Surviving new surroundings on campus: Tips from those who’ve been there

Lesson number one for new students arriving on campus to start university studies: make a few friends.

Submitted by University of Alberta

Lesson number one for new students arriving on campus to start university studies: make a few friends.

Arriving on a large campus such as the University of Alberta can be a scary idea for new students coming from small communities — or even large ones, but having a buddy system helps.

“Be really open to people and make friends as much as you can,” said Brock Richardson, the University of Alberta’s Assistant Dean of Students, Residence Life.

By building a circle of friends — classmates, roommates, fellow club members — first-year students, especially those from small communities or who are the first in their families to attend university — can lean on one another for support when they feel overwhelmed by post-secondary life, Richardson said.

Juggling homesickness, a new environment and academic studies can feel daunting, but knowing others are going through the same thing makes coping easier, Richardson said.

“By making friends, you get people you can rely on, that you can bounce ideas off of, and because university is such a diverse place, you have the opportunity to make friends with people who didn’t exist in your high school. Here we have people from all over the world, so get to know them and open yourself up to that,” Richardson advises.

Coming from a small Alberta town to start university at age 17 two years ago, Samantha Kondor was worried about finding her place on a campus of thousands. “The U of A campus was eight times bigger than my hometown population. I wondered where my classes were, if I could meet people, would I have anything in common with them?”

As a lifelong swimmer, Kondor decided to seek out people who had the same interest, and eventually joined the U of A water polo team — one of 400 clubs and groups on campus. She soon had a circle of friends. “That was a huge confidence-booster — I got to do something I liked and I got to know people.”

Richardson advises students to think about arriving on campus more than a day or two before classes start. At the U of A, its BaseCamp program welcomes new students to residence a week early, so they have time to settle in.

“Everyone is more relaxed because they don’t have classes in three days and they have time to make a few friends and get to know campus, as well as find groups or community projects they can get involved in. That gives a sense of belonging,” Richardson said.

To keep from being overwhelmed by her overall course load, Kondor planned her schedule a week at a time, breaking it into manageable chunks. And when she needed help, she asked for it, tapping into campus services and approaching professors.

“Don’t be nervous talking to a professor — they are not there to fail you.”

Classmates also helped Kondor tackle needed new study habits.

“I was a good high school student so I though the transition to university would be easy, but I had to re-adjust my writing and learning style to be more independent and study on my own time.”

To cope with stress, Kondor also gives herself the occasional night off with popcorn and a movie.

“It’s a distraction from worrying.”

Phone calls to family and chats with friends also help put things like failed exams into perspective, she added.

“University is a time of finding yourself. Don’t give up, university is so worth it, it is a fun and exciting time and if you give up, you don’t get that experience.”

Richardson advises students to keep a few things in mind as they begin class this fall:

• Figure out a healthy balance of sleeping and eating that works for you

• Attend classes even if you are tired; you will get something out of it

• Ask for help

• Don’t worry about failure. “It is how you react that counts. Face adversity with others, ask for help, and stay positive. If you fail a class that doesn’t mean university overall isn’t right for you.”