Starting university at McGill required very little adjustment for me. I had lived my entire life in Montreal, in my parents’ home in Côte-des-Neiges. By the time I was enrolled in classes, I was already familiar with the campus, given that my mother, an employee of the university, had taken me to work every couple of weeks from a very young age. I already had a post-secondary degree from Dawson College and a tight-knit group of friends whom I met in high school and CEGEP. I had a long-term partner, a part-time job, and a solid, well-established life in the city. However, I quickly noticed that many of my first-year peers at McGill were living very different lives from my own.
For starters, many of them lived in residence, away from their families and friends for the first time. And given that Quebec’s legal drinking age is lower than in surrounding provinces and states, it felt like the majority of students around me were just discovering what it felt like to be able to drink legally. Even though I was only about a year older than those other first years, I felt we couldn’t relate. Admittedly, this was partly due to a false sense of superiority that I had developed to shield myself from the fact that my university experience was leaving me feeling very alone. While I wanted to meet new people and become more involved, my anxiety about being unable to relate to other students kept me from taking that first step.
During my first three semesters at McGill, I was very aware of the vibrant community of students bustling around me. Meanwhile, largely due to my lack of involvement in events on campus, I had made no lasting university friendships. While other students attended multi-day drinking events, mingled in rez, and joined clubs, I would come to campus to attend class and leave right afterward. I never went out with other McGill students who weren’t already friends of mine from high school, and I still didn’t know what Carnival was, or where all those onesies had come from. The concept of the “McGill bubble” was familiar to me—but only because I felt like an outsider with little idea of what was occurring inside that bubble.
Even though I was happy and fulfilled in my life outside of McGill, I felt a very strong fear that I was missing out on the university experience. I had already made peace with the idea that I would never explore McGill the way that first-years coming from outside of Montreal would, but I still wanted more of a quintessential student experience than I was getting.
However, I knew that in order to be happy during my time at university, I needed to get over the mental block that was keeping me from meeting other students. Following the advice of a close friend from CEGEP, I got involved with The McGill Tribune where I got to meet other students with similar interests to mine. I quickly found that befriending students from varying hometowns and backgrounds was surprisingly easy. This shattered my assumptions about not being able to relate to people from outside the province, and allowed me to develop relationships that have made me a more well-rounded human. Now, on the cusp of graduating, I am deeply proud of the community I forged at McGill, and the fact that I have done far more with my time here than simply complete my credits.
Being a native Montrealer can remove the incentive that most students have to build a community at university. However, the university experience only amounts to what one makes of it. Although finding the motivation to make that extra effort was something that didn’t come naturally to me, becoming more involved on campus was without a doubt the only way I was able to become fulfilled here, and graduate knowing I had the made the most of my time at McGill.