A Letter to My First-Year Self

Dear First-Year Aleenah, 

Hey there, first-year Aleenah. How’s it going? How are you feeling with classes just around the corner? You must be terrified – but that’s a good sign! It shows you care. The next four years are going to be the best years of your life. You are going to meet so many different people from many different backgrounds; you are going to work alongside the most captivating professors and experience the most life-changing experiences in the heart of downtown Toronto at Ted Rogers School of Management. 

As I enter my fourth year and look back to who I was during my first year, I’ve written down a few of the most significant lessons I’ve learned over the years. 

Live in the Moment 

The first step to getting through this year is accepting your own cluelessness. Very soon, you are going to realize that you are lost and not everything is going as you had planned. Everyone and everything around you feels alien. You are in a new place and everything has changed. But let me tell you a little secret – pretty much everyone around is pretty clueless too, even if it doesn’t look like it!

Don’t worry too much about what’s going to happen next or what you can do to prepare for the rollercoaster ride ahead, just live in the moment. Absorb everything around you one day at a time and just breathe! 

I remember my first semester when I had just moved to Canada from Pakistan and I spent so much time worrying about how I could possibly fit-in being an outsider, worrying about the snow, worrying about absolutely anything. But looking back today, it all just happened really quickly and I wish I could’ve cherished that a bit more. 

I promise you everything will settle down and you will figure it all out but don’t forget to enjoy these 4 years because they will fly by (trust me). 

Embrace Failure 

Soon enough, you are going to realize that failure is inevitable. You are going to face rejections from co-ops, not getting the grade you wanted, or even comparing yourself to fellow classmates. But just know that when you walk across the other side, you’ll have grown a little more and you’ll be standing with your head high, ready to take on the world. Failure is an opportunity for growth, it doesn’t measure your value or self-worth. It’s important to learn where you went wrong and to reach out for support when you feel you need it. Thankfully, we chose the perfect place with numerous supports available to help us out at every step of the way, so don’t forget to reach out. 

First year is scary and difficult; in fact, it’s probably going to be the toughest year in your university experience. But it is also the year that teaches you more about yourself than any other experience ever could. Looking back into my first year, there were a lot of changes I had to make back then without which I could never have made it this far. In fact, the most crucial skill first-year taught me was adaptability which has helped me numerous times along the way and has been the reason I have made it here today. 

It Takes A Village 

Something nobody told me about university was that you just cannot do it all on your own. You need your people to catch you when you fall. So put in that extra effort to build your village of support – say “hi” to literally everyone, be that helping hand your peer might need, call your parents whenever you can – and cherish those relationships that make this strange, alien place feel like a home. There is really nothing to lose and it will definitely be awkward at first but you never know, it might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, a convenient acquaintance or even just a buddy to explore downtown with. 

I built my community working here at the Program Advising and Student Success Office. I connected with people from all over TRSM; I made valuable connections with professors and professional staff and I learned the importance of community. Despite COVID-19 putting everything online, I had my team that I could rely on for support even if it was just a little chat in between shifts. I’m grateful everyday for the village I built along the way.

You were given a seat at the university for a reason and you are right where you need to be to make a difference in the world. Do not doubt yourself and have fun! 

Yours truly (and literally),