Lucy Liao

Lucy is a Management Engineering student in her 4A term. Here is what she had to say about her first year at Waterloo.

Why did you choose the University of Waterloo?

When I was in high school, I mostly applied to the STEM majors in universities across Canada. At the time, Engineering at the University of Waterloo was already on the top of my list, as it is one of the best Engineering programs in Canada. In addition, I personally value practical knowledge and hands-on experience, so the well-known co-op program also drew me to the school. Most importantly, I was lucky to have the chance to meet some upper-year Engineering students from the school and speak to them about their experience with the school, the program, and their co-ops.  I eventually decided that Engineering at the University of Waterloo would best align with the expectations I have for my university experience, as well as my academic and career goals. 

When you received your offer of admission, how did you celebrate your success?

I remember checking social media so often to see if students were starting to receive their offers and refreshing my email and Quest so frequently. When I got my offer, it just felt unreal. Once it started to settle in, that I got the offer to my dream program and dream school, the first thing I did was to call my family back home and share the good news and the excitement with them. Then I immediately booked a trip to Quebec City with my friend for after graduation to celebrate (it was a great time too! Quebec City is so beautiful in the summer) 


LucyA photo of the end-of-term get-together with my cohort.


Before you arrived, what worried you about coming?

I am from Guangzhou, a very busy city in China. On the other hand, Waterloo is somewhat like a university town. I was quite worried that life would be boring and not as convenient. However, my experience being in Waterloo had proven me wrong. Undeniably, Waterloo is not the most central and crowded city, but it is very easy to get around.

The GRT has busses and the ION train, both of which comes pretty frequently and can basically take you anywhere you want (e.g. grocery shops, restaurants, movie theatre, etc.). There are a lot of facilities on campus, and events/clubs for students to join. Outside of campus, you can go visit the Waterloo Zoo, checkout the vintage stores, or go to a pub… And because there are a lot of university students here, you’ll always find it easy to make new friends!  

What did you expect Canada and the University of Waterloo to be like?

Before arriving, I was a bit scared to be the ‘international student’, and that I would be out of place. However, the country really surprised me with its diversity and inclusiveness. I started to feel comfortable being in the country and at school soon after I arrived, for everyone was very sweet and I never once I felt like I was treated differently because of my identify. I was also worried about the workload from school – prior to coming to UWaterloo, I always heard people talk about how difficult the academic life could be.

After starting my study, I definitely felt the significant difference between high school and university. However, the school provides so many resources to help student adjust and improve, and everyone is here to help us succeed. In addition, I am grateful to have met some great friends in first year who made me feel supported throughout my journey in Canada.  

Was there anything that surprised you? How so?

I was surprised to see how many different communities there are. I joined a dance club in first year, and then I found out the dance community at the university is HUGE. There are different clubs and organizations just for dance (e.g. UWHIPHOP, Limelight, origin). Other than dance, I have friends who are in acapella and they are like a big family there as well. The student life here is actually quite vibrant if you try to get yourself involved! For example, I have been part of UWCSA (Chinese student association) and we plan so many fun events every term for students to meet and socialize.  

Were there any highlights to your first term at Waterloo?

Studying with friends until late at night and going out to get chicken nuggets together will always be my favorite memory of my first year.  

Did you face any challenges in your first year? If so, how did you overcome them?

First year was tough, for the heavier course load, different style of teaching and the competition for co-op. At one point, everything seemed to be piling up and I was very overwhelmed. Fortunately, I had a great group of friends who I got to go through all the hardship with. I surrounded myself with people who were always there for each other, which was so critical for my later success.  

What main differences have you noticed between your home culture and Canadian culture?

Back home in China, people are customed to presenting themselves in a humble way, especially for the young students like us. On the contrary, in Canada, people tend to present themselves confidently, regardless of the age and occupation. I noticed how big of an impact this difference has in job interviews in Canada, where if I speak about my skills very modestly, it might make me sound incompetent!  

What were your experiences like when you returned home?

After getting used to saying hi to strangers, having chitchats with people wherever I go and holding the door for people behind me (which are not common at all for where I come from), I actually had a little bit of reverse cultural shock when I returned home. I nodded to a stranger who I had eye contact with, and he was so weirded out! Other than that, everything else about home was just as amazing as I remembered (especially the home food). 

LucyPost social food hunt with friends from UWCSA (Chinese students association)

If you were arriving as a new international student again, what would you do differently, or the same?

I would have travelled lighter! There was so much struggle for having 2 huge luggage all by myself at the airport. I brought too many things that I could have purchased after I arrived in Canada (e.g. personal hygiene products, medications, etc.). However, I would suggest to plan out what to pack and what to buy wisely, so that you do not end up in an airport situation like mine, or a situation like arriving in Canada and moving into residence late at night and has no beddings to use.  


What is one piece of advice you would share with new Waterloo students?

Take it easy and no need to overstress! You are going to hear about a lot of different advice and things to prepare for before you arrive, and it could really scare you. Don’t worry, I promise once you are here, it’s all manageable! Everything is going to work out for you like it did for me, and for thousands of other students who went through the same thing!

You are away from home and away from family. What practices helped you stay grounded? 

There are 3 things that I find particularly important. First, stay close to friends and do not isolate yourself. Feeling homesick, out-of-place, overwhelmed by school at the same time could put us at a very difficult place. However, spending time with friends always makes me feel better. Second, find your own pace and balance for school and life. I remember being in endless anxiety back in first year – I felt like everyone else was working so hard and I was always falling behind in everything. However, it was not true. Everyone has their own way of studying/working, just because a method works for someone does not mean that it works for us. Sometimes, it’s more important to focus on ourselves and adopt the lifestyle/workstyle that works the best for us. Third, stay connected with your family. No matter how busy my schedule is, I always try to call my family at least once a week. Our family is one of the most important support systems in our life – connecting with family always gives me a good motivation boost.  

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us? 

Getting through university is not an easy task for anyone, and it could be even more challenging for an international student who is far away from home and new to the country… But stay positive! It might sound like cliché, but it is the best mindset to have to get through hard times. Another thing that I learned and found very important is that - let yourself rest and relax! I used to push myself too hard and get very anxious about schoolwork, which actually led to very low productivity and only made me even more anxious. We don’t want to get in that cycle. I slowly found my balance and learned to allow myself to ‘slack off’ – go grab your favorite snack from the store for a study break, go to the gym for a quick session, or take a nap if you need to… Don’t get too stressed when you see someone does things that you aren’t doing, find your own pace and eventually everything will start flowing smoothly for you.