When I think about my first year at UBC and what I learned, three pictures emerge.
Snapshot 1: Finding inspiration
First year. It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone.
I left my room in Totem Park, and slept on a hammock in one of British Columbia’s natural parks. I wore hiking boots too big for my small feet, a rain jacket that fell on top of my distracted eyes, and a backpack filled with expectations, curiosity, and canned food. This was my first camping experience in beautiful British Columbia.
In nature I discovered that the best resource for any classroom assignment – biology, literature, mathematics, philosophy – is the snow, the sea, the sunset, and sound.
Falling asleep to the chant of waves on Vancouver Island, I heard the story for my creative writing assignment.
Looking at the stars fall to the horizon and sink into the sea, I truly understood the way we are all connected through the same ocean and guided by similar stars. This is where I got the idea for my geopolitics essay.
And the river taught me the importance of discipline and hard work, as I watched how something as fragile and fleeting as time and water come together to carve a stone.
Snapshot 2: The musical game of friendship
I will never forget how I met my best friends during Jump Start.
I sit here. A circle of strange faces and musical instruments. A jamming session.
As I look around, everyone in the room holds an instrument. Everyone except my friend Daniel.
I can read in his face that there is an idea in the making. Then a sparkle in his eyes, the kind you only hear about in poetry. All of a sudden, he runs to the kitchen and comes back with a fork in one hand and a cheese grater in the other.
What a cathartic instant when the space in between individuals is shortened by these moments. Moments that can only be held by the language of music and heard by the rhythm of dancing.
And so to the tempo of a cheese grater we dance, merging with the melody all at once. We are no longer strangers but long lost friends reunited, everyone sharing in sound-full synchronicity their own isolated musical trance.
Snapshot 3: Balancing responsibilities
One day, during a rainy weekend in first year, I woke up and to my surprise the Sweet. Sun. Was. Out.
It was final exam season, but my need for sunshine felt stronger than my need to do my homework. What a lovely day to meditate in the sand, dance with the waves, and converse with the cloudless sky, I thought.
So I went down to the beach. My eyes admired the wavy ocean, but my mind painted an exponential graph in the waves, just like my Economics 101 course.
Terrified, I shifted my attention to the clouds.
Oh clouds! Expressions of the atmosphere’s moods. Nature’s poetry in shapes of white. Look at that one! It is dissolving into a few smaller ones. Hmmmm, that shape looks familiar. It looks just like former Yugoslavia being divided into Serbia, Croatia, Sloveni….oh no, am I thinking about my Anthropology 201 course?
In a desperate attempt to run away from all these subliminal academic messages, I plugged in my earphones, hoping to escape with music. But the first song that came out was: “Ojala” by Silvio Rodriguez, a song about the Cuban dictatorship of his time. Also, the essay topic for my sociology class.
These nudging voices in my head shifted my relaxation into remorse, took away the warmth of the sun by toying with my lack of responsibility.
My eyelashes pointed down in disappointment. I went back inside, sank into my notebooks, and that was how, with the sun as my alibi, I became my own parent.
On that sunny day, I faced a complicated duality: how to dance within the gap of who I am, and who I want to be. Balancing between two different forces in time: what makes me happy now, and what will make me happier later.
In new beginnings, things often feel unstable. Too fast. Too big. Too complicated. But the greatest equalizer in the chaos of building a new life is friendship.
Those who stand around you will determine if the ground beneath your feet is stable enough for you to dance. Look for voices clear enough for you to follow and for hearts humble enough for you to lead.