What's it like being the first in your family to attend university in Canada? Although every student's journey is unique, there are always some common threads. Read about these current Queen's students' experiences.
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My name is Diana and I am a third year student at Queen's University, majoring in French and minoring in Linguistics. I am also the first person to attend university in my family. Being a first generation university student created some challenges for me, especially in grade 11 and 12 when I had to start thinking about my future.
To me, post-secondary education was a must – it was something that I had always expected to happen. Perhaps that's the way I was raised; I never considered the possibility of not going to university but at the same time, the concept was extremely vague to me and I felt unprepared. My parents would always emphasize the importance of attending university but other than that, they didn't know much about what various universities offered, which universities were the best, student life, etc. It wasn't until grade 10 careers class that I learned about my various possibilities. What I found the most helpful though, was the annual university fair. This event gave me the chance to speak to university representatives, ask questions, listen to what they have to offer, and even learn about the details of living away from home and balancing my social and academic life.
After gathering information on universities and choosing my top three choices, it was time for the application process. It's not difficult at all to apply to university with the help from guidance counsellors. It was a simple process and I didn't encounter any problems. The hardest part was, however, waiting for the results to come in. After applying in January, I nearly forgot about the wait until my friends started to receive acceptances. Everyone was getting excited and thrilled when they got accepted and that was the hot topic in the halls and at lunch. Unfortunately, my first choice took what felt like forever to offer me my acceptance letter! Sometimes, we just have to wait for a bit longer to hear back because there are so many students wanting to get into post-secondary education so don't worry about that wait! It sure paid off for me and that's why I'm here at Queen's.
So far, the past two years at Queen's have proved to be a rewarding experience. I come from a small town north of Toronto and there wasn't much diversity there. I got to meet a lot of people and make a lot of new friends from everywhere – people from other parts of Ontario, from across Canada, and from overseas. I learned to live independently, cook, do laundry, etc. I joined a club during first year that had its own radio show on the campus radio station and I now not only co-host our weekly radio shows but I am also the President of the club. Coming here gave me all these fun and wonderful opportunities and I feel grateful. In return, I try to contribute to the Queen's community. For example, I volunteer at the International Centre with the English Language Support Buddy and at the weekly conversation group. And of course, I volunteer at the annual University Experience Program, sharing my experience with high school students and encouraging post-secondary education. It's important to get education and yes it can be a hard task but there are so many fun things that happen along the way and so it's totally worth it! So don't be afraid of trying something new, create your own bright future!
Diana, Bachelor of Arts (Honours), Class of 2012
University was an expectation in my future even before I was born. My grandfather had a masters degree, my father had a masters degree and my mother recently got her masters degree. As a child I was always pushed to succeed, to reach my full potential both academically and socially. I worked hard and I played hard. I grew up in Kampala, Uganda, where I schooled following the British system so my expectation for my academic life was essentially: Kindergarten, Reception, Primary School, Secondary School, A-levels and finally moving to the United Kingdom for University. When I hit fifteen, I started to seriously think about my future, and the idea of going to the United Kingdom did not really appeal to me, neither that of going to the United States, so I moved to Canada by myself. My parents and sisters remained in Uganda as I moved to Canada and started a new life, a new country. I moved at a time when I was meant to enter grade nine, fortunately an entrance exam said other wise and I was bumped up two grades up to grade eleven.
At the age of sixteen, I graduated from high school with my Ontario secondary school diploma, ready to start my life as a university student. I had chosen Queen's due to a campus tour I had flown to Kingston to take. The University Experience Program is geared towards kids who are going to be the first in their family to pursue post secondary education, and while that does not specifically apply to me in the sense that both my parents had attended university, I was the first in my family to pursue education in the Canadian system. I had little knowledge of what to expect, and I had to be the one attempting to explain such a different system to my parents. The good thing about Queen's was during orientation week, they made it their mission to integrate the new students into the Queen's society. After a month I had new friends and had settled into life in Kingston, and by the end of the first semester, I had learned how to handle a university workload. I experienced a lot, from crazy parties to bad tempered professors. What I noticed about shows that depict university students is they always fail to show the amount of work that goes into studying. They party and miraculously pass exams...
My first year of university was not really scary. Those from Canadian families did not trump me in any way, and I am sure the same can be said for students who are the first in their family to attend university. Each of us has different pressures and the only challenge in university is finding the right balances. One has to somehow balance social life, academics, future prospects e.t.c. And it is a process that is constantly ongoing.
Chúk, Bachelor of Science (Honours), Class of 2013
As the eldest son of English and German immigrants, my family was not particularly familiar with the Canadian education system when we decided to investigate new paths for my post-secondary future. My parents never went to university, and as far back as at least my great-grandparents I have never heard of anyone in my family ever being offered the opportunity to go to an institution of higher learning such as university. My family moved around a lot, and I spent most of my elementary and middle school education in the United States, so when my family moved back to Canada we did not know if it was difficult to get into a Canadian university and succeed there. The Canadian system, fortunately, encourages young people to consider university as an important path towards getting a good career and enriching the mind, although at my small high school I noticed that many students were almost afraid of the mysterious opportunity of a serious post-secondary education.
