let me know! Or just leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to incorporate it into the series.

I’m really looking forward to hearing your ideas, and sharing mine!

xoxo,

20 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting University

I’m sure many of you are gearing up to hit your first year of University, and are scared out of your minds.

I don’t blame you: I sure was, about this time last year. As the eldest child, I was the first in my family to go away to school, and I didn’t get much pertinent info from my older university-grad cousins. So I was pretty stressed. It’s not as if high school really prepares you all that well for the real deal, what with your teachers waxing poetic about what school was like ‘back in their day’ and emphasizing their own personal note-taking methods (not realizing, of course, that your style of note-taking comes with lots and lots of trial and error). So you suddenly end up in the summer before the rest of your life, your head full of mumbo jumbo and feeling pretty freggin’ nervous.

Of course, you could be one of those ‘fearless’ types. Or you could be, like friends of mine, absolutely dying to get away from high school and their families. Either way, I hope that these lessons I learned in my first year are helpful to you.

What I Wish I’d Known

School pride!

1. It’s impossible to not make friends. Honestly. It is. As soon as you get there, you’ll be bombarded with people and events, all set up for you to meet new people. You’ll be running around introducing yourself, asking where people are from and what they’re studying. And that’s just the first couple days! Then comes frosh (aka nonstop socializing), then classes, then labs/conferences. You’ll start to bond with your floor, start to go out with certain people and have different experiences.  You’ll start to make great friendships. You’ll gravitate towards certain people, spend more time with others, and sooner or later you’ll end up with people you refer to as friends! Easy peasy. So don’t worry, you’ll definitely make friends. But you won’t immediately find close friendships. That’s hard to accept, especially for people like me who had a great support system in high school. But close friendships take time! Take it slow, trust your instincts, and eventually lots of great friendships will start to blossom.

You'll make awesome friends..:)

2. You’re already interesting. Don’t worry so much about whether or not you’ll be perceived as ‘cool’. Don’t try to change yourself before university! What makes us different makes us interesting. Be yourself, as hard as that can sometimes be, and people will love you for who you are. Honest.

3. You’ll probably cry a lot. Sorry. It’s kinda true. The reasons are different for everyone: maybe (like me) you’ll burst into tears over your calculus textbook practically every time you try to study, or maybe you’ll suffer a bad long-distance relationship breakup, or maybe you’ll be sad you’re not making close friends faster, or maybe you’ll be homesick, or maybe any number of things. Don’t think that you’re the only one crying. YOU AREN’T. When I became close to a few girls on my floor after a few months, they told me that they’d thought I’d had it all figured out during those first few months (when actually I was falling apart) and that they’d been crying a lot too (even though I thought they’d been fine!). Point is: you’re not alone. Everyone feels sad, everyone wants to be reached out to. So if you knock on a door every once and a while, you might find some great friends way faster! :)

4. The school part is just another step up. You know how Grade 12 was harder than Grade 11 (hello! calculus?) and Grade 11 was harder than Grade 10? Well guess what. Grade First Year University is harder than Grade 12. It’s another step up. But no, it’s not impossible. The trickiest part about first year is learning how to learn at a university level (your note-taking method, time-management) while balancing a social life, it’s not the material itself. Of course, I’m not saying that it’s easy! Learning how to learn is very tricky, the workload can seem overwhelming, sometimes the teaching methods make you want to cry (see #3!) but, it’s manageable. As long as you figure out how to balance school and fun, and put your mind to it, you’ll succeed. The ones who fail are the ones who can’t balance, and tip the scales towards fun. The scales have to be even!

My study space..

5. You should indulge your personality type. Try to think about whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert – look at the definitions here to figure it out for yourself. In my opinion, it’s important to be conscious of the distinction, because when you hit university, you’re in an extrovert’s world. Constant socializing, all day and all night, during meals, classes, partying, etc. Especially in a dorm! For introverts (or people who are half and half!) it’s important to find ways to take time for yourself before you become drained. You see, extroverts get lots of energy from social interactions, whereas introverts harvest energy in alone time. So if you’re an introvert (as I partially am), it’s okay to get away from it all and spend time by yourself. Find a quiet place if you don’t have a single room, go for a walk, go explore on your own, write in a journal. Make sure you replenish that energy so that you still have the motivation to socialize some of the time.

