Hello there! My name’s Sophia, aka the idiot who travelled halfway across the world to start university during a pandemic. To give some context: I’m an 18 year-old Canadian-born half-Kiwi queer-identifying mechatronics engineering and design conjoint student. If that wasn’t confusing enough, I’m also a domestic student here at UoA even though July 2021 was my first time living in NZ.

The city of Vancouver (as seen from North Vancouver) near where I grew up in British Columbia, Canada.

The city of Vancouver (as seen from North Vancouver) near where I grew up in British Columbia, Canada.

There’s a lot of reasons why I decided to move away from Canada to study engineering and design (finances, family, my specific degree path, the diagonal crosswalks… the usual considerations, of course). For now though, I want to discuss my first few weeks living in Auckland as both a first-time uni student and NZ resident.

Despite the dream of moving from a province with over 600+ daily COVID cases to a country with zero (in June 2021, at least…aha), I still felt understandably nervous about moving to NZ alone. I was fresh out of high school, having graduated mid-June, and didn’t know anyone else going to UoA. Although I had family scattered around the North Island, I was still left alone to open a new bank account, get my student ID card, and find my classes on my first day. Not to mention relearning how to walk on sidewalks (do people walk on the left side of the pavement like how cars drive on the left side of the road here?). However, those things seemed trivial compared to the monumental task that lay before me: making friends.

After my very first class, I realised that it would be all too easy to sit at the back of the lecture hall, silently take notes, do my homework, sleep and repeat for months — all without talking to a single soul. As an introvert, such a life was sorely tempting. I then remembered my mom, a post-secondary professor, telling me about students who complained of their loneliness without ever putting in any effort to socialise. From then on, I vehemently swore to myself that I wouldn’t meet such a fate. And so, in my third university lecture, I introduced myself to the person sitting next to me.

The confidence boost I gained from that one interaction led me to look for other opportunities to make more friends. Over the next few weeks, I attended numerous networking events run by WEN and Rainbow Engineering and joined clubs like Robogals and the Auckland Uni Strength Society (I somehow managed to make friends at all of these!). Going to a university where you know absolutely no one does have its perks — you’re free to put yourself out there without being held back by anyone else. I no longer feared being alone or facing the judgement of friends like I did back in high school. This left me free to pursue what I was interested in. And along the way, I found friends who cared about the same things I did. 

Having finished over a year of university now, I’d say I’m fairly qualified to give advice to anyone who finds themselves in the same boat I was in last year. So here’s my list of “action items” that you can try if you want to put yourself out there, seek out opportunities, meet new people and make the most of your uni experience:

  • Go to a club expo and talk to people at different booths to find out what they offer,
  • Attend networking events, even in first year —  you’ll learn a ton and meet new people!
  • Talk to some older students (either at clubs or networking events or elsewhere) to gain insight from their experiences, and
  • Explore different activities and hobbies (they don’t have to relate to your field of study!) and always be open to trying new things

In the end: enjoy your uni experience. If I’ve learned anything from these past few months, it’s that life will never go the way you planned (I’m that person who changed their engineering specialisation choice a week before the deadline, after all). The best you can do is make the most of every moment, no matter what. And with that, your resident Canadian-Kiwi will finally shut up and go do their dynamics homework — good luck to everyone out there with uni, whether you’ve started or not! I’m sure you’ll do great 🙂