Venturing out

A recent alumnus reminisces on his undergraduate years on campus

There is no one-size-fits-all advice for new university students. I hope though, that as a recent university graduate, I can offer you a sliver of guidance for the four years that lie ahead of you.

In the interest of full disclosure, my time at Queen’s was fairly run-of-the-mill. I enjoyed the time I spent earning my undergraduate degree, but I wasn’t one to bleed school spirit, nor was I ever featured prominently in the school’s spotlight.

One piece of advice that did make a difference during my years as an undergrad, however, was to try and step outside of my comfort zone.

The university experience, especially at Queen’s, is very much about this concept. This doesn’t mean partying every other day (though if that’s what you’re into, go for it), but rather, venturing out and simply trying new things. Beyond acclimatising to a new life in Kingston, there are a few simple things you can do to launch yourself into experiencing Queen’s for all it has to offer.

Start networking early. Too many students simply coast through undergrad without ever really putting themselves out there and meeting new people.

Queen’s won’t throw jobs at you, but it does offer opportunities. Interesting speaker session coming up? Go and introduce yourself to the speaker. Internship fair? Put on something nice and shake some people’s hands. You’ll find that opportunities most often arise from what may seem like random encounters.

This also goes for academic connections. Queen’s is plagued with budget cuts, resulting in fewer small-scale seminars with professors in upper years. Speaking from experience, trying to cultivate an academic relationship in search of a reference letter in fourth year isn’t much fun. Lay the foundations for this by reaching out to professors early on.

Seeking new experiences shouldn’t be relegated to campus activities either. If you have the chance, go on exchange. Queen’s is partnered with more than 85 universities in 24 different countries, affording you the opportunity to study nearly anywhere you choose. Furthermore, the vast majority of exchanges are extremely affordable — my semester in Germany actually cost less than a semester at Queen’s.

Many students embark on an exchange during third year — a time by which people have usually carved out a niche for themselves with a steady group of friends, routines and habits. While it may be tempting to dismiss the opportunity to study elsewhere when you’re comfortable in Kingston, you’re no less of a Queen’s student for spending a semester or two abroad.

In addition to being (extremely) fun, studying abroad enhances your adaptability and overall openness to experience, something that has proven invaluable to me post-graduation.

Upon returning from my exchange, I developed a crushing fear of missing out, as I realized my time at Queen’s would soon be ending.

Fortunately, this realization helped spur my involvement in a number of extracurricular activities. Just two weeks after showing up to a Model United Nations meeting where I’d known no one, I was certain I’d found a group that would allow me to thrive, exploring my passion for international affairs.

If I had the chance to do it again (and oh how I wish I do), I would have started getting involved earlier. My involvement with the Queen’s International Affairs Association provided me with some of the best friends and experiences of my past four years. I only wish now I had a bit more time to enjoy these fortunes.

In short, there’s no specific way to experience this school, but don’t close yourself off to new experiences. In trying new things, you may discover a hidden passion for cooking, dancing, debating, writing, swimming, international politics or even something you had never known existed.

Time goes by quickly, so make the most of your years at Queen’s — however you choose to do so.

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