Waving goodbye to whoever left the house was something like a tradition in my home growing up. Countless frames of memories I hold from my childhood include the daily routine of running out barefoot to the driveway to wave goodbye to my papa as he left for work. This was so normal to me until with time, I realized it was more unique to my family than I had always assumed. I waved goodbye to my parents in a similar way as they dropped me off at my university dorm early September, this time both for nostalgia but also symbolizing a larger paradigm shift in my life.

The first week of university was a huge sensory overload – from orientation events to exploring campus to attending my first classes. Meeting so many students with diverse lived experiences, hearing of all the paths alumni embarked on after their undergraduate degrees and the multiplicity of opportunities offered by my school was an inspiring way to begin my undergraduate years. With the ebb and flow of the workload came the countless hours spent in the library with my sister and the unplanned breakfasts with friends before class. 

After having completed my first semester of university, I wanted to document seven lessons I’ve since learned as a timestamp. 

Lesson One: Start small, build gradually

Initially, the change from home to university was a large and overwhelming one. So I started small. The first thing I focused on adjusting to was learning how to open and close the blinds in my dorm room. From there, I found gradually adding on new routines – how to sweep around my lamp, how to create space to comfortably study, how to find time to complete an assignment on a hectic class-filled day – became easier than trying to adjust to every new part of this change all at once. 

Lesson Two: Learn how to learn

Beginning university was a perfect opportunity to experiment with different ways of learning material. Using my experiences in high school, I began trying new ways to best absorb material rather than using brute force against my brain. This has helped me develop better habits which I look to refine and sharpen further throughout my university education and continually in all experiences.

Lesson Three: Reflect often

Having spent about half of my high school years attending class through virtual meetings due to COVID-19 lockdowns, a skill I learned the value of was reflecting. I found that spending time to pause and actively reflect provided a time and space for constant improvement. Reflection also helps me be more realistic with what I can complete and devote more attention to topics, issues and causes I am most passionate about. 

Lesson Four: Create a space to appreciate stories

Relocating to Toronto with its bustling fast-paced work environment exposed me to a very different way of life from the one I used to lead. The first and most significant difference was the visage of sterility of Torontonians, as if everyone was in their daily rush. Overcoming this stereotype of a Toronto which never rested required making the choice to look up and embrace the surroundings more often than fixating on the ground. Unexpectedly, meeting strangers in the eyes felt like seeing silvers of the stories of those making up this diverse city and everyday I felt I gained a deeper appreciation for the number of stories Toronto can tell. 

Lesson Five: Looking away is convenient, but not right

When a comfortable habit isn’t proving sustainable or beneficial, it is best to let it go and seek out a better way to achieve a similar or better outcome. Resistance against change due to habit and familiarity rather than assessing new routes of action means results in continuous compromise. Looking away to ignore such issues undermines the innovation needed to help solve many of our world’s most pressing issues. Ignorance might be a bliss, but its power to blind is far more detrimental than any benefit it could provide. 

Lesson Six: Keep trying

This first semester has been filled with many more setbacks than successes. The entropy of the universe is forever increasing, after all. Knowing this is only one of many more intense twelve week periods is daunting, but creating something positive in any capacity requires persistence. Difficult circumstances creates learnt people.

Lesson Seven: Make decisions for both now and the future

What we do now so greatly affects what we will and continue to do. Not only to our actions today build habits, but they teach ourselves and others what actions (or what levels of inaction) we are willing to tolerate. Thinking ahead about our potential impact can help us become better students, community members, stakeholders and changemakers.

Looking ahead, I am excited at all there is to learn from the new challenges of university life and all of the other influential experiences I’ll have. The collection of lessons we learn undoubtedly continue to influence how we see the world and thus, how we can change it.

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