From the Outside, Looking In: My Coming-Of-Age Story

A Tale of Transition: My, have I blossomed. (Left: the only picture of me I have from 1st year)
Anxious, insecure and afraid.  That was me for the entirety of my first year. I was afraid I wasn’t smart enough, witty enough or even mature enough. I just never felt enough. I was all that and more—I just didn’t believe it.  With my self-imposed restrictions, pursuit for enlightenment and obsession with gaining knowledge, I pretty much was possessed by the ghost of Immanuel Kant for most of my first year. Though I hid it well with my smile and knack for deflective comedy, the reality was that first year broke me. You see, in first year, all that mattered to me was grades (mostly because I have a massive chip on my shoulder—a lifelong insecurity of my intellectual capabilities). As a minority in more ways than one,  I find myself to be dialectically produced through the antagonism of adverse statistics and being a “model minority”. And so, I spent every free minute reading, analyzing and revising. I was so scared someone would find out how stupid I was, how limited my vocabulary was or how inexperienced I was. I finished that year with a solid GPA; but at what price? Excommunicated from my family, borderline friendless and lost—in a complete existential depression.  Through first year, I always felt like I was on the outside, looking in. I used to lie to my parents about how much fun I was having and how many new friends I was making. I just couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t living a Hollywood-esque freshman experience. After many skipped meals, sleepless nights and constant arguments with my parents, I had a really scary emotional breakdown at the end of first year. Truth is, U of T didn’t break me. I broke me.  I was my own worst enemy. The self-deprecating inner voice, neglecting my physical health and muting those closest to me was what made first-year so rough for me.  I felt unworthy of the labels “woman” and “U of T student”. I never took the initiative to talk to people, to go to events on campus, to speak to my professors—all because I was narcissistically hypnotized by the crippling voice in my head. I found myself alienated from “Life at U of T” by my apathy and inaction. I let myself become a number. I didn’t have a life-changing experience to realize this; I just got fed up with the feelings of inadequacy and made the conscious decision to do something about it. That’s how I became an adult. All’s good in the hood now (as you can read in my tweets) because of that one decision I made the summer after first year.  My dad once told me this old Persian proverb: Harsh opposing winds do not fret the eagle; for they only help him soar higher. Just like the eagle needs the wind, we need to be challenged to grow—very Kantian I know. My first year was blah, but I must admit I learned more about myself, my purpose and my life in that one year than ever before. U of T forced me to grow up; excuse the Kantian undertones, I’m currently writing a paper on him for POL381. Here is a little piece of wisdom I wish someone had told me before I started university:

Future First-Years (and current students), I want you to know that you are enough. You are enough in that nobody is ever more or less than you. Personality, intelligence or rareness cannot be quantified; do not let yourself be defined by relativity.  How you read something, how you say something, how you perceive and understand something is different than how anyone else in this world does. That’s what constitutes your “enoughness”. And so, by default, it will enrich any discussion. Whatever you have to say is meaningful because you are speaking from your experiences, with your voice—something uniquely yours. Whether English is your second language; whether you are dyslexic; whether you are a first-generation immigrant, know that your voice matters—so use it or bear the risk of always being misunderstood and isolated. If something doesn't work for you find alternatives or create your own way (frosh week wasn't for me so I found other orientation activities like KickStart to experience it my way). So SPEAK in tutorials, raise your hand in class, frequent office hours, participate in discussion forums on campus and communicate your opinions. Free yourself from your inhibitions, and don’t be afraid to express yourself! Rousseau says it best: stop living in the opinions of others. If you ever need a pep talk, instant motivation, someone to vent to or just someone to talk to...know that the community crew has got your back.  Tweet us, FB us or comment below. Like I said, we are in this thing called U of T together.  You are rare. Remember that and own it. I hope my story will help make your journey a bit smoother. -Sarah PS. Current students, I would love to hear your coming of age stories about your first year at university! Please do share in the comments below, on Twitter or on Facebook! PSS. An instant pick me up (drag onto dark background to unleash its magic):

15 comments on “From the Outside, Looking In: My Coming-Of-Age Story

  1. Sarah, you never cease to amaze me. What a beautifully written piece! Your honesty of experience demonstrates the capability words have to comfort those who may be feeling similar. Keep it up sister.

