“You know what the best thing is about graduating from Harvard University?” heads turned as my High School AP Microeconomics teacher challenged our class with yet another one of his intriguing questions. After a long 7 hours of school and a diminishing marginal ability to grasp cost-benefit concepts, the student at the front of the class replied “Their resources”— which definitely is one of the correct answers, but not what he was looking for.
You see, the answer to this question applies to everyone, including me, a student at the University of Toronto, as well as you. In fact, it is something that you can put into practice— and likely will do so from the very first day of orientation season, all the way to your graduation date. It is something that business students obsess over before even having done it themselves.
If you are currently a university student, you know exactly what I am talking about when I say that in the first few months of first year, you continuously find yourself saying your nationality, year, and major to every single new face you meet. In fact, it’s like a never-ending broken record, and at one point you can’t help but wonder whether something meaningful is going to come out of it. But what if I told you that this seemingly mundane ritual is the exact key to unlocking my teacher’s advice? In fact, in my personal experience, the answer to his question has come in three separate forms.
1. Everyone, and I mean it— everyone is connected.
Coming from a K-12 school the same size as my current 800-student program, I was used to knowing everyone that surrounded me, from students in grades 3 years below me, to the whole faculty and staff. Of course, coming to university (not to forget, across the globe,) one of my worries lay in being unable to find friends.
Because of this, in my first year, I went above and beyond in introducing myself. In retrospect, I think that was the year where I challenged myself the most, being unafraid to take risks, and realizing that it was an immense opportunity for growth. I was talking to and meeting new people in common rooms, elevators, classes, and the cafeteria every single day, and I don’t regret it in the slightest.
I found myself seeing them again in various events, classes, meetings, or even down the street in second or third year— even though we haven’t seen each other in a while, the fact that we both know each other since first year acts as an excellent conversation starter. And more often than not, in the meantime, my friends also happened to get to know them separately within that timeframe— I never get tired of looking at our shared mutuals on Instagram. As I said, everyone is connected, and it continues to amaze me every single day.
2. They bring a sense of familiarity and comfort when you most need it
When you run into your first-year connections, that were thanks to your ‘autopilot introduction era’, especially when you are alone in a lecture, at an event, or anywhere imaginable in the context of university, it can be quite exciting and relieving. If you are feeling overwhelmed about having to go through the autopilot process with your new class members (which I highly recommend you continue in all years of university), at least you have someone you can rely on for comfort, as well as sharing notes, discussing assignments, or even just catching up between classes.
Also, nothing can beat the benefit of knowing someone you can group with for a project. This sense of familiarity can not only allow better group chemistry, but leads to a smoother, and more enjoyable process. So, those initial conversations during orientation might just save you from the frustration of working with complete strangers and lead to a more successful academic journey.
3. They are part of your network— use each other!
Something I have been told since that one day in my high school AP Microeconomics class is that connections can be crucial to your career. In fact, the benefits extend far beyond not feeling alone in a classroom— as you start considering part-time jobs and internships, you will realize that knowing people from your early days at university can give you a leg up in these areas. They can serve as references, introduce you to job opportunities, or provide guidance based on their own experiences!
From my personal connections, I learned that often they were able to get a job thanks to their network, so make sure to get to know those around you! Connections are wonderful because just as you find comfort in seeing a friendly face, so do others. So, by being approachable and open to forming connections, you make yourself more accessible to those looking for advice, or simply wanting to talk. This will also help build your reputation as a friendly and helpful peer, making you a go-to person for both academic and social needs!
In conclusion, as my AP Microeconomics teacher said, “The best thing about graduating from Harvard University is getting to say that you know people from the university.” The network you build from your very first days, no matter how meaningless the interactions may seem in the moment, all have their value, helping you unlock possibilities, and enrich your university experience. So, the next time you see a new face and are considering whether to go the extra step, think: “What would Cristina’s teacher do?”