I love walking up the mountain to get away

6. Going home is not the answer. I know that sometimes you might be hurting. You want your mama. Not a big deal, we’re all there sometimes. But in your first year, it’s crucial that you don’t go home every weekend. You might be terrified to put yourself out there and socialize, but people want to be friends with you. They’ll embrace you with open arms! I promise. But if you don’t make any effort and go home at every occasion, you’ll be missing out on an important chance to find friends, and find yourself. You can’t be your own person if you never let go of home and the security it provides. University is the time to forge out forward and discover yourself and others. *However, if what you’re feeling is more than social fear, and you feel extremely depressed (lack of appetite, insomnia, or thoughts of suicide {a better analysis here} then it may be a great idea to reach out to your family, and take a short break from school or seek therapy.* Just this year, a boy on one of my friend’s dorm floors committed suicide while at school. It was a tragedy. The pressures of university are great, try not to be afraid to reach out to a floor fellow, family member or friend for help or someone to talk to.

7. You may dislike a few people. Or more than a few. You’ll run into several types of people at university, from all walks of life and backgrounds. It’s safe to assume you won’t get along with many of them. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just gravitate towards people who make you feel happy and everything will work out. Sometimes, jerks will ingratiate themselves into your life, as my friend (whose roommate was dating an asshole) found out. In those instances, the most you can do is try to ignore them, set boundaries with the roommate, and grit your teeth until they go away. Don’t indulge them. Try not to spend time with them.

8. A single bed fits two. Trust me and my friends.

9. You’ll probably want a quiet place. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you’ll need some time alone every once in a while. Whether to make private phone calls, cry, reflect, or study, you should have somewhere to yourself. This is not easy to find. I was lucky to have a single room, but the walls are thin, so I found solace outside, in libraries, and in my closet. Ha! Try and find somewhere to yourself, it’s hard to be around people when you want to be alone.

10. If alcohol is God, then drinking is the bible, but you can choose how religious you want to be. Make no mistake, a ton of drinking occurs at university. Any university. Mostly, it is good times, it’s fun! But everyone’s different. Not everyone reads the bible every single day: most read from it once or twice a week. Likewise, some people go out/drink more than others. At university, if you wanted to, you could find people going out to a bar any night of the week (Mondays are definitely not off limits, the weekend starts on Thursday). The question is, do you want to? It’s up to you to decide. Remember that without balance, you will fail in all aspects of your life.

My friend Morgan

11. “Routine is despair’s sly assassin.” What a fantastic quote, right? And it’s true. Whether it be a sleep schedule, a weekly timeslot for the gym, specific times of days for meals: routines are so important. Your health when at school is of the utmost importance: how will you study, party and socialize if you’re exhausted or sick? You won’t. Trust me, you don’t wanna be sick at school. Routines are also good for stress relief. For example, if you have a plan or schedule for exam studying, the whole ordeal will be less overwhelming. Routine kills despair. Remember this, young grasshoppers!

12. Expanding your comfort zone is hard, but necessary. Nobody said it would be easy! Or maybe they did, but they lied. Going away to school is probably one of the worst, hardest, and best experiences you will ever have. Sure, it’s the best years of your life, but it’s some of the hardest too. You’re busy trying to get good grades, learn how to live on your own, make great friends, figure out who you are, etc, etc, and all the while, your comfort zone that you lived happily inside all through high school is rapidly spreading, maybe faster than you want it to. But it’s important to push yourself, be scared, do new things. It’ll be terrifying and hard, but you won’t regret it – or you will, but it will be a life lesson.

At the Rocky Horror Picture Show!

13. Not everyone has lost their virginity! So for goodness sake don’t go rush out this summer and lose it just so that you won’t be the only one left. Trust me, you won’t be the only one left. I’ve met tons of people this year, some were virgins, some weren’t. The point is, the question only ever comes up when you’re already becoming very close friends, and at that point they won’t suddenly drop you if you’re a virgin. Yeesh, look what television and movies will do to people these days!

