by DANIEL XUE

Congratulations kiddos, you’ve made it to the promised land. If you’re like me, then you’re expecting to step into a world of opportunity, filled with great experiences and even greater people. In a way, you’d be right. If you put some effort in, the med community (and UNSW as a whole) has so much to offer. But if you’re like me, then you’re also scared. You’re scared because, as great as these things are, there’s a chance that they might not happen. So here’s a rundown of the experience I’ve gathered in my first year of uni, and I hope that it might do some good for you all.

First off, let’s talk a bit about your cohort. If I had to pick some buzzwords to describe it, I’d go with “tight” and “diverse”. While 250 kids, or 30 at Port Macq, sounds much smaller than most other degrees, the distinction in both backgrounds and personalities that you can find is vast. Sure, most of us are pretty young (18-21), but the mix of cultures (places all around Australia plus Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand and more) more than makes up for it.

Most domestic students are fresh outta high school, but there’s a fair few transfers and gap year folk (me!) running around too. If you’re not from a high school with numbers akin to a plague (looking at you, James Ruse), you might find the transition phase a little lonely (but more on that later). For interstate and international students, living on campus with a bunch of other students (both med and otherwise) will give you a cozy home away from home. On the first Thursday of uni, I went to visit a mate who was staying at Colombo House (he’s from Singapore). Upon entering the dining hall, I was greeted by nine other students; all from Singapore, all studying medicine. So if you’re feeling anxious about leaving home, I’m here to tell you not to panic.

You’ll also notice that there are many variations of the medical student. There’s the typical high achiever: good grades, involved in student life and somehow still finds the time to party. There’s also the stereotypical “nerd”: reserved, socially awkward, and doesn’t do much besides study or stay at home. Oh, and then there’s literally EVERYTHING in between. I’ve met musicians, artists, dancers, athletes, foodies, academics, party animals, wholesome souls and almost anything else you could think of. That’s the best part about your cohort; no matter who you are, what you like or where you’re from, you’re bound to find others whom you can relate to. Side note: there’s plenty of great people that you won’t meet until much later into uni, so don’t shut yourself off from others just because you’ve found some friends already.

The thing I like best about a small cohort is the fact that you actually get to spend decent time with people during uni. However, you’ll tend to only see people from your college on a regular basis. For me, keeping up with mates in other colleges involved a combination of smart planning, online chats and clubs/societies. (Another side note: UNSW has so much to offer in terms of extracurricular opportunity, so I’d highly recommend having a look around and seeing what interests you!) Lectures were also a great way to keep up with people (while we still attended them), because groups tend to chill out together afterwards, and before other classes. There’s nothing wrong with chatting to new faces around the hall each morning, but I found that I would never see almost all of the people I met that way.

Finally, I wanna tell you all about my first week of uni. I remember walking around a campus filled with people, yet feeling so alone. I remember sitting in the lecture hall by myself, watching bunches of bright-eyed faces stroll in together, laughing and talking. I remember that hollow feeling when SG would end, and we’d all pack up and leave without wasting a word. I remember the constant struggle that was talking to someone new, always searching for the right thing to say.  I remember that pit in my stomach, sinking as I fell further and further behind.

The thing is, everyone’s the protagonist of their own story. When the only thoughts you have are your own, it’s easy to convince yourself that everyone else has got it better. It’s not true. For my first peer mentoring session, my buddy asked my mentees what each of them wanted to get out of uni. All of them said the same thing: to meet new people and to have a good time. And on that note, I want to leave you all with one last piece of advice.

I’ve spent the last year of my life doing this whole “med student” thing. I know exactly how it feels to step into a brand new environment, full of blind ambition. I know that trying to stay afloat against a flood of lectures, pracs, SGs, hospital, people, clubs and events might seem impossible at first.  But at the same time, you’re surrounded by so much potential. So I implore you all, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If you’re unsure about whether you should talk to a person, just try it. If you’re worried that some particular club might be too time consuming or you’re afraid of big groups of people, give it a shot. My first year was enriched so much by all the chances I took, and I have no doubt that yours will be too.

All it takes is a little push.

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