Five things every first year BCIT student should know.

It’s been a hot minute since I wrote in here, hasn’t it?  I suppose that’s what happens at BCIT; it’s like getting sucked into a wormhole and then getting transported nine months into the future.  The same amount of time, as my classmates and I observed, that it takes to conceive and birth a baby.  Many half-hearted jokes made in the depths of our overtired despair were made referring to our semesters as our trimesters and our exam period as the final push.  Weird things happen to your brain when you’re surviving on four hours of sleep and each day is another “once more unto the breach,” moment, only to have your hopes and dreams of victory dashed upon the rocks.  Exams, you know?

Anyways, I survived!  And my grades didn’t take as much of a hit as I thought they would this semester, despite having to frequently battle the most nefarious of foes: Statistics, Macroeconomics, and Accounting.  I made it, I’m alive, and I still want to come back next year.  That’s got to mean something, right?  This time next year I might even have a Real Adult Job.

So, now that I have emerged relatively triumphant from my inaugural year in this program, it feels right to bestow some of my ~wisdom~ upon the masses.  And by masses I mean, you know, whoever reads this.  I narrowed down the numerous lessons I learned into the five most valuable things I think every first year should keep in their brains.

1. Be engaged

BCIT is designed to be like a workplace; an insane, chaotic workplace hold yourself accountable for showing up and participating.  One of the biggest differences between BCIT and other universities is that your instructors care and notice if you’re not there.  Take responsibility for your own learning – if you’re not understanding something, go and see your instructors during their office hours.  Chances are they’re much less intimidating one-on-one than they are in front of a classroom of 200+ people.

Perhaps more importantly, showing up and doing the work demonstrates to your classmates that you’re reliable and hardworking.  Remember, they are your future network.  You definitely don’t want to burn any bridges while you’re here.

Pro-Tip: If you’re struggling with a certain class and you’ve been making an effort all year to show up, seek help, and do your assignments, your instructor will take that into account.  Often it’s the difference between passing or failing a course.

2. Use your Sundays wisely

Every Sunday, or whenever you have time during the weekend, take a few hours and plan the week ahead.  Write out what assignments you have coming up, do your grocery shopping, and plan out some lunches and dinners.  Taking the guesswork out of what I’m going to eat when I get home from class at an emergency level of hunger has saved me from myself countless times in the form of pizza, ice-cream, pizza dipped in ice-cream, etc.  When I’m so hungry I can’t think straight, I eat some incredibly strange combinations of things and then immediately hate myself.

(One of the weirder combinations was two tins of smoked oysters, toast smothered in mascarpone, and an entire can of black olives.  “Charcuterie!” I declared, bits of toast flying everywhere as I drained the olives and proceeded to try and fit as many of them into my mouth as possible.)

SO, in order to avoid that, I like to spend a few hours every Sunday picking up groceries, chopping up my fruit and veggies for the week, and keeping everything in obsessively beautifully organized tupperware stacks in my fridge.  Future You will thank Past You immensely when you wake up and your lunch is all ready to go.

3. Spend time with your classmates outside of class

Even if it’s just a beer (or four) with some homies at Professor Mug’s after a long week of classes, having people to unwind with who are going through the same experience as you is so valuable.  You may start to feel like nobody else in this world understands what your life is like (they don’t) so spend some time having Real Talk with the people who know what’s up.  BCIT is full of awesome people with interesting lives, and getting to know them without the pressure of deadlines or complicated team dynamics can help you to build lasting friendships.  It also helps take some of the dire seriousness out of it all.

4. Make time to take care of yourself

On my orientation day, one instructor joked about saying good-by to our loved ones and our lives as we know it.  Do not do this. Make sure you’re sleeping, eating well, exercising, stepping away from your computer screens every now and again,  I know that it can feel hopeless and like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you feel like you have to.  I’mma tell you right now: there isn’t.

The hardest thing about BCIT isn’t the actual course material, it’s the sheer amount of things you’re responsible for at any given time.  Seven courses, club responsibilities, team meetings, tutorials, everything takes up precious hours of your day.  If you don’t look at taking care of yourself as a non-negotiable part of your day, you’ll find yourself a shell of a person by the time exams creep into your life like a Dementor-laden fog.  BCIT is an ultramarathon, not a sprint.

5. Have a tangible end-goal, and don’t base your self-worth on your GPA

These two work together because I find that by having a tangible goal in sight, I focus less on the grades given to me and more on what actions help me to accomplish that goal.

Before you start your program, do some hard reflecting and define what “success” means to you.  It’s harder to measure things you do during your day that isn’t directly quantifiable by a piece of paper with a number on it saying what mark you got, but know that they’re just as important.  Don’t forego an opportunity just because you’re worried that it will take time out of studying.  Join a club, go to industry networking events, meet the people you want to work for when you’re through.  Realize that your grades will probably never be as good as they were in highschool or university, and that it’s okay.  Having a goal helps take the pressure off and helps to motivate you in the knowledge that you’re working towards something.

As a chronic overachiever, telling myself that passing = success is hard, and I’m still working on it.  One thing I know for certain after spending some time in the world is that no employer is ever going to ask you what your GPA was. I promise. Most of them didn’t even know what my degree was or what it even meant.  “Greek and Roman Studies,” they would muse aloud, letting it hang in the air like some strange foreign word they were just learning to speak.  They wouldn’t say anything after that, because they would never know where to begin.

Alas, the eternal plight of a Classics major.  Anyways.

Ultimately, this experience is yours.  The next two years are going to push you harder than probably anything ever has.  The amazing thing about that is you’re going to learn so many things about yourself, and through every tough group interaction or difficult concept you tackle, know that you’re growing.  You’ll be tossed so far out of your comfort zone that you’ll quickly redefine it, over and over.  Everything you go through now is going to make you an even more badass human after you graduate. And you will, you just need to push, and believe.

And you know, if you’re ever having a hard time, just let Tim Cappello help you out.

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