Even with bursaries and scholarships available, university is still expensive, and demands a considerable time commitment that might be spent getting trained for another job or even working in a less professional field immediately out of high school. In families and communities with a high proportion of university educated people, they are more able to dispel the scary myths and worries that some young people have towards university because their parents and community members know what university can really do for someone. For possible first generation university students, it can be particularly daunting simply because they do not have the experience around them to help them understand what university has to offer to people that are willing to embrace the opportunity. Some young people don't know what they want to do with their life yet, and they are afraid to commit to an institution that asks someone to focus on a particular area of study for roughly four years. What many young people don't know is that many of the students at university do not know exactly where they will eventually be working either, but at least have an interest in pursuing a higher education in general. In four years there is plenty of time to become better accustomed to multiple different fields of interest, and even after one finishes undergraduate studies one has the option to continue studying in greater depth a particular graduate topic which one might have discovered while in university. Also, as long as one accomplishes their degree and carries out their university education promptly and efficiently, they will attain credentials in a certain field that immensely helps their chances of getting involved with similar minded people in the working world.
The bottom line is: university helps people earn opportunities they might not be afforded if they chose not to go to university. I have had to deal with bureaucratic university payment systems, frustrating course planning, unreasonable professors and teaching assistants, but ultimately feel that I am better equipped to deal with and conquer a top-rate style of life in the world of adult work. While most people will acquire a great deal of knowledge about their particular field of study, university really helps to prepare individuals through forced struggle and personal ingenuity to get ready for an advanced life of professional work. To succeed in university, and in life, it is always necessary to have some sort of an organized plan about what you want to do with your life, and as long as you are ready to accept the responsibility and opportunity that a university education can bestow upon yourself, university can help you to realize your potential as well as meet it. Determination is a key aspect of this, and so long as you have faith in yourself and a feeling of duty to meet your potential, success in whatever you are interested in will never be as distant as it might seem.
Simon, Bachelor of Arts (Honours), Class of 2011
I still remember the days after getting my acceptance letter from Queen’s University; I was nervous, anxious, excited, and wondering what the new experience would bring me. Do you remember the first day of kindergarten, or the first day of grade nine? The feelings are similar, but just a bit more complicated.
If you want to know what to expect in university, what you need to pay attention to, or how you can survive in university, this article might be for you. I hope that after reading this article, your preparation for university will be a bit easier.
You probably have heard that your grades will drop when you are in university; it is true for most of the students, especially for first years. All the new changes can be very overwhelming, the idea here is to pick up the learning skills, and adapt to the new environment quickly.
Time management skills
Once you are in university, there will be so many things that you need to do. Social life, workshops, conferences, sports, study etc. How to balance life and study is very important. Different people have different ideas and styles; develop one that fits you the most and, trust me, life will be so much easier once you learn how to balance. One method that I learned in a workshop at Queen’s University is treating your student life as a full time job. From 9 to 5, do things that are related to your study. Unlike high school, the class schedule is never going to be 9am to 3pm. You might have class starts at 10am one day, or have a three hour gap between two classes. You will quickly find that you have a lot of “gap times”. If you use them wisely, you can get lot of things done. At the beginning, I spent all my gap times on Facebook, naps and friends. Once I learned the 9 to 5 method, I used majority of my gap times to study, and at the end of day, I found out that I saved a lot of time, and could actually do other things besides study. Depending on what program you are in, normally you will have 15 – 25 hours class weekly. It’s fewer class hours than high school, but they give you a lot of time on hand for a reason – reading, reading and more reading!
You are the boss
That’s right, you are in charge. No more teachers chasing you around, no more phone calls saying that you are absent, no more curfews (well, if you live on campus, not with your parents). It is great to have freedom, right? It comes with responsibility too. Self-discipline is essential. Set your priorities, write down all the assignments deadlines, and keep up on your readings! Once you are behind, it’s hard to catch up. So, stay on top of your classes. If you live in residence, it’s hard to do work in your room since there are distractions from your floor mates, your computer, and maybe the pictures on the wall. It’s better to study in the library, or a quiet café.
It’s very competitive in university. Sometimes, you might get frustrated, or you might feel that you cannot keep up with the pace; these feelings are very normal, try to get help from your friends, professors or TAs. Also, focus on your long term goals. What’s the reason that you are in university? Term paper and assignments are tiny parts of your life; use them as steps for you to achieve your goals, rather than having them measure your success.
Finally, don’t forget to have fun! Make new friends, join clubs and associations; balancing life with study is very important.
Fannie, Bachelor of Commerce (Honours), Class of 2013