14. University students are constantly comparing themselves to each other. You do it, I do it. Everyone does it. You always want to know where you stand, whether it be in classes, how much you exercise, how much you party, etc. It’s important to remember that this is a natural thing, this is how people figure out where they fit in to things. Sometimes it can be annoying, especially if people are aggressive about it (in some of my classes, people would constantly ask about grades because they were desperate to be on top) but I always love to remember this quote from The Sunscreen Song: “Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

15. Don’t try and find a roommate for next year within your first month. Honestly, you have time, I swear. Besides, your friend group may change drastically between October and March. Your living situation is a complicated affair, and it will probably have many changes, additions or substitutions before being finalized. So for goodness sake don’t get yourself caught up in a plan for next year in late September: chances are you’ll meet someone else you want to room with! In your first few months, try not to get all stressed about living sitches, focus on school and friends. The rest will fall into place. I promise!

16. Calling your Mom is quite acceptable. People will not mock you for it. Everyone’s doing it. Some people less than others, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. But you probably already knew that. Here I was, thinking that when I got to school, I’d be tormented for calling my mom so much. What can I say? We’re friends.

17. People will respect your choices. People will accept you whether or not you drink, whether or not you smoke, whether or not you do drugs, whether or not you party. They probably won’t accept you (or not too many of them at least) if you never socialize, but any other lifestyle choice will be fine. Honestly! I had friends who didn’t drink, I had friends who were borderline alcoholics (kidding), people who had various study habits, various partying habits.. In the end, the people you’ll end up being friends with will accept your lifestyle choices. Basically, your attitude is everything. If you’re having a great time and being friendly, people won’t care what you’re doing! Here’s a great article from College Fashion about not drinking at school, if you want more information.

18. There is so much exploring to do! You’re living/studying in a brand new city, full of people, events, restaurants, sights, shopping, etc. Don’t miss out on it! Don’t be afraid to escape the University Bubble a couple times during your first year. It makes it so much more fun! Visit a friend at their school, go out for dinner off campus, visit a museum or local attraction, play outside. There is tons to do, tons to explore. Try to get away from the studying, stress, and clubs every once in a while and get to know your city!

Save a horse, ride a bull

19. Get to know your school. Try and get the most out of your fine establishment! Learn as much as you can about the school itself. My campus, for example, has a sex store, a bar, several tunnels (very handy for Montreal winters), an all night hotline (call for any information you could ever want, from jokes to pickup lines to how late the pizza place is open), tons of awesome libraries (yep, I’m a giant nerd), and lots of amazing theatre throughout the year. My friends have similar perks at their schools, or different ones. Explore, ask around, find out all the goodies your school has to offer.

I love my triceratops

20. Don’t worry so much. Everything will work out just fine. It really will. You’ll survive first year, whether or not you worry, so try not to! It’ll be a topsy turvy, crazy ride, with lots of surprises and new experiences. Try and make the most of each of them, and don’t stress so much. I know personally that this is easier said than done, but I’m trying to worry less and live more!

My birthday party!

Conclusion

Going away to university can be the scariest and most fun experience in your whole life. I know that. You know that. I hope that you can get something out of these lessons I learned during my first year, but if you don’t – you’ll learn them yourself your first year! Good luck my loves.

Oh hey: you first year survivers, anything to add? What did you learn this year? Let me know and I’ll add it into this post.

xoxo, S.

15 Productive Ways to Spend 15 Minutes

Photo Thanks to orangeacid

So, picture the scene. You’re fifteen minutes away from

a) A lunch date

b) A big meeting

c) Class starting

d) The library/store/whatever opening

It’s too short a time to start a big project. It’s too long a time to sit idly, what with the busy life you lead. You want to do something quick and ultimately productive. Something that’ll make the rest of your day a little easier, or your to-do list a little shorter. You’re always complaining about how there are too few hours in a day, so packing productivity into your stray minutes may give you more cozy time! Here are fifteen ways to be productive with little, inconvenient spurts of time.

