Why I loved being a Gael

Giving my first years the encouragement my Gaels gave me

Emma believes O-week gives students hope.
Supplied by Emma Courtemanche

One of the questions given to me to inspire this article was, “How has O-Week made you feel?” As a Gael, I must say…“I FEEL SO GOOD! OH, I FEEL SO GOOD! OH!” 

This year, I made the great decision to become a Gael for the class of 2026. I loved my experience of Orientation Week, both as a first-year and as a Gael—O-Week truly gives you a sense of hope and excitement for your future at Queen’s. 

There were a few very important things that encouraged me to become a Gael. When I was in first year, not too long ago, my Orientation leaders, Hannah and Charlotte—Gaels in the Arts and Science faculty—really had an impact on me, for more reasons than one.

I came from a small town and an even smaller high school. I was terrified to transition from a small high school with a couple hundred students to a ginormous campus of 25,000 students—not to mention 200 students in a single lecture hall.

My Gaels’ positive and encouraging attitudes helped me calm my nerves. I felt safe and comfortable. They provided me with amazing resources for school and activities, which made me get acquainted with my now new home. I was hopeful to fit in here.

I remember thinking to myself, “man, I want to make someone else feel this welcome.” From that moment on, I decided I wanted to get involved in ASUS Orientation and become a Gael. It’s probably the best decision I’ve made at university.

Unfortunately, my year of orientation had some challenges that I am sure we are all familiar with: COVID-19. Being a first-year in the pandemic was tough. However, my Gaels and the whole Orientation committee made O-Week memorable for me even with the relentless restrictions. 

These restrictions included masks, a mandatory six-foot distance between other fellow students and Gaels, being unable to gather in large indoor facilities like the ARC, and restricted access to touring different establishments due to capacity limits.

I know these restrictions sound terrible and nearly impossible to work around. However, Gaels were able to make our activities accessible and enjoyable. We were still able to experience Queen’s Orientation traditions like the tamming ceremony and my personal favourite: coverall painting.

Seeing the work they put in to give us a proper experience despite the circumstances was really encouraging.

When I applied to become a Gael, I wanted to have a chance to apply the skills I learned  in my O-Week, like better campus navigation skills, using onQ and navigating SOLUS. I was also connected with useful academic and wellness resources such as Student Academic Success Services (SASS) and Student Wellness Services (SWS).

Passings along these skills and welcoming the next generation of students to in-person activities after a long two years in isolation was amazing. I was able to show first years the same support and encouragement that I had received in my first year without working around restrictions.

In addition to the joys of running Orientation, the process of becoming a Gael is also so enjoyable compared to your typical job or volunteer training. The people you meet, things you learn, and the connections you make are really like a family.

Through the week of socials, the trip to “Winnipeg” and the early morning training sessions, I created a bond unlike any other. I felt incredibly included and welcomed by all the ASUS Orientation Chairs and Orientation Coordinators.

Training allowed me to see the ongoing growth at Queen’s regarding many different topics including student wellness, academic success, a space to feel included, and the growing diversity of the campus.

The atmosphere of Gael training prepared me with an open mind and a positive outlook on my future at Queen’s—an important mindset when thinking about your future. That’s something I’m very grateful for.

Welcoming first-years on their move-in day with open arms and an upbeat attitude was a blast. Potentially being the first friendly face a student sees on campus meant a lot to me. I wanted the first-years to know that while starting university can seem overwhelming and scary, every student at Queen’s started where they are and made it.

First year was not my greatest time, but seeing my Gaels smiling faces gave me hope that beyond all the assignments, readings, and exams, there’s a positive and supportive community. That’s what I wanted to give back to them.

Parents and students coming to me with questions about all different things made me feel proud to be helping people.

Then, I had a chance to meet my own first-years in my Orientation group and, let me tell you, they are the best. Hearing where they are from, their hobbies, and what they want to study really made me happy knowing they chose Queen’s to pursue those passions.

Watching the first-years laugh, smile, and experience the spirit of Queen’s made me incredibly grateful to attend this university. Knowing that myself and the people around me made a positive impact on the incoming students around us fulfilled a dream.

We were able to inspire students to meet their community, explore clubs of their interests, play sports in intramurals or maybe be confident enough to try something they’ve never done before.

Knowing you have a good support system behind you can motivate you to be brave and experience new, positive things. Not only did O-Week impact the first-years, but it also impacted me as a Gael. To see and be a part of such an inclusive, gratifying community has truly been a highlight of my time here at Queen’s.

O-week has given me hope and excitement about my future at Queen’s, and inspired me to give back to my community and do the same for incoming first-years. I can only hope I made an impact on them the way my Gaels did for me.

Next year, I plan to pursue a role as an Orientation Coordinator and lead the Gaels to triumph—just as my OCs did for me.

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