From Small Pond to Big Pond

From Small Pond to Big Pond

By: Alex Caw | Communication Student
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My first day at SFU was an extremely nerve-wracking day, it reminded me of my first day of high school; I didn’t know any one and I didn’t know what to expect.  Transferring from a small school like Capilano University to a relatively large school like SFU to continue pursuing my Communication degree was certainly an intimidating experience. I was transferring to a much larger campus with a much further commute from my apartment. For those who don’t know much about Capilano, it’s a university that’s about the size of your standard high school with the same classroom sizes, whether you’re in first year or fourth year.  Since I went to high school just down the road in North Vancouver, I already knew about a dozen people attending Capilano by the time I started, which made the transition from high school to university very easy. The small classroom sizes allowed teachers to promote frequent interaction amongst students through little in-class group assignments, which really allowed me to get to know the other people in my program.  I also found that every time I would start a new Communication course at the beginning of the semester, it seemed as though I already knew half of the people in the class. Capilano only had a little over 11,000 undergraduates compared to the 29,591 at SFU, so it’s easy to see why getting to know people in your program was a little easier at Capilano. 

I transferred to SFU because I wanted to get my degree from a more prestigious institution.  I knew I was going to a bigger, more intense school and after a couple of easy years at Capilano where I excelled in all of my courses prior to receiving my Communication diploma, I was ready to embrace the challenge of going to SFU. My first day at SFU was stressful to say the least; it took me 45 minutes to find my classroom in the AQ, which resulted in me being 30 minutes late. I had to awkwardly creep past the front of the room to get to one of the few empty seats that was left in the huge lecture hall. Not knowing anyone on my first day at SFU was certainly difficult, as it felt that in my 300 and 400 level courses, where the class sizes were smaller, everyone in the Communication program knew each other already.  I felt like that kid showing up halfway through high school. The scariest part about transferring to SFU was definitely the bigger class sizes. You see at Cap, the class sizes are all between 25-30 students, whereas at SFU, I was in two courses in my first semester where there were over 100 students. Walking into these huge lecture halls and being late for one of them certainly made my first day very intimidating.

I had this pre-conceived notion that the professors at SFU wouldn’t be as nice or caring towards their students since they had so many. At Capilano, without even having to formally introduce yourself, the professor would know your name within the first two weeks. In my second term at SFU, I realized that if I wanted to build relationships with my professors I needed to take initiative. Ever since the Spring term of 2017 at SFU, I’ll go formally introduce myself to the professor after class within the first week or two and I’ll also take advantage of their office hours for any questions or concerns I may have as often as I can. The professors have always been extremely helpful in one-on-one discussions with me and a majority of the time they end up remembering me.  I would recommend to any new student at a large university to build relationships with their professors and TA’s, as it allows you to maybe one day use them as potential reference or connect with them on LinkedIn.  I used one of my professors as a reference for an internship I applied for last summer and he put in a very good word for me.

Before coming to SFU I heard a bunch of statements regarding it being an anti-social university: “It’s not a party school at all”, “Everyone just does their work then goes home”, “It’s hard to make friends there” were some of the things I heard.  Capilano certainly had a community feel to it, which I think in large part can be attributed to the fact that the campus was much smaller, class sizes were smaller, and students were more encouraged to interact with one another in class. I feel that the fact that many people have this preconceived notion about SFU contributes to the lack of community feel.

For myself personally, I can’t say whether or not I think SFU has a “community feel” when I literally made no effort to get involved in anything, and as my time at SFU is winding down, this is something that I deeply regret.  This regret is due to reasons of professional development and missed opportunities to meet fellow students.  The opportunities to get more involved in the SFU community were right in front of me, I just didn’t take advantage of them until recently. Getting involved in the Communications Students Union and joining various clubs are things that I would recommend that new Communication students do -- and if I could go back in time to my first week at SFU I definitely would’ve done so myself.  What this would’ve done for me is that it would’ve allowed me to develop more meaningful friendships and connections at school. I feel that the connections you build in the final years of university are extremely beneficial to your professional life post-graduation and this is something I wish I’d taken advantage of sooner. 

In, A Successful Job Search: It’s All About Networking, Youngquist (2011) found that 70 to 80 percent of job positions are not posted, which highlights the importance of networking and building relationships with others.

As I approach graduation I’ve been extremely proactive in trying to build up my professional network to take some of the stress off of myself once I finish my last exam in April. I’ve signed up for a digital marketing content course, formulated a cover letter, and built a LinkedIn account where I’ve been connecting with people and setting up meetings with professionals in the industries that interest me in order to pick their brains and hopefully form relationships. In addition, I’ve been actively seeking part-time work in the field of Communication as well as seeking out part-time volunteer opportunities in order to gain experience working in an office setting before I get thrown out into the real world.  Don’t be like me and wait until two months until graduation to seek out volunteer opportunities and networking opportunities in your field.  I’m just starting to see the value in having a solid foundation of connections and it’s something I’d recommend to any new student at SFU to actively seek out.


Beyond the Article

Posted on February 21, 2018