Ways to Be Productive

  1. Write that email. You know the one. That response you were meant to have sent to your father/best friend/colleague that you just keep putting off. Just write it! Get it off your plate for good.
  2. Read a chapter of your book. Always keep a book in your purse or briefcase for this purpose. Look forward to these tiny pockets of time in which you can whip out your book and get lost for fifteen minutes (or more!)
  3. Stretch.
  4. Pay bills. A perfectly easy way to be productive. If, like me, your bills aren’t automatically paid, you can use your fifteen minutes to make sure everything is covered and paid for. That way, when you get home, you can use your time for you, not for silly little chores like that.
  5. Skim yesterday’s notes. A great way to stay on top of your work is to read over yesterday’s notes from lecture or a meeting. You’ll pick up on things you weren’t paying attention to, and save yourself from cramming later.
  6. Read the news. If you never have time over breakfast, use your quick stretch of time to consume as much news as possible from The Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The National Post, or any other paper of your choosing. Keeping on your toes about current events is a great asset in conversation and forging connections.
  7. Build your brain. Do a sudoku! Do a crossword, write an article, click on anything that sounds interesting on the Wikipedia homepage, or play Set online (one of my all-time faves), philosophize, etc. Do anything that will keep you alert and awake for the rest of the day.
  8. Tidy your workspace. Such an easy way to boost productivity! If you’re anything like me, you find it distracting to work at a desk/room that is messy, disorganized, and confusing. You can’t be productive if your desk is littered with papers and you can never find anything. Well, unless you’re Einstein. :)
  9. Write a to-do list. If you’re stressed out and panicky, chances are it’s because you have at least three upcoming items on your mind that need doing. The best way that I’ve found to diminish this panic is to get it all down onto paper. Write down every niggling thing that needs doing at work/school/home, and you’ll be better equipped to take steps to finish them.
  10. Brainstorm. Have you been feeling like starting a new project? Creating something new? Or maybe you want to plan a vacation or party. Whatever ideas you’ve got marinating up there in your wee brain, expand and explore them. Mind map online or on paper, adding details as you let the ideas develop. After you’re done, you’ll have lots of new tasks and ideas to build upon.
  11. Power nap. This may not seem productive in the traditional sense, but read between the lines! Taking a quick nap or rest will re-energize you for the rest of the day and put more productivity into your time.
  12. Re-organize. Is your agenda a complete and utter mess? Your file folders, your computer’s files, your email account, your bookshelves or your drawers? Well, take these fifteen minutes to tackle on of those problems. Clean, purge, tidy, re-organize and breathe better knowing you are hereby much more in control.
  13. Get outside! Weather permitting, get yourself outdoors! Go for a little walk to get the blood flowing, or just sit and enjoy the sunlight. Exercise will wake you up and keep you present for the rest of the day.
  14. Plan meals. Assuming you don’t do this on the weekend, take the time to write down little menus for each day of the week and grocery lists for each of them. This will keep you more sane at the grocery store, diminish impulse purchases, and give you time to ensure you’re eating healthy!
  15. Relax! You don’t always have to be doing something. Sometimes the best form of productivity is to relinquish stress by doing nothing! Take a few minutes to yourself. Listen to some music, close your eyes and breathe.

In conclusion..

Productivity is the key to having more time for yourself. If you don’t waste away the precious minutes you may currently consider too short for anything useful, you might find yourself with more free time to do the things you really want to!

So, what are some things you do with spare minutes? How do you manage your time?

xoxo, S.

7 Easy Ways to Choose Your Dream School

Photo Thanks To Marco Bellucci

I wasn’t planning on writing this article so soon, but one of my best friends from back home has suddenly been caught in a whirlwhind of acceptances and a deadline! In order to try and aid her with her decision, I thought I’d share some of the tips I would have found helpful when I was making my decision last year. Enjoy!

1. Do Your Research

Flip through the Maclean’s magazine, see what they say about each of your choices. If you don’t think you’ll remember key stats like faculty-student ratio, bring a notebook and write them down. Make sure you look at everything that will affect you directly: residences, distance from home, class size. Write it all down! If you can, visit the schools. If they offer tours, take one! If not, go to the welcome center, get a map and explore all the areas that you will personally be using.

Get as much information as possible about all your options.

2. Don’t Expect to Just ‘Know’

A lot of people that I go to school with now have told me that when they first visited our campus, they knew it was the place for them. And while that’s fine and dandy for those folks, not all of us can simply feel that, and feel it confidently.  Personally, I didn’t feel that any school was the one for me upon visiting it. It wasn’t until I had put careful thought into it that I made my decision. So take the pressure off yourself! Don’t sit there going, “Well, how can I go to that school if I didn’t just feel it was right for me! There must be something wrong!” NO. If you get that feeling, great. If not, you just have more thinking to do.

Don’t worry yourself about not ‘knowing’ a school is ‘the one’.

