My life as a frosh

How one student survived her first year at Queen’s

Ashleigh Ryan, ArtSci ’10, says first-years shouldn’t be intimidated by university.
Ashleigh Ryan, ArtSci ’10, says first-years shouldn’t be intimidated by university.
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You won’t find Ashleigh Ryan tearing her hair out the night before an essay is due.

“I’m a terrible procrastinator like everyone else, but the difference between high school and last year is that I didn’t freak out about it,” she said. “I didn’t mind that I hadn’t started working on an assignment because I knew deep down it would get done.”

Originally from Toronto, Ryan, ArtSci ’10, found herself in the same situation as many other newcomers at Queen’s—excited, curious, and more than a little anxious, a feeling Ryan says is common but unwarranted.

“Don’t be scared,” she advises. “Frosh get so freaked out because they’re intimidated by the whole university situation. They’re scared everything they did in high school won’t be good enough.”

Once she began classes, Ryan was pleasantly surprised at her class workload.

“In high school, I read this Foucault essay called ‘Of Other Spaces.’ That thing was the most meaty, confusing, and intellectually strenuous piece of writing I have ever and might ever read,” she said. “Nothing I read in first year even came close.”

Ryan said it’s easy to overdose on the excitement of newfound freedom many first-years are experiencing for the first time and quickly adopt the stereotypical university lifestyle of all-nighters and drinking binges.

“I don’t want to be the loser who frowns upon drinking, but I think frosh make the mistake of feeling like they need to drink and party,” she said.

This mentality rang true for Ryan, especially during Homecoming weekend.

“I remember being sick as a dog during Homecoming and still going out to Aberdeen and pancake keggers,” she said. “In hindsight, it was such a ridiculous mentality and I can’t believe I actually went out and forced myself to be there.” The transition from high school to university can be stressful, but Ryan said most students are capable of holding their own.

“Everyone that comes to Queen’s has a brain in his or her head,” she said. “The work is more challenging, but all of us know how to learn.”

Though the University offers several tools for students to succeed in their academics, Ryan said she found most of them unnecessary.

“I didn’t find out that there was a chat line for my ECON 110 class until the second semester,” she said. “I still managed to do well on all of my ECON assignments.” She said she found first-year students’ fears of falling marks tend to be overemphasized.

“Too many people put emphasis on getting good marks versus getting an education,” Ryan said. “They don’t always equal each other, but if you focus on genuinely learning for the sake of learning rather than for the sake of getting a good mark, you will be making the most out of your university experience.” Ryan said she didn’t find the first-year workload a problem as much as the many distractions she was faced with—namely, Facebook.

“I would easily spend like an hour on there, which might not sound like a lot compared to some people, but I never used to go on MSN or MySpace in high school,” she said. “It all still seems so juvenile to me. I thought everyone was done with that stuff, but I got to university and suddenly found that everyone had Facebook and was on MSN all the time.”

The deadly combination of social networking and downloading sites is what cuts down precious studying time, Ryan says.

“I think a common mistake that applies to all students is being too attached to the computer,” she said. “I’m not completely innocent on that front, but I found if you just put away the laptop and focus on the books, studying is 10 times more effective.”

Ryan said she prefers studying on her own at the library.

“And no, I’m not talking about sitting in Stauffer and going on Facebook while pretending to study,” she said, laughing. “I’m talking about the hundreds of bookshelves they have in there.”

Ryan says she never underestimates the value of a stack of books.

“People don’t use books anymore, and it’s a shame,” she added. “Books are the best resources for research and just enhancing your learning. But if you’re just looking to get a good mark, professors love books—always have, always will.” Getting up for morning classes wasn’t always easy for Ryan, especially because she lived in Jean Royce Hall, a good 15-minute trek to main campus.

Ryan said she was slightly apprehensive about living on west campus.

“At first I was a bit worried,” she said. “I thought being off main campus was going to be a problem and make me feel displaced from the rest of the University.”

These fears, however, were dispelled as Ryan made friends with others living on west campus and walking to main campus.

“The walk is a good thing,” she said. “I walk everywhere here. I hated waiting for the bus. It’s very healthy, and very peaceful in the morning.” For those apprehensive about living on west campus, Ryan advises them to stick it out.

“On West, you really bond with people—you have to,” she said. “Everyone is in the same boat. We all commute, eat in the godforsaken cafeteria, and live in those tiny rooms. I made some great friends in residence and always enjoyed venturing to main campus with them.”

Ryan fondly remembers the week of events that started it all—Frosh Week.

“I had never cheered so much in my life. It was great,” she said. “The best times were either getting shave-creamed or washing off in the lake.”

This September, Ryan will kick off the new school year as a Gael, hoping to inspire frosh the same way her Gaels did for her.

“I had amazing Gaels, and they made Frosh Week a really fun and enriching experience,” she said. “I want to be that person for other froshies coming to Queen’s.”

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