Course Experiences [First Year]

ENGL 109 – An introductory course to writing.

You’ll probably have varying experiences depending on the professor or faculty that you are in. Since I’m in the Arts, I assume that’s why we didn’t focus as much on the actual mechanics of writing, and went straight into forming arguments and analyzing texts. Passing this course counts towards the ELPE requirement that most undergraduate students need. Again, I found that it didn’t really help in terms of technical writing, and that the way we wrote was highly catered to the what the professor wanted. On this note, I would highly recommend looking into the professors themselves on things like UWFlow (for any course), because the course content is very dependent on the teacher. Our professor was very keen on participation, and we used a different textbook compared to the majority of students.

I want to address a piece of “advice” the professor gave me in front of the class. It’s difficult to take courses you have no interest in, and even harder to do well in them. If financial benefits is the motivation for your education in a specific field, and you can do well with that, that’s great! Personally, English is one of my few passions, and I can’t see myself dedicating myself to something I don’t enjoy (and am probably mediocre at).

ENGL 101a – An introductory course to literary studies.

This was a course that I highly enjoyed. It had a basic overview on how to analyze poems, short stories, and novels, but the professor made it very easy-to-digest and straightforward. There was a reasonable amount of assignments that weren’t very long, which were relevant to what we would be tested on later; making it easy to receive a good grade just for attending class. The assignments also let you explore poetry and narrative writing, so there was definitely room for creativity.

ENGL 101b – An introductory course to rhetorical studies.

This was another course that I highly enjoyed. I can’t stress enough how much the professor influences the courses you take. The professor that taught this course was engaging, relatable, and made the class enjoyable; while maintaining a fair grading system, which they always left up for reviews. The assignments were expected, in the sense that there was an emphasis on recognizing rhetorical devices, and analyzing different texts using various perspectives. However, we also had a “Twitter Project”, to incorporate digital media, making the course content applicable to the real world. There was always an element of choice incorporated into our assignments; we could choose to work independently or in a group, and there were different texts we could decide to analyze.

CS 115 – An introductory course on the fundamentals of computer science; learning Scheme.

I imagine all the different sections of this course are pretty consistent because the material is taught from slides. There were weekly assignments, which took awhile for me to complete, but were very satisfying once I did. The most frustrating part of the assignments was that you couldn’t really measure progress. You could be working on a problem for days and be nowhere near the right answer. It was very interesting, and it made sense that the course was completely different from my Arts courses. Studying for computer science exams was a challenge for me, but being able to complete the assignments (which are more difficult than those on the exams), prepares you well. In my personal opinion, Scheme is not a pleasant language on the eyes. I didn’t go to many of the tutorials since they weren’t mandatory; I would say to go for the extra help if needed.

CS 116 – A course to build skills learned from CS 115; learning Python.

The course is similar to CS 115 in terms of learning style. I was very thankful of the change to Python. The professor I had for this course was more engaging than the one from CS 115. I found that learning Scheme first simplified the switch to Python, and it made it easier to understand new concepts. I felt that I was more comfortable with CS 116, and didn’t spend as much time on the assignments once I had a better grasp of computational thinking after CS 115. I think the tutorials were more helpful, but again, they weren’t mandatory. Since I was able to figure out the solutions independently (even if they took some extra time), I didn’t feel inclined to go. In hindsight, it probably would’ve helped with preparation for the exams.

PHIL 145 – A critical thinking course.

I took this elective with a friend. The professor was funny, and the course was based on the readings from the textbook. My friend and I had explored a lot of similar topics in high school (including logical fallacies and metaphysics), so it was more of a refresher, and a course for him to take a break from Math. Most of the assessments were multiple-choice, and not at all opinion-based writing.

PHIL 283 – An introduction to great works in ancient and medieval philosophy.

This is actually a second-year course, so the professor had higher expectations. However, I think courses like these are very arbitrarily ranked in terms of difficulty; although, maybe it’s the writing-skill expected that is taken into consideration. I took the elective with the same friend, and I didn’t know what I was getting into. The course had a very small class (~10 people), and was discussion-based. A lot of the mark comes from participation (which isn’t my strong point). I didn’t find myself particularly interested in any of the texts we read, but took the course because I wanted to start developing a knowledge of well-known, ancient texts. We wrote the standard three essays for writing/argument-based courses, responding to prompts that were given to us. There’s a lot of room for sharing your opinions on the texts, and the students come from a variety of faculties.

PSYCH 101 – An introductory psychology class; covers the broad topics in psychology.

I had a quirky professor, the classes were short, engaging, and provided a general overview of cognitive studies, behavioural studies, social psychology etc. I’ve taken a psychology class in high school, so this was another refresher course for me. Reading the textbook and attending the classes are pretty much enough for a good grade. Course assignments included participation in psychological studies, and I took part in the required amount as soon as I could. They were very simple, and the most effort it takes is just getting to the on-campus location. Multiple-choice exams were questions straight from lectures and readings (open-book too). Long-answer questions are given to you prior, so it’s hard to get a bad grade unless you put in no preparation, don’t attend classes, and don’t read the textbook. This is the class I threw-up in unfortunately (had nothing to do with my views on the course).

