The high school class of 2020 had it hard. Senior year was cut short — no prom, no graduation. The revered first year of university was unorthodox; the lapse in knowledge as a result of missing almost half of grade 12 made it difficult for many to transition into postsecondary material. Furthermore, the complete social isolation was mentally and physically exhausting for many. Although the age of technology was crucial in remedying the collective loneliness felt by most, establishing friendships purely online was unfamiliar territory to the general cohort. Social media became a vessel of basic human interaction, but substituting in-person relationships is not something that can be done very easily.
Some second-year engineering students offered some insight into what it was like to experience first year in an unconventional way and how the circumstances impacted them.
Alden: Mechatronics Engineering
Sam: Software Engineering
Noor: Mechatronics & Biomedical Engineering
Did you manage to “meet” people in first year? How did you do it?
Alden: I joined as many Discord, WhatsApp, and Instagram group chats as possible, and tried to actively contribute to them.
Sam: Yes, through my design studio project groups and Discord chats mainly. Running study sessions online also helped me to meet more people.
Noor: I have a background with Arab and Turkish people, so I searched for common Arab and Turkish names in the followers list of McMaster University’s Instagram page! It helped with my homesickness. I also joined Discord servers.
What were the advantages of online learning?
Alden: Having the ability to reach out to professors and TA’s to ask questions from the comfort of your chair at home at nearly any time, instead of at strictly designated office hours on campus.
Sam: It was very convenient to have all lectures recorded so I could go back and rewatch something that I might not have understood or paid attention to initially.
Noor: Before I came to Canada, I spent a total minimum of two hours daily on my commute to high school and back home, and I never got enough sleep. This made me appreciate the fact that my commute during my online first year was 20 seconds.
What advice would you give to incoming first years?
Alden: Try to stay active! As easy as it may be to sit around all day grinding schoolwork, try to take a little bit of each day to get some exercise and clear your mind. It will help you focus on school as well!
Sam: Know that you're never alone and don't be afraid to reach out. It is very easy to feel that way when you're in your room four assignments deep all due tomorrow, but there absolutely are people out there struggling with you. Just get over the anxiety of sending that first message and friends come much more easily.
Noor: In high school, teachers make sure the amount of work they give you doesn’t mess with your mental health, while in university you’re the one who has to make sure of that.
It’s important to note that everyone’s first year experience was different; not everyone was able to make friends easily online or maintain a high GPA, and that’s okay. There is no right or wrong way to experience first year. It was a tough year for everyone, and the fact that we made it is a testament to how resilient we are.