Places of comfort at Queen’s

As the academic term begins, students take a closer look into experiences that have supported their mental health

Image by: Curtis Heinzl
Queen’s students spoke on places of comfort.

Approximately 95 per cent of Queen’s students come from an area outside of Kingston, with more than 90 per cent of first-year students living in residence.

Based on these statistics, Queen’s is more than an academic center of learning; it functions as a transitional home for students, parents, and those supporting them.

However, the transition into a university setting creates a peak period for the possible onset of mental illness, and most present themselves within early adulthood. The most common illnesses experienced by those aged 16-25 are anxiety and depression, typed as internalizing disorders, which can arise from feelings of sadness, loneliness, and stress.

U-Flourish, a research resource for student well-being, conducted a study in 2020 on first-year students’ academic success and wellness upon entry into Queen’s.

The survey found that, of the 58 per cent of students who completed the study, 28 per cent reported a lifetime mental disorder, and only 8.5 per cent of those students were receiving treatment. It also found one-third of the students reported having significant depressive symptoms, and 18 per cent reported significant sleep problems.

With students’ mental health being impacted during this transitory period, they must find support systems and places to go to for comfort. One way to mediate this stressful period is Orientation Week and the spirit of Queen’s O-Week leaders.

Orientation Week has just ended.

Gael’s have put away their crowns, Frecs have endured the never-ending grease poll, and Bosses are thankfully back in the office. Now, students are coming down from the high of Orientation Week and geared up for the academic grind.

This sudden lack of stimulation can become a space where students start to feel isolated from their surroundings and support systems.

The Journal interviewed four students of different academic, national, and cultural backgrounds to learn where and how they’ve coped with isolation at Queen’s. 

The first-year experience 

Matthew Wax, CompSci ’26, is a first-year student from Toronto. 

After moving away from home and completing Orientation, he has begun his classes and is reflecting on his first few weeks at Queen’s. In an interview with The Journal, he mentioned the differences between Kingston and Toronto, explaining how Kingston is “a nice break from the city.”

“It’s kind of strange because Kingston is much smaller, more quiet,” Wax said.

He commented on his experience living in a big city like Toronto and his adjustment to his new environment in a smaller town. Kingston has a large concentration of students in one area that necessitates an adjustment period. He doesn’t see this as a negative but as another area in which one can experience living away from home for the first time. 

So far, Wax has felt isolated at Queen’s because it’s challenging to grasp your surroundings when everything is new. 

“Because it’s like, oh, a new thing, and I haven’t really been away from home like this before.”

The unfamiliar places and people can be overwhelming at times, but there are people on campus who have made him feel accepted at Queen’s.  

“My don made me feel very welcome when I first came in. I’m [in Jean Royce Hall] on west [campus], which not everyone likes, so the good thing is that my don is pretty good.”

Wax’s don made a big impression on him when he first arrived. It also made him feel more comfortable in his residence building, which has a negative reputation on campus.

West campus is a 20-minute walk from main campus, so it can be difficult for first-year students who live there to travel to and from class. Instead, Wax has taken to exploring the campus and finding areas where he can relax between his lectures. 

He’s found comfort in the William R. Lederman Law Library located on Union Street. The library’s quiet, small setting gives him a place to focus on his classes.

“Whenever I’m in one of those buildings, I find a quiet spot. I can do my work and things like that because going back home to do work and then coming back from the next class isn’t very good.”

Wax also commented on the sense of community he feels on west campus as an area of shared understanding.

“The perks of living on West is that everyone’s kind of in the same boat. So West is a community.”

The international student experience 

Mia Haqq, ArtSci ’25, is a Global Development major with a minor in Psychology who explained her experience at Queen’s as an international student from Trinidad and Tobago.

Haqq described her first memory on campus after moving in during her first year. She was walking around with some friends when she ran into a group of people, who she assumed were second-years. 

“You know sometimes […] a lot of people like them [upper years], they’re like, oh, your frosh. And it’s not necessary to talk to you, but let’s be welcoming. These people didn’t really care,” she said in an interview with The Journal.

Despite their initial teasing of her being a first-year, she said they were really friendly and invited her to join their picnic. This memory changed her opinion of Queen’s stereotypes in a positive way: Queen’s students were very welcoming despite “different stereotypes or different faculty things.

When asked who made the most impact on Haqq’s life, she answered her roommate. 

Since she’s an international student, Haqq didn’t know anyone from her hometown who was coming to Queen’s and found the cultural differences to be a bit difficult to adjust to without someone to help her. Her roommate was the one to guide her through the nuances of life in Canada while she was still trying to understand the culture and language.

