Rania is an Arts and Business student in her 2A term. She is also one of the 2020 International Live Chat hosts. Here is what she had to say about her experience at Waterloo.
Why did you choose the University of Waterloo?
The University allowed me to major in Economics and minor in Legal Studies, which was not offered by the other schools I was interested in. This was a big reason why I chose Waterloo. I also had a close friend from high school who goes to the university and that influenced my choice since I knew he could help me settle in and guide me where and when I needed it. I had also heard of Waterloo’s co-op program which made the university stand out from the rest.
When you received your offer of admission, how did you celebrate your success?
Funny story actually, my mother and I were having a serious conversation when I got a ding on my phone, checked the notification, and to my surprise I received the offer of admission. My expression immediately changed and I yelled “I GOT INTO WATERLOO!” and my mother screamed, “REALLY?!” I jumped and hugged her, then we called my dad, grandparents and uncle to break the news. It's one of the best memories I have with my mom and I miss her dearly when I think about it.
Before you arrived, what worried you about coming?
I didn't know how to handle my finances or make budgets. I have a spending problem when it comes to clothes and room décor, so I learned the hard way how to be money smart. But, I also have a very supportive group of smart friends at Waterloo who helped me form a budget and, when that didn’t work, my dad would call my everyday to guide me. Discovering the art of dealing on Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace and thrift stores helped me save a ton!
What did you expect Canada and the University of Waterloo to be like?
I expected a concrete jungle with people who were intensely involved in politics and social issues as I am. I assumed it would be a quiet place where everyone minded their own business, looking out for only themselves and a slightly rough crowd. To my surprise; Canada is so green and beautiful, including the University of Waterloo. There are barely any tall buildings so you can watch the sunset from your window. Everyone is super kind and always willing to help you out. There's an emphasis on team building and togetherness. People aren’t as politically active as I assumed, however there are spaces where you can actively learn and implement your morals.
Was there anything that surprised you? How so?
In high school, you’re taught that no one is going to spoon-feed you in university. You hear from your graduated peers about how ruthless some university professors. Overall, there's this fear of not being helped once you form a certain level of independence. However, that was not my experience at Waterloo. The professors are incredibly accommodating. They offer you time within and outside their office hours to help you and tell you about resources, such as TAs or tutors. This past year I had professors who gave me free textbooks, advice and expressed support whenever I needed it.
Were there any highlights to your first term at Waterloo?
My roommate. I remember when I walked into the empty residence room and she jumped out of the closet yelling at me. She went on to become my best friend and the strongest support system anyone could ever ask for. We formed a very special bond and I feel extremely blessed to know her. I’m really glad I chose to live in residence, I wouldn’t have met her otherwise.
Did you face any challenges in your first year? If so, how did you overcome them?
I had never seen a software like LEARN. I didn’t even know it existed since I was unable to arrive for Orientation. So I would usually turn to the person sitting next to me in class and ask them how to do something on LEARN or I’d ask my friends. If your stuck, I'd suggest asking a professor, a TA or a senior for help.
What main differences have you noticed between your home culture and Canadian culture?
I am from Pakistan, but I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia pretty much all my life. The environment there is very dull, quiet and conservative, while Canada has a much more active lifestyle with freedom to be your own person. As a teenager in Saudi Arabia, most of your social interactions are online, so that switch to instantly having people around you all the time felt great - especially since I’m an extrovert and I love interacting with people.
What were your experiences like when you returned home?
I paid a visit to Pakistan during my winter break and I had reverse culture shock. To see people dressed in traditional clothes and very little public transport was a surprise to see when I stepped into Karachi’s airport. But a sense of comfort overcame me because I was surrounded by my own people, the food I had grown up eating and the call to prayer which was the most soothing sound to hear after living abroad for four months.
If you were arriving as a new international student again, what would you do differently, or the same?
I would tell myself that it's not important to put myself in social situations that I’m not comfortable being in. Even though I am an extrovert, I now realise that having time to myself is crucial in order to charge my social battery. I would also choose to spend my money in a smarter way, such as using thrift stores or buying second-hand items from online sources, and I'd open a savings account to help me keep emergency money if I ever needed it.
What is one piece of advice you would share with new Waterloo students?
Let yourself feel pain, don’t avoid it or run from it. Pain teaches you what and who to prioritise. It helps you discover self worth and above all it helps you count your blessings. You'll learn to love yourself and others by validating the pain you feel no matter what it’s caused by; a relationship, a bad grade or a friend. After all, the stars do shine only at night.
What has your experience of studying online been like during COVID-19?
As an extrovert, I love being around people. I love loud, crowded places, so when everything shut down, the silence felt deafening. It was mostly because it made me think a lot about my insecurities, which I was trying to avoid. So instead of doing that, I begin to dive into the root causes in order to tackle them. It was a painful journey with a successful ending that helped me grow as a person mentally.
Since I wasn’t physically attending classes, studying online allowed me to catch up in courses I was struggling with since I had more time to devote to my studies. I've learned to take responsibility and make a timetable, which helped me stay busy throughout the day, complete tasks and distract me during the tough times the pandemic has brought.
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Make sure you have a good support system with the correct priorities. Always value quality over quantity when it comes to a friends. Find a friend group that can help you out when you’re in a sticky situation or just want someone to vent to. Also, everyone's university experience is different. Everyone comes from different backgrounds, makes different choices and has different life experiences. Follow your gut instead of believing all the Reddit feeds and what other people say.