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Peer Blog: Finding Your Voice Through Community

Megan Vahabi, 5th Year Education Student

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I completed my undergraduate degree at Queen’s and truly loved every moment. As a Concurrent Education student, this year I started my second degree in Education. For some reason I thought my final year would be the exact same as the previous four I had come to love throughout undergrad. To my surprise, I noticed my life felt more different than similar. The loss of my friends graduating and moving home or to other provinces finally dawned on me. Before the school year, I was excited to have one final hurrah as a Golden Gael. Yet I was feeling something I had not experienced before. Call it grief? The feeling of being left behind? Not quite. Upon reflection, I realized there was a gap in my life—I felt I had less community. Only then did I realized how deeply important it is for me to have a supportive group.

In undergrad, I relied heavily upon extra-curricular involvement to help create balance and structure. Being involved outside of school offered a different kind of stimulation, one for the soul, which offset the stress of academics. The encouragement and validation from my extra-curricular communities helped me learn to feel comfortable in unfamiliar settings. The first risk I took was arguably the most impactful and important. By sharing my story, I hope to convey the value and importance of stepping outside your comfort zone.

Most of my life, I did not know much about my Ojibway heritage. I decided to change this narrative by accepting an invitation to lunch at Four Directions. I was very nervous and riddled with self-doubt. Would I actually fit in? Upon arrival, I was immediately met with open arms and unconditional support. The elders and advisors listened when I was stressed about school and offered tangible solutions. Amidst the hustle and confusion of first year, I felt at home. This was my introduction to the various kinds of “test kitchens” Queen’s has to offer. The new-found confidence gave me second-hand courage which I carried into classes. I became more vocal about my questions and concerns. I went to a professor’s office…they are real people and very kind. I highly recommend having a chat with your favourite prof.

For me, community support is the ultimate recipe for academic success. I like to think of extra-curricular involvement as the test kitchen for the piece de resistance—my academics. The test kitchen is the ideal environment for risk-taking to help foster confidence and a sense of belonging. It is inviting unfamiliarity into your life with open arms and embracing change. Once you have found your “kitchen,” you can begin cooking up new experiences and relationships. So, how have I been creating in the kitchen lately?

This past September, I noticed I was quieter in class and shy. I experienced what I like to call “first-year confusion” once again. With so much of my undergrad community not on campus anymore, I was on the hunt for a new kitchen to whip up some courage. I knew the antidote to my shyness was extra-curricular involvement outside lecture. While on this hunt, I discovered some cool spots to network and meet other graduate students. Did you know every week in the JDUC room 352 there is a drop-in writing space? Or the third floor of the Grad Club is open for students to hang out and study? These kinds of spaces give me comfort, knowing that I can be productive and network at the same time. 

To get the most out of university, I cannot say enough about the importance of finding a community and feeling welcome. It gave me the strength to be more present in class and excited to be on campus. You can never have too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to community!