I often come across the quote, “nobody is perfect.” So why, as university students, does it feel like we are always expected to be perfect? When it comes to balancing our studies with our social lives, workload, and adapting to a new country as an international student, it often feels like we’re expected to do it all seamlessly. I think many students struggle with trying to prove to ourselves or others around us that we are perfect, and so are our lives.
In my first year at university, I found myself looking at random classmate of mine and concluding that their life is perfect. I would look at them chilling with their friends and blindly assume, they had absolutely no problems in their life. Due to this, I started feeling that all of my peers had a perfect life except for me. Every problem in my life seemed to be exceptionally huge, unusual, and unsolvable. I spent hours crying about how wrong my life was, and how I was unable to make anything better. Not having a life like the ones I imagined others had badly affected my mental health.
So one fine day in November, I decided, I’d had enough! I wanted to get help to feel better. To me, getting better was a step closer to having a more perfect life. Before deciding who and where I should seek advice, I researched the resources on campus that could be helpful. I discovered the University of Alberta Counselling & Clinical Services. It sounded like it would be the best place for me to seek help to untangle the messy thoughts in my head.
I know, for most international students, including myself, the idea of seeing a psychologist is intimidating. Seeing a psychologist in my home country of India is not common. It’s not encouraged to admit when we need help. But trust me: if you feel you need help, then reaching out to a resource is not a bad idea. In fact, it’s one idea that can change your life. These services are free to all students, and are completely confidential and private.
When I sat with a counsellor at the University of Alberta Counselling & Clinical Services, I received some of the most helpful advice; that made the rest of my year not only bearable but enjoyable. The top three pieces of advice I got were:
It’s okay to not excel in a course, don’t be so harsh on yourself!
Often we don’t realise that we are all human beings and we can only work to the best of our abilities. Some people have different sorts of abilities than us, which means they can excel in some areas where we might not be able to, but that is not something to be upset about. For instance, I remember taking a mechanics course last year; I was struggling a lot, whereas a lot of friends were getting super high grades in that course. This created a feeling of low self-esteem within me, and I started to feel that I was incapable of pursuing engineering. However, the counsellor helped me understand that it’s okay to not be good at one of the courses that you’re required to take. What’s important is that you give the course your best shot and try as hard as you can to pass it. What I’ve realised is that comparisons are not always healthy, and sometimes it’s not a surprise to not be good at something you’re not interested in. In such circumstances, it’s only your hard work, and not stupid comparisons, which can help you pass.
[Editor’s Note: Read the YouAlberta story “What to Do When You Fail a Class” for more advice.]
It’s okay to miss home
When I felt homesick and sad, I started believing that others were strong enough to not miss home, and that I was the weaker one for being emotional. My breakdowns about missing my family started feeling wrong to me because I thought that other international students had gotten over it. However, the counsellor advised me that it’s never wrong to have a breakdown, be it about missing family or anything else. It was okay for me to miss my family back in New Delhi and feel weak. For some people, missing home isn’t a big deal, but for others it is. It’s important for us to acknowledge that everyone behaves and reacts differently towards being away from home. In fact, one of the common concerns that Clinical & Counselling Services helps students address is adapting to life in Canada.
[Editor’s Note: University of Alberta International has some great tips on dealing with cultural adjustment, and you can visit the International Services Centre to talk to an advisor. They understand cultural adjustment and can help with acculturation stress.]
It’s okay to not be in a romantic relationship
I ended a relationship in New Delhi before coming to Canada, and that was hard. I would often see my friends and peers going out on dates, or happily walking around campus holding their bae’s hand. Honestly, I felt jealous and unhappy when I saw this. The thought of not having found my true love bothered me, but also finding “the one” at university isn’t my priority. The counsellor suggested that not wanting to date someone, or not having found someone at in university, is absolutely normal. Not all of us meet someone special at university, maybe we are destined to meet them somewhere else and we should wait for the right one at the right time Additionally, I believe that we should never rush into a relationship when it comes to love.
The most important fact I realized from this experience is that we are all in the same boat. All of us are struggling in some way or the other, and by simply looking at someone who seems happy, we can’t assume their life is perfect. What I have discovered, is the key to living a happy life, as a university student, is to focus on how to get better, not how to be perfect. Because no one is perfect, and neither is life!