  2. Hi Sarah! Thanks for this blog post. I’m starting at UofT this year and I’m really nervous. The way you describe your first year sort of sums up my worst fears. When I get nervous I have similar tendencies to First-Year You. Thank you for the advice and evidence that you can make university what you want it to be. Instead of being afraid, I’ll be looking up to Fourth-Year You on this blog for inspiration instead ^_^ I know I can do well if I just get out there!

    P.S. Your writing is amazing!

    1. Dear Emma, you are amazing REMEMBER THAT. Do not let all of your awesomeness get lost in the background noise! Introduce yourself to UofT with a bang! I wish I could tell First-Year me to unleash her fierceness instead of hiding it from the world. You are right; you just have to take the initiative and put yourself out there!

      And thank you! 🙂

      YOU CAN DO IT! 😀

  3. First off, I’d like to say that this piece was well-written and has obviously shown everyone that you have added a few words to your vocabulary since your first year. Though I always knew you were an amazing author before you attended U of T. Secondly, I’d like to say, thank you! I definitely have seen the change in myself throughout my two years in university, but this gave me hope to also one day improve my vocabulary and realize that my opinion matters. Keep it up!

  4. Wow Sarah! Absolutely loved it, you’ve come so far and you owe it to yourself for staying true to yourself, not a lot of people can speak from the heart so eloquently! You inspire me! Can’t wait to read the next one 😉

  5. That was great and you should be so proud of yourself! The piece made feel a lot better about how I am feeling right now going into my first year as I can definitely identify with what you felt your first year. When I get nervous or am placed in a new surrounding I tend to respond in the same way (as I did in the beginning of high school as well). This was an awesome pick-me-up and made me feel a lot better about putting myself out there in order to have a great overall experience at UofT.

    Thanks for the great advice! 🙂

    1. Im so happy to hear that my advice lifted your spirits! 🙂 I used to be terrified of change; my experience of first year was so similar to my transition into highschool. In both grade 9 and in first year, I made sure that I was “camouflaged” into the surroundings so much that no one really knew of my existence. I became the champion of hide and seek :p -Throughout my university career, Ive learned how to better deal with transition and how to adapt to changing circumstances. — Have you considered enrolling in a first-year learning community (FLC). My role as a mentee and mentor in FLC really helped me develop as an individual and helped me learn how to better deal with transition and change. –

  6. Hey Sarah! I loved reading every bit of this. I love how you tell your story in such as tasteful manner, with honesty yet hope for the better. 🙂 Keep smiling. 🙂

  7. Thank you for sharing your story of transition Sarah, it is honest, poetic and says something about the first year experience that is often swept under the rug. You have and will continue to make a positive impact on first year students that they will carry with them through out their experience at U of T.

  8. oh my! this was really empowering. a little different from my own experience but similar on many levels. currently in my 2nd yr, first year for me was what I’d like to call a potpourri experience aka it all went downhill after frosh. My whole experience at uoft actually started the summer even before getting in! No single orientation seminar I didn’t attend. Name it – ‘kickstart or jumpstart’, ‘welcome’, ‘how to get involved’, ‘life outside class’, leadership seminars etc. I felt so ready for uoft but alas the story wasn’t the same after 1st semester. Grades, social life, the cold winter (yup, that too!), feelings of not-being-good-enough due to expectations that had not materialized and performing below my initial anticipation, the little voice in my head telling me ‘this school is not for you!’, and a whole lot of other things filled me with such despair. My health (by every definition of the word); psychological, social, physiological,financial was at sub-zero. What’s more, I could go all the way and lecture other people on how to really ‘discover’ themselves and take full control of their life wheel but here a total opposite my own advice. And just like you, a smile, more like a poker smile, always came in handy – it was just affixed there. I could go on and on but it wasn’t until I realized that anyone who had been to university and hadn’t been left stirred and shaken must have been a tourist to it, literally! Though still working to find the definitive me, I’d say I have really come a long way from first year and can see the end of the tunnel to this process of self-discovery! Just with a little perseverance and a sprinkle of hard work and positive mindedness, I feel that waiting for me at the end of that tunnel is a endless shower of rainbows, strawberries, rain and sweet lemon breeze!.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!!!

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