A lot of people had told me that the first year of university would be a challenge and a learning curve. I would have to adapt to a new city, an unfamiliar environment, new social pressures, and harder schoolwork. Naturally, I disregarded this advice – I had just taken a gap year, trekking all around the world, mostly solo. How hard could university – school – be in comparison?

Really hard, as it turns out. In retrospect, everything everyone had told me about the demands of first year were true. Learning to live in a completely new city was difficult. Montreal’s bilingual aspect threw me, and made me uncomfortable. Social pressures and demands were hard to navigate. Schoolwork was a LOT harder than I had anticipated. Stress levels were at an all time high in my life. What I failed to recognize was that living and adapting to a new life is an entirely different beast from travelling. Yes, while travelling I had to deal with foreign languages and customs. I was usually by myself and only had myself to rely on. As a result, I became very good at dealing with different situations and combating loneliness. However, university was to provide new and unexpected challenges.

When travelling, I always knew I was able to leave if I needed or wanted. I could think of different activites to do to keep myself occupied. However, I didn’t have to learn to navigate a completely strange social scene, like I needed to in university. I found myself facing so many social pressures, demands, and needs. Living in close contact with so many people my age was a totally new concept to me, and I struggled immensely. I found myself wanting to please everyone – in doing so, I lost my sense of self. I let peer pressure dictate my life. I measured my self-worth by the number of friends I had and the number of social interactions I had that day. Instead of focusing on maintaining and valuing my new friendships, I became petty, jealous, and possessive. Added to this strange new social dynamic was actual schoolwork. As someone who never had to really study to get A’s, it was a shock to find out that I had to actually STUDY in school. Camping out at the library for 10 hour stretches became normal. In doing so I neglected my health; I ate poorly, never exercised, and partied in excess. I let my mood control my daily schedule – I went to bed late, woke up when I felt like it, skipped class if I felt lazy, and drank heavily. Montreal’s cold, cold weather didn’t help either. I let myself wallow in depressive thoughts and rarely ventured outdoors for most of the winter.

By the end of the school year, I was exhausted. I was stressed out like I had never been before. This was a completely novel to me, so I wasn’t able recognize my destructive behaviour. There were many days when I wallowed in depression and anxiety; I spontaneously broke down in tears. Several times my roommate would walk in the room to catch me weeping uncontrollably at my desk.

Now that I’ve taken some time away from both Montreal and school life, I’m able to pinpoint what needs to change. I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself this past year – my limits, my weaknesses, my strengths. I learned that I am ambitious, hardworking, smart, and creative. I know now not to let other people and social pressures dictate my sense of self and my self-worth. I am who I am no matter what anyone else says or thinks.

This upcoming year I plan on making some changes to make second year easier for me! For me this involves daily exercise, healthy eating (I’m going to try to eat lots of produce and make delicious vegan dishes when I can), and SCHEDULING. A sleep schedule is essential. I also need to fill my life with meaningful and fulfilling activites – this can be volunteering, working, writing, art, or even spending time with friends. No more wasting time on the computer vegging out! Wish me luck!