As a first-generation immigrant student, I have constantly been pushed to work hard and set an example for my younger siblings. When I started school in Canada in Grade 11, I felt as if I was being bombarded with multiple challenges at the same time: figuring out the Canadian education system, overcoming communication barrier, dealing with cultural shock and of course surviving the Canadian winter to name a few.
In the midst of all this confusion, being a dedicated student helped me get accustomed to the novelty of the new education system. However, it was not until my first year of university that I acknowledged the huge impact pursuing post-secondary education had on me.
No two people have same experience during their undergraduate studies. I was first in my family to go to university in Canada, and even though my family provided me with unconditional support in my expedition to get higher education, I still lacked having someone to look up to. I felt alone despite being surrounded by a thousand classmates. There was a lack of belonging in university. I longed for my own community that would support me in my journey. Things worsened after I got my first grades back. I began questioning myself and my decision of pursuing post-secondary education. I had no one to go to, no one who could tell me it was normal and that I was going to be okay.
One day I read about a mentorship program on campus called “First in the Family” that is tailored to provide support to students like me who are first in their family to pursue post-secondary education in Canada. Though reluctant at first, I ended up signing up for it. As part of the program, I was assigned a mentor who would guide me and address my questions and concerns. My mentor introduced me to a concept that I had never heard of before: reflecting on my experiences. This advice completely changed my outlook on my achievements and challenges. Every failure reminded me that things don’t go as planned, and every success was a proof that things can also go well.
Reflection proved to be the skill that I was missing in my toolkit to success. It has enhanced my critical thinking skills and consequently, my grades. Reflection on my experiences has helped me maintain positive relationships with people who matter to me the most. It has contributed to my mental well-being. Reflection has promoted my transformation from an introvert to a confident, hardworking student, whose fuel comes from thinking about her experiences.
My mentor played a significant part in my life, perspective, and university experience which was what motivated me to join mentorship programs and help other first-generation students. My time as a mentor has made me realize the value of developing relationships that go beyond just sharing class notes. While I worked to teach my mentees the skills that helped me succeed as a university student, I pushed myself to strive for better and set an example for people who look up to me. Today, I have mentored many students as a part of various mentorship programs, and each and every interaction with my mentees has taught me about the invaluable form of learning that takes place when we sit down with an intention to reflect.
Reflection is not supposed to be a demanding activity that you must spend hours on. Reflection can happen when you commute to school, wait in line to get your coffee, join a Zumba class to destress, draw out the ideas that bother you, fill out your journal with your thoughts, or talk to someone who is important to you.
Remember, no matter how your semester is going, what you learn from your experience, and how that learning changes your approach is very important.
Grow. Stretch your boundaries. Work hard. Think. Help. Motivate. Reflect.