Indigenous Voices: Tips for first-year Indigenous students

(Young Joo Jun/AQ)

Even though I’m in the final year of my undergraduate degree, I can still remember how scary first year was. I moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone. I missed my family, friends and most of all, my community. Since then, my life has been filled with many ups and downs. I hope to save you from some of the downs I’ve experienced. If I knew these tips, I would have had a much different (and smoother) first-year university experience.

Seek out other Indigenous students

The first and most important tip is to find other Indigenous students. I made friends from living in residence and my classes and they were great, but it wasn’t until I met other Indigenous students that I felt the sense of community I was longing for.

The Wabanaki Centre on the top floor of James Dunn Hall is a welcoming space for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students alike. Plus, there’s always food … so, why wouldn’t you go there?

Go to all of your classes

Seriously. For most, this is common sense, but it wasn’t for me. I went through my first year feeling free from the shackles of curfews and parents. I thought I could skip a few classes here and there and still be fine … I wasn’t fine. You’re here for a reason, and that’s to go to school. Take advantage of the experience and attend every possible class – your grades will thank you for it.

Don’t limit yourself

Try out different courses. In my first year, I was dead-set on graduating with a major in political science. Instead, I will be graduating with a major in communications and public policy and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. It wasn’t until I tried other courses that I realized there are other possibilities.

Get involved

Join committees and try out extracurricular activities offered on campus. It took me three years to realize that in order to make the most of my university experience, I should be a part of the university experience. I know it can seem intimidating, but don’t be afraid to join campus initiatives – they want you to take part, and I promise you won’t regret it.

Be healthy and stay active

It’s really easy to develop unhealthy living habits, especially during your first year. My first year was spent at frat parties and eating endless amounts of pizza. This took a toll on my grades, my physical health and my mental health. Take it from me, if you’re kind to your body, it’ll be kind back.

Take care of your mind, too

Mental health is no joke. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. As a STUdent, you are entitled to free and confidential services at the C.C. Jones Student Services Centre. Despite what some high school teachers have drilled into your head (or at least mine), university professors are usually accommodating. They understand life happens and if you let them know you’re struggling, most of them will give you more time.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Everyone messes up – whether it’s a bad decision, a bad grade or a bad day, we’ve all been there. Just remember all of the hard work you’ve put in to get here and give yourself a pat on the back. Being in university as an Indigenous student, you’re breaking barriers and reclaiming space for future generations of Indigenous children. I think that deserves some recognition. We’re all here to help you, including myself, so don’t be afraid to reach out.

Indigenous Voices is a space in The Aquinian for Indigenous students to share their stories and experiences.