Things I Wished I Knew at the Beginning of my Degree
Posted on April 13, 2022
I moved to Toronto nearly 5 years ago. I was 17, had only left my province a couple of times, and was absolutely terrified. Not only was I nervous to start university, but I was overwhelmed by the big city of Toronto and all of its beautiful chaos.
I’m now 22, and only a couple of months away from graduating. It’s been a long and difficult journey: after two years at X, I took some time off from my degree to travel and work on some personal growth. Right when I got back, COVID hit, prompting a bizarre and stressful final two years of my degree. There have been a lot of ups and downs, and learning in and out of the classroom. As I look back on the past five years fondly, I want to share what I wish I knew when I first moved here, bright eyed and naive, in 2017.
University is very different from high school. As an RTA student, I discovered that I’ll only get out of my degree what I put into it. There’s not many exams or traditional academic markers of success in my program, because it’s very project-based. And to be honest, it’s not incredibly difficult to achieve solid grades by doing the bare minimum. As someone who strived for high grades in high school, this really threw me off, because I realized that I needed to gain validation from the quality of my work, and feedback from peers, rather than letter grades.
I also learned that the connections you make at school are incredibly important, especially in the creative field. RTA professors remind us of it all the time – we will be working with our school peers throughout our careers. It’s super important to have a good reputation, and to simply be a nice person to those around you. My favourite projects I’ve worked on are the ones I did with my closest friends (shoutout to Babyteeth Productions!!) .
Another lesson is to really prioritize my work life balance. This is something that I’m definitely still figuring out. It’s difficult for a lot of people to set strict ‘work’ hours and ‘personal’ hours. Hustle culture is very real, but can be damaging (and ableist), leading to burnout. I find that setting time aside for self care, catching up with friends, and doing what I call ‘life admin’ (doing laundry, cleaning up my apartment, running errands, etc) helps create the balance of a more ‘normal’ life, which I desperately needed during the past couple of years.
Going to X also gave me the chance to get to know Toronto. I’ll be honest – it took a while for this city to grow on me. Growing up in BC, when I first moved here I found all the concrete of downtown super overwhelming. It took a year of living here to discover areas of the city like the West End, High Park, Scarborough Bluffs, Kensington Market, and more, that really changed my opinion on this city. Toronto is SO much more than downtown. There’s so much culture, amazing food, and always new opportunities and events going on. I really feel like there’s something here for everyone, and I’m so grateful that I was able to find the places that now feel like home to me.
The last thing I would want my 17 year old self to know is to be patient. I always heard that your university years are the best years of your life, and I guess I thought that everything would fall into place when I moved here. That I would suddenly be the cool, funny, fashionable, confident person I always wanted to be. That I’d have a ton of friends, work on amazing projects, and have a perfect big city lifestyle. But it doesn’t work that way. I had to find my people, figure out what I was good at and what I liked, and spend a lot of time alone to work on myself. I’ll always remember my time at university as beautifully chaotic, filled with tears and laughter, and a LOT of learning. And I’m still growing and changing every day! I can’t wait to see what the future holds.