Tips and tricks to adapt to university and a new city

One thing that we all heard before starting university is that life as a university student is a big change: a possible change to your social group, your grades, your interests, your surroundings, your independence, and many other parts of your life. This change impacts everybody differently, but there’s one thing that’s the same for all of us and that no one can express in words: how difficult this change can really be. This is something we need to experience firsthand and learn from for ourselves, which can be quite intimidating. At first, it might feel like walking through an unfamiliar room with a blindfold on. However, once we adapt to these changes, we can remove our blindfolds and see that within that unfamiliar room is a world of opportunities. I have learned to embrace many of these opportunities, but I once felt like I was the one blindfolded in an unusual place.

When I moved to university, my “unusual place” wasn't simply the university, but the City of Ottawa as a whole. I’m from a very small town in the country, called Caistor; if you blink once while driving through it, you’ll probably miss about half of the sights to see (which are not much more than farms and fields). In Caistor, everyone knows everyone; people know who you are, where you come from, where you work, and what you do in your spare time. There is minimal cultural diversity, and Tim Horton’s is just about the only shop you’ll find within the 10-minute drive to the next town. Yup, that’s right, I had never tried Chipotle before I moved to Ottawa. It was a very strange feeling to go someplace where someone didn’t recognize me, or on the flip side, to be someplace where I knew no one. The sound of sirens and the lights peeping through my curtains kept me up many of the first nights I spent in my new apartment. And might I mention that the whole idea of being in an apartment building was a brand-new concept. Was this nerve racking? Yes. Slightly unsettling? Yes. However, was it also exciting, stimulating, and thrilling? Of course. I am a very outgoing person and quickly realized the advantages of being a student in a new city. For others, coming to this realization can be much harder. So, I hope to use my experiences as a way of giving you tips and tricks on adapting to the adjustments and overcoming the hurdles that come with university life so that you can take advantage of the opportunities in front of you, not fear them.


1. Do a self check and reflect

As the recipient of an Undergraduate Research Scholarship, I moved to Ottawa right after the end of Grade 12 to do research. About a month after moving away from home, I came to the sudden realization that I probably would never live in Caistor again. This caused overwhelming feelings that could have been prevented if I had done a self check and reflected as soon I settled into my new place. Realize where you are, why you’re here, and allow yourself to take this step forward.  Remind yourself of all the benefits of getting a great education at the University of Ottawa and living in the city (which you will read about below).

2. Realize that home is never too far

Although it is important to accept the transition and allow yourself to take a step forward, it is equally important to recognize that no matter where you are, home is never more than a call away. Being in university doesn’t mean that you’re too old to give your parents a call when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. If friends bring you comfort, I assure you that they will be happy to hear from you. That said, it is important to keep in touch with those who mean a lot to you.

On this topic, university semesters fly by. Sitting in your first class, you wouldn’t believe how quickly Reading Week comes. If you live close enough to home, there’s plenty of opportunities to visit throughout the year. If you live further away, summer vacation comes in the blink of an eye and lasts for four long months. With this in mind, there’s never a need to feel stuck at school. If you’re missing home, check your calendar and you’ll see that you’ll be back much sooner than later.

3. Give it time

Remember that the change you are going through is a milestone in your life, and that any big change takes time to get use to. For me, it wasn’t until the end of my second summer in the city that I fully accepted my new life. Don’t give up, stay positive, and remember the reason you’re here and why it’ll all be worth it in the end.

4. Give people a chance

One of the things that will significantly help get you through university is good friends: friends who you can study with, who you can talk to when you're stressed, or who you can take a break from school with. Sometimes all these friends will be from the same group, and other times they won’t. For example, I have one friend group I study with and another that I spend time with when I want to watch a movie or go out for dinner. While it is important to find people that suit your personality well, it is equally important to give people a chance and realize that the friends you have here may be quite different from those you had in high school. This is especially true for us, since the University of Ottawa is full of international students who come from all around the world. Be friendly, put yourself out there, and meet new people.

5. Expand your horizons

Similar to how it is important to put yourself out there to meet new friends, you should also put yourself out there to experience your new city, learn what it has to offer, and try new things. I only found out this summer that Ottawa is much bigger than the ByWard Market and campus. Having  a lot of places you can go to, things you can do, and sights you can see, could be the solution to any nervousness or uncertain feelings you might still have about university or being away from home. For example, I visited and went kayaking on Dow’s Lake this past summer. Being outdoors and away from the hustle and bustle of downtown reminded me of Caistor, and this reminiscing brought me so much happiness.

6. Do at least one thing that scares you

The one thing that scares you might be something like leaving campus and exploring the city, joining a new club at school, or opening yourself up to meeting new friends. Whatever it may be, it could allow you to find a new interest or hobby that you never knew you had, lead you to meet new people, and significantly improve your university experience as a whole.

Highlights of being a student in Ottawa

1. Amazing opportunities

The combination of the University of Ottawa and the city itself opens the doors to all my suggestions: meeting new people, trying new things, and pursuing new passions. You could apply for a new job, taste new foods, and embrace cultural diversity. As a science student, you can join clubs, conduct research, and learn about an array of fascinating subjects. Quite literally nothing is out of reach here, so shoot for the stars and set the bar high. After all, embracing these opportunities will allow you to expand your knowledge far beyond what a classroom professor can teach you.

2. Always something to do

This one if quite self-explanatory; because of the plentiful opportunities around the city and on campus, you will never be bored. Never hesitate to take advantage of your school and your new home.

3. More privacy

Reading that a big city gives you more privacy might seem like a typo at first, but I assure you that it’s far from one. As I said, one of the biggest changes I experienced when I moved to Ottawa was the notion of knowing no one and having no one know me. However, this allows you to have your own space, to do what you want, and to be whoever you aspire to be without everybody in town knowing (and maybe even judging you) immediately. Your reputation and status are far less important, especially compared to high school, and this gives you a little more room to breathe. Think of it as a fresh start where you can become the person you may have once been too scared to be.

4. New perspectives

Since you will be surrounded by innovative and intelligent people with a multitude of extraordinary ideas and thoughts, you will be able to see things through a new set of eyes. This will allow you to have a different take on many subjects, and perhaps even on the world as a whole. Acquiring new perspectives could teach you something you didn’t know, allow you to find new meaning, set new goals, or improve your attitude.

5. Gateway to finding yourself

This last highlight is perhaps the most essential and influential; it is a culmination of all the other points that I have made. If you take the advice that I have given you and expand your horizons, do something that scares you, and try to see through new perspectives, then you will be putting yourself on a path to finding who you truly are as a person. High school has the tendency to put you in a box: the group that you fit into is important. People know if you are popular, a jock, artsy, or smart, and this can force you to pretend to be someone you’re not. In university, you are surrounded by people in your program (and perhaps in other programs) who share your interests or show you new ones. These people don’t care where you came from or what your social status was in high school. The University of Ottawa, and the City of Ottawa, are places that truly allow you to flourish and encourage you to be whoever you want to be. At least in my opinion, this is a life-changing experience that I am immensely thankful for.

With this said, my take-home message applies to everyone: whether you’re coming from a small town, a different big city, or are from Ottawa in the first place, take a step out of your comfort zone and take advantage of your surroundings to make the best of your university experience. However, as my dad said to me before dropping me off at my new apartment two years ago, never forget your roots.

Taylor Lanosky, 2nd year, Biotechnology