Embrace a social education

Marks are important, but first year should be a time of social growth and camaraderie

Queen's students gather into themed groups during Frosh Week.
Queen's students gather into themed groups during Frosh Week.
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Credit: 
Journal file photo

Looking back on my time at Queen’s I’m not sure whether I’ve learned more from my professors or from the unique social environment that typifies university culture.

I know that 15 years from now, I’m not going to remember one philosopher or historian from another. I’ll remember the friends I’ve made and the social lessons I’ve learned.

The shift from high school to university begins in first year. It’s a scary time and, for many, it’s the beginning of the transition to adulthood.

There’s a stigma that comes along with being the youngest crop of students. Upper-years feel obliged to mock and degrade frosh whenever possible — forgetting, perhaps, that it wasn’t so long ago they were in first year themselves.

But whether first-years deserve more respect or not, there’s an important point that’s often overlooked: First year, for better or worse, sets the tone for the rest of a student’s time in university.

For all the worrying about class schedules and papers, I urge first years to embrace the other side of their education — their social education.

First year is one of the most socially unique and intense experiences that most students will ever have. Frosh can usually be seen massed in groups — easier to identify in the evenings as they set out on quests to explore their new environment.

The groups are diverse, including frosh who are nail-bitingly awkward as well as those with charismatic personalities.

Yet this dynamic is an essential part of first year and it hammers home the reality of the social education that many of us have experienced.

It perfectly accents the one year in which most of us don’t worry about the future. You have the freedom to explore new classes and subjects without having to worry about a major. And you can take comfort in the fact that you still have at least three more years to go.

That being said, first year is not always enjoyable. For many students, it’s the first time away from their established social support systems. The intensity of the residence environment can be overwhelming. For the majority of students, however, first year is eye-opening in the best way.

Frosh Week is a microcosm of the first-year experience. It’s like a summer camp. For seven days, first-year students play group-bonding games, attend informational events, form crushes on their frosh leaders and get punched in the face by the intensity of their new social world.

The cult-like atmosphere of university students is heightened in first year as the only common ground is being at Queen’s where, by necessity, groups of friends form on floors regardless of each person’s background.

Suddenly, social boundaries don’t mean as much. First year entails a social climate far removed from the familial and childhood relationships that are developed in the first 17 or 18 years of life, as well as a social climate that sets you on the path to adulthood.

For many frosh it’s the only year they actually do the Oil Thigh more than once — or even attend a Gaels football game. The Oil Thigh itself is a perfect symbol that encapsulates the first-year experience, where a line of fellow frosh link arms and sing along in unison.

University is where you find yourself. It’s where you live alone for the first time, where you learn to cook your own meals, where your brain finishes fully developing. As we progress, we’re hit with epiphanies and realizations about our lives.

It’s almost as if we’re each like a wheel slowly turning, clicking from degree to degree as we’re waiting to find our respective directions. Some people’s wheels move three degrees, stop, and off they go along a linear career path. Some people’s wheels never stop turning.

Academia is important but shouldn’t be the singular focus of university. Academically, students learn to think outside the box, learn to step back from the influences of the past 18 to 22 years of their lives and try to look objectively at their own worldview. The immersive social environment of university breeds a comprehensive understanding of human nature and the social world we inhabit.

First year, and the greater university experience as a whole, will hold a special place for many of us for the rest of our lives.

There’s a reason why the Alumni Association is so involved in Queen’s life — these years are a defining moment where we morph into something we’ll be in the decades to come. The friends we make come from all sorts of backgrounds yet ultimately we leave with shared experiences, understandings and fantastic memories.

We ride the intensity of first year all the way through our time at Queen’s.

The sheer scale of immersion into this community, combined with gradual maturation and encounters with people from vastly different worldviews all help to evolve our social prowess and many of us will leave here having a one-up on those who didn’t attend university. And if not in an academic sense, at least in a social one.

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