3. Visualize

After you’ve been to a campus, toured a dorm room and seen the cafeterias and classrooms, sit alone for a while and visualize. Picture yourself using those facilities, walking through the streets. Do you like the city? Can you imagine yourself decorating that dorm room? And be honest with yourself. Again, this technique may not work for everyone, since there are so many unknowns in the picture, like new friends and classes. For now though, visualize as much as you can. Be true to who you are. Are the bathrooms too dirty for you?  If they are, make sure that you love the rest of the school more than you hate the bathrooms!

Try to picture yourself at the school, and observe your reactions.

4. Make a List

So you’ve done your research, visited the schools, and you still don’t know. That’s okay! Sometimes it takes more thought than that. It’s a huge decision and you, of course, want to make the right one. So put some energy into it. Make the most comprehensive pros and cons list you have ever made. Write down everything, even if it seems silly to you. You don’t have to show it to anyone, so don’t leave anything out for fear of judgment. Get it all down! All the stats you’ve looked at, how you felt when you were there, your visualizations, everything! If you’re making your decision over a couple days, start it and carry it around with you to add to it. Just keep listing.

Write down all the pros and cons of your options.

5. Talk It Out

So you’ve made your list. You still can’t decide. The next step is to talk it out with anyone who will listen. Parents, sisters, friends. Attack all of them with your urgent dilemma and make them listen. Explain your current thought process and dilemma to them, get their opinions. Sometimes they can surprise you by knowing more about you than you do. By talking it out, you’ll gain perspectives you didn’t have, and it might just help you to clarify what you really want.

Find someone who will listen, and get their opinion.

6. Step Back

It’s very important in this stressful time, to take a gigantic step back. You’re so caught up in all the little details about the softness of your rez bed or the kindness of new friends. And while these details are extremely important, you also need to make sure you look at the bigger picture. What are your goals in life? Why are you going to university, and how can a specific school fill that role? What is important to you? What have you always wanted and how can university help you achieve that?

I’ll give you an example: my decision. I was torn between Queen’s and McGill. Both are beautiful schools with lots of talented professors, friendly people and nice cities. I was really torn. I’d done all of the above tips, and nothing was helping. Then I thought about what I’d always wanted, all through high school: to get away! My entire high school career was focused on getting out, getting away from a few unfriendly faces. But when it came down to it, I was terrified that I would only know two people going to my new school, if I chose McGill. TWO! Versus approximately 35 at Queen’s. But then I stepped back. I realized that it was the fear that was talking. What I really wanted was to get away and make all new friends, international friends, but it was a terrifying thought. If I simply went to Queen’s, I’d have the comfort of many friendly faces. Fortunately, I remembered to look at the whole picture, swallow my fear and make the right decision. If I had gone to Queen’s, I’m sure I would have been happy, but McGill fits me like a glove. And guess what, at McGill there were tons of friendly faces, they were just new ones! :)

When you’re making your decision, stop and think about your life goals. How does a certain university fit those?

7. Take The Plunge

Give yourself a deadline and stick to it. Getting to the point when you can say, confidently, which school you’re going to is very hard work, but it’s also exhilarating. Making this decision is the most empowering one you’ve probably ever made in your life, and it will feel good to say out loud where you’ve chosen. A couple of tips for biting the bullet:

  1. Never let fear be a reason for doing or not doing something. You’ll regret it more than anything else.
  2. Once you’ve made the decision, don’t worry if you still feel nervous and uneasy. You’ve done everything in your power to choose what’s right for you, and the anxiety you feel is the fear of something brand new and scary. University is unlike anything else, and it’s terrifying! But that’s okay, because everyone is going through the same thing. :)
  3. Always make sure your reasons are your own. It’s easy for parents and friends to accidentally (or on purpose) say what they think is best for you, and it’s easy for you to feel pressured by that. Before you make your final decision, ensure that you’re 100% doing it for you, and not because of any parental pressure, etc.
  4. Say it out loud. “I go to ______ University”. How does it feel? Are you giddy with excitement when you say it? Good sign.

Conclusion

Your university years are both great and impossible. You do more growth than you ever thought was possible (yes, even in just my first year) and everything changes. Choosing where you’ll spend these years is a big deal, but just remember: you’ll be happy at any university. They’re all great! They all have something to offer, and you’ll have fun at any one you attend. The important thing is figuring out which will make you happiest. I hope my tips helped you out, good luck with your decision!

Feedback?

What else did you do to make your decision? What strategies worked best for you? I’d love to hear about them :)

xoxo, S.


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