Student Life

Freshman frustration: Breaking down the “best four years of your life”

Every September, almost 7,000 first-year students arrive at McGill and, after settling into residence and promptly ushering their families out of their dorms, eagerly dive into life’s next chapter. The expectation is that the next three or four years will be the best of their lives. But once the novelty of their new environment starts to diffuse, many McGill first years find themselves facing a gap between their prior expectations and the reality of university life.

A few days into their first year of university, students dive right into Frosh. The expectations established by Frosh leaders are that this will be the best week of their first year. Frosh certainly provides space to make friends and connections that will supposedly last a lifetime. Yet, for some students, this simply doesn’t happen, and it can be  hard not to worry that the rest of the year won’t amount to anything better.

For Carlyn Bujouves, U0 Arts, making friends during Frosh wasn’t as simple as she’d anticipated.

“[During Frosh], you go out with your Frosh group, but it’s hard to connect with other people by screaming, ‘Where are you from?’ over blasting music in a club,” Bujouves said. “I found I couldn’t really dig deeper to build more genuine friendships, and that people were acting in a way that would make them most appealing to others instead of being themselves.” 

The pressure to make friends right off the bat carries on long past Frosh. But with the party scene and almost a month of first semester behind them, many first years expect to have already found a close group of friends. Sarah Fairbrother, U0 Arts and Science, has found it difficult not to compare her own newfound friendships to the progress that others have made in making friends.

“I’ve met people I like and we hang out, but I haven’t found my ‘people’ just yet, and it can get lonely without a strong social circle,” Fairbrother said. “It seems like most other people have found their cliques. I think I just haven’t been putting myself out there enough.”

Depictions of university in pop culture and on social media as the best four years of one’s life tend to omit the challenges students often face during this time, leaving many first years feeling alone in their struggle. Constant comparisons among friends and acquaintances on social media can exacerbate this; a scroll through one’s Instagram and Facebook feeds perpetuates unrealistic expectations of what first year ‘should’ look like, only highlighting users’ success and happiness.

Being emotionally vulnerable under the pressure to appear perfect can be challenging. But for Chloé Laflamme, U4 Arts and Science, staying honest about hitting a low point helped her connect more deeply with others during her first year.

“After first semester, I was able to realize that I was partaking in certain behaviours for a lot of the wrong reasons,” Laflamme said. “I made my first genuine friend when I hit a very low point, and they showed me compassion and support in response [….So I] tried not to shy away from opening up and being authentic.”

For Laflamme, building such close friendships took time. There were no instant connections, no best-friends-forever right off the bat. Yet, years later, Laflamme remains close with those first-year friends who got her through the toughest parts. 

“I lived with friends from rez all throughout undergrad,” Laflamme said. “My main social circles can be traced back to who I met in first year.” 

The personal growth that occurs over the course of university is not linear—it is filled with ups and downs. While the time frame for adjusting to university life varies on an individual basis—the imperfections are as much a part of it as the sublimity of it all. 

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