How to Survive Uottawa, or Any Other Canadian Universities - A Quick Guide for Those Who Are About to Enter, or Are Considering Undergraduate Educations in Canada Part I - How to get ahead and win at the beginning!
Table of Contents
Introduction p. 2
101 Week p. 3
Clubs p. 4
Forward Thinking Mentality p. 5
Socialize strategically p. 6
Conclusion p. 7
Hey! If you are reading this right now, you’re probably considering or are about to enter university life in Canada. I know you might have plenty of questions and concerns, fear not, I am here to answer them and provide a smooth transition for you. My name is Zhilong Wang, most of my friends call me Michael. I am a fourth-year COOP student studying history and political science at the University of Ottawa. I started my studies in 2018 and am scheduled to graduate at the end of 2022. As I am doing COOP, I will graduate somewhat later than a regular 120 credit course. If you are unsure what COOP means, keep that word in mind as I will explain later. I am currently the Vice President for our school’s History Student Association (HSA), so if you’re in history or arts in general, come to say hi during my office hours!
The point of this short article is to share most of my most hard-earned experiences regarding how to be a successful university student, and how to transition successfully from a student to a member of the workforce (i.e. finding a good job). This knowledge that I am about to share is especially useful for those who are at or about to enter the University of Ottawa, but the general idea may apply to every undergraduate student. I believe that with the right tools and knowledge, everyone can have the potential for success. However, much information can be out of date, or irrelevant for individuals passing down experiences from different times and places. Hence why this guide is designed to help you with your everyday tips and knowledge that I have accumulated from events that happened not more than a year or two ago. Furthermore, I hope you might find this guide especially useful in providing some “cheats” for you in your everyday school life, and to make your university experience as relaxing, simple, and fruitful as possible.
The content of this article goes chronologically, according to the events of a regular school year that starts in September and ends in April. As a general rule, the later the chapter, the later in the year you’ll be.
With that being said, I hope all the best to you in your upcoming studies and if you encounter unexpected difficulties just remember, all great men and women of history, no matter what time and place, were just like you at one point. So don’t fret. Keep calm and carry on!
Home page of the Academic Writing Center © Michael Wang 2021
One of the most important yet overlooked events is 101 week (https://www.uottawa.ca/get-started/welcome-week) . This is the week(s) that your university puts on in order to get freshmen acquainted with university life. During this time, student organizations (such as AÉHSA (https://linktr.ee/uOAEHSA) or AÉÉIPPSSA (https://linktr.ee/AEEIPPSSA)) from different faculties would often bring about social events for newcomers. This is the prime time to get acquainted with folks who share a similar interest with you and are in the same program as you. University friendship starts here. But beyond just pleasure, the welcome/101 week often involves a detailed question session where senior students would try to answer some of the questions for students. Such as where to find help, campus layout, specific information about programmes, and other tips and tricks that they have accumulated from their years of experience.
I have attended most of these events when I was a freshman, and they benefited me immensely. Not only am I acquainted with the campus layout, hence saving me a lot of trouble in finding my classrooms, but also places I could go to find help. I was not a good writer in my freshman year as I was still learning English, but my mentors recommended me to the Academic Writing Centre (https://arts.uottawa.ca/writingcentre/en) - a free help center where senior students can read through your essays and works and not only help correct English mistakes but also provide you with information on how to be a better writer. I can safely assume that this early help that I got boosted my mark by at least 10%. Other forms of help included the philosophy tutoring service where TAs would help students review before an exam. All universities have support groups similar to the ones we have in uOttawa, hence it is crucial to attend 101 Week and know where you can get help. They’re free, comprehensive, and accessible to everyone.
Philosophy Tutoring Service © Michael Wang 2021
By this point, you’re probably one or two weeks into your school year. And if you followed my first step and attended 101 week, or whatever equivalent welcome event at your school, you should by now follow the right people and right organizations on social media. This is important since especially in COVID times, all information about events is obtained online. And you can only obtain the right information if you follow the right people. A person could theoretically finish university without attending any social events and clubs. But that is not you, you are someone who is eager to meet like-minded people and is willing to get out of your comfort zone and experience new things. After all, the university is as much of an academic experience as a social one. Meeting new people and trying out new things on your own is partly what you are paying for.
Sitting days from uOttawa’s Model Parliament, 2020 © Michael Wang
Joining a club (https://www.cvuo.ca/clubs-list) is a great way to meet like-minded people and attend exciting events. During my first year, I joined our school’s DECA team, Model UN, and Model Parliament. The latter brought me to a two-day session in our actual parliament (unfortunately being in our Parliament for Model Parliament is only an uOttawa privilege as far as I know)!
Club fairs usually happen in the first few weeks into your school year so keep your eye out for it! Joining a good club can set you well on meeting some good friends and adding more things to your resume, not to mention that it’s a lot of fun.
Forward Thinking Mentality
One thing everyone will struggle with is the motivation for work. Everyone has a certain amount of time, and a certain amount of tasks to complete within that set of time. On paper, everyone should portion out the tasks evenly so that no days are wasted nor will any day be stacked with work. But that usually isn’t the case. I found that for university students especially, the beginning of the term is usually calm and relaxing, filled with parties and social gatherings. However, as soon as reading week and midterm hit, the entire mood is different. Walking around campus I guarantee you’ll not find any laughter, but usually dead silence. While some unfortunate students would have to resort to pulling all-nighters and rushing through work during the finals.
Everyone studies differently and we all have our schedules. But the idea of motivating yourself to work when there is always a tomorrow is in fact a life problem. In schools, we have deadlines to contend with. Doesn’t matter how much we procrastinate, we still have to hand in our work on time or else fail. However, after we graduate and move on with our lives we will find that there isn’t a “deadline” anymore for our life’s goal. We could start working on our goals right now, or we can start tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. The ability to motivate yourself to work when you don’t have to is partly what determines whether you will be successful or not.
Hence I think it is important to train yourself to have this “forward-thinking mentality”, that is, the ability to foresee that your time is limited, hence you need to plan out your work accordingly and follow up with your plans. The setting for the university during COVID is especially good for training like these. As usually your profs will give you your final projects ahead of time and allow you to work at your own pace. I suggest buying a physical agenda book and writing down the deadlines for all of your assignments before your school starts. Then portion out the days estimated to finish those assignments, then give yourself enough time for reading, going to classes, and relaxation. Train yourself to live according to your plans.
In book VIII of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle identified that there are three types of friendships, that of pleasure, utility, and virtue. Whether that is true or not is left for you to decide, but it is true that not all friendships are equal. Although you should value your friends equally and treat them with the same respect you would to yourself, some friends are more helpful towards your academic life and career.
Thus it is important to strategically place yourself in places where you might meet other like-minded, energetic, and talented people. And you can do this by going to the aforementioned social event hosted by your faculty. Despite being almost a cliché, almost every senior student I asked during my first year said that if they can give me one piece of advice, then it would be to meet new people. University is beyond just learning stuff, it is about finding friends whom you might work with for the rest of your life. Knowing these people early will help you immensely and you should never value socializing strategically below academic stuff.
Me and my friends at Model Parliament making backroom deals, plotting to cross the floor, 2020 © Michael Wang 2021
The information I have shared should help you when it comes to getting started early in the semester. Hopefully, they will be useful to your situation! If you have any unanswered questions please check out Part II and III of my guide, they’ll be dealing with takings notes, exams, and resources that will aid you in your studies! Best of luck!