“It was really fun because she taught me a lot of things.”

When she hung out with her roommate, she was taught new slang terms and their use because Haqq didn’t always know what they meant.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, like what terms? And we would talk about the importance and just, yeah, oh, okay, got it. Let’s just put that in my book.”

One of her favourite things about student life is the diversity of the campus itself. She loves meeting other international students because they share a level of connection and understanding.

“Like, for me, a lot of my classes are made mainly with like domestic students, so I get along with them fine. But if I definitely do see another international student, I’m like, oh my gosh, where are you from? Like, who are you? Tell me about yourself?” 

She said she feels a certain level of connection with students in a similar circumstance, which she doesn’t always feel when interacting with domestic students. Fellow international students can appreciate the challenges of being so far from home, which allows Haqq to form an effortless connection with people of the same background on campus.

Haqq was excited when she realized another girl in her class was an exchange student from Trinidad and Tobago. At the time, Haqq didn’t even know you could do an exchange between the two countries.

“And so, I kind of, like, showed her around. I was like, yeah, this is Queen’s. This is everything. And I introduced her to other people as well. So, you know, I helped her out.”

She said when she feels overwhelmed, she sits by the lake. The water is an area for her to relax—the calm, nostalgic feeling it evokes reminds her of home.

“I’m from the Caribbean, so I grew up close enough to a body of water. So, I associate any body of water with home, which is actually why I chose Queen’s.”

The semester abroad

A European exchange student born in Vienna, Georg Maderbacher, Comm ’24, spoke about his time integrating into the Queen’s community and how it differs from home. 

He said Queen’s was well organized regarding Orientation events and the activities offered here. He also explained the ease he felt entering his first day of classes and meeting fellow exchange students from Vienna. 

Maderbacher emphasized his housemates’ impact on him as a new Queen’s student. He met his housemates through Facebook and lives with three girls and two boys, all of whom are exchange students.

“We just clicked immediately, and it feels like we’ve known each other for years,” Maderbadcher said in an interview with The Journal.

He said his relationship with his housemates has made his experience at Queen’s much more pleasant and made it easier to connect with people. He felt comfortable going out with his housemates because he was with people he could trust when wandering through a new city and foreign country. 

Maderbacher said he hasn’t felt isolated at Queen’s but has found it challenging to connect with Canadians. He’s built a close connection with other exchange students because they have a “common ground,” but he hasn’t felt the same with Canadian students. 

He’s noticed differences, including how Canadians vs. Europeans party. He believes the most noticeable differences between Canada and Europe are the lack of dancing at clubs and the number of street parties he’s seen here in Kingston.

He further commented on the difficulty of finding a connection when he goes out to bars and the absence of a police force regulating the street parties.

“Canadians just jump when the music drops,” and “Police would never allow anything [street parties] like that at home.” 

However, he followed up by saying he’s only been here for a short amount of time and knows adjusting to a new place like Canada will come with time.

“But I still have to like get to know and accommodate for the Canadian kind of style.”

Describing comfort 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, comfort is “one who or that which strengthens or supports; a support, a source of strength.” Comfort is an emotion normally associated with a noun—it’s a person, place, or thing people draw upon as a source of support.

When asked what comfort means to him, Wax said it’s “a place that you’d feel safe in [and] a place that you feel accepted.” 

He said it’s an undefined space where there’s no judgment from others and where you can exist without fear of them rejecting you.

Haqq also spoke about her definition of comfort.

“I want to say something cold,” she said. “I associate comfort with something cool and soft. So yes, like a nice smoothie, like sitting down watching a movie, like talking with friends—like socializing, but not where you have to talk. […] Where it’s like, oh, I’m going to sit next to you, and that’s it.” 

Carissa Graham, ArtSci ’23, spoke to the comfort of her mom.

She said comfort isn’t a thing or a place, but how certain people make you feel. Her mom’s ability to invoke this sense of security is similar to how she feels when visiting Bracken Library, her favourite place on campus.

“As soon as you have the people in your life that make you feel comfortable, then you just overall feel comfort and therefore less stress and less anxious. You’re able to deal with stressful situations because you know that there are people in your life that are there for you if you need it.”

Maderbacher is a social person and, like Graham, said he finds comfort in the people around him. 

When surrounded by individuals who know who he is, he feels a sense of connection that lifts his mood. This ability to talk openly with another person creates a safe space that breaks down barriers—genuine conversation is where Maderbacher feels most like himself.

“Some people are more important than the place you’re in. It’s ultimately the people that make you feel comfortable.”



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