INTST 101 – An introductory course to international studies.

I took this course solely as a requirement for my faculty. I had very little knowledge of all the content that was mentioned, and I relied on memory for exams. Despite that, the professor knows and expects the students to only be able to develop a shallow understanding of the material, so the final was multiple-choice, and I finished with a solid grade. The course explores historical and present-day international conflicts, climate change, and other worldly issues. We watched a lot of movies, but discussion was pretty dull considering no one really wanted to participate (since it was a large, lecture-style class).

KOREA 101 – An introductory course to the Korean language.

If you’ve read my first-year experiences, you already know that this course was hell for me. The professor was great. They would repeat what they were teaching to anyone who needed it to be slowed down, and highly encouraged questions. However, the classes were still very overwhelming to me. Everything felt very crammed since we only had one 3-hour lecture every week; half of the time would be dedicated to learning, and the other half we would jump straight into tutorials for what we learned that day. I had a hard time once it came to verb tenses and sentence structure. I’m not sure how I did okay in this course, but I think I’ll attribute it to a bell-curve of sorts? The oral communication aspect of the course helped boost a lot of grades I assume. The professor and tutor were great, I just underestimated the dedication it would take to learn the language.

Disclaimer: These are just my opinions and everyone’s experiences are different. The professor plays a large role in how courses are delivered. The year that you take the courses may also affect course content. I hope my reviews help anyone reading gain some general knowledge about the courses mentioned.

My First Year (And A Bit Of Backstory)

My first year away from my home in Toronto, was mostly what I expected it to be—lonely and stressful. However, I think the best takeaway for anyone reading this, is that no matter how cliché it sounds, it does get better.

My last year in high school wasn’t the best. Without getting too in-depth, the end of high school presents a clean slate for new friends, but to some, it also suggests that there is no further reason to “put up” with any conflicts within your current friend group. Suddenly, problems arose and before I knew it, the people I’ve been talking to for the past four years were suddenly strangers to me. Perhaps it’s the fact that the fixed pool of people you can choose to form friendships with, creates bonds made from convenience. I know someone who wanted to completely revamp their social circle—and it worked out for them. On the other hand, I just went from one group of friends to another; from the same high school. I know that some would opt for a new group of people—it’s a new city, a fresh start, so why would I want to cut-off my chances to meet new people by staying “in the comfort zone”? I’ve tried talking to people who seemed to have similar interests as me, or were in my program. While I have made one or two friends, I wouldn’t say that we are the best of friends. I guess it’s because I wasn’t as outgoing as I could be. But honestly, it seems to rely on the same principle of forming high school friendships—you do it because you need a social circle, and you just stick with them until you’ve moved on from the current stage of life. I enjoy meeting new people, but to force myself to create small talk with strangers, seems so artificial to me. From people I know who have joined clubs, the situation was similar; short-term friendships. For now, I’m comfortable hanging out with the math kids I didn’t have a chance to talk to in high school.

Frosh was exactly as the rumours claimed. It was filled with icebreaker games and awkward interactions. I think it was a nice freshman experience, but it didn’t help with making friends or getting to know the school in my opinion.

Living away from home was hard. The homesickness hit me as soon as my parents left my new dorm. I had a single-room at UWP, Beck Hall, and it was sad to say the least. I had two roommates who shared the room next to me. I barely even saw my roommates, let alone anyone else at Beck Hall. It was just strange. It was strange to live with people that were acquaintances to me. It was strange to say “sorry”, when one of us was in the way of the other in the “kitchen” (a cramped space that also served as the “living area”). It was strange to rarely see your neighbours. My residence leader (or don), was nice, but nothing could cover-up how empty the dorms felt. On a side note, the walls are thin, and all through second term, someone in the next-door dorm was constantly chanting and/or blaring loud music. It was an unwelcome wake-up call, and uninvited lullaby. It feels so rude to complain that no one reports anyone. I thought living on-campus would help me make friends, but there weren’t any particular positives that stood out from living on-campus. Like Frosh, I would say it’s a good first year experience. I didn’t get sick as much as I thought I would, but when I did, it was horrible. The most memorable event that will stick with me forever, is when I threw-up in my Psychology class. If you happen to be a student, you know that PSYCH 101 has large classes. I don’t know if my friends were more amused, disgusted, or worried that I puked in a classroom of 300+ people. I don’t even know if anyone noticed. I guess it makes an interesting story to tell.

There were good parts though; freedom being the highlight of course. It feels nice to have to cook and clean for yourself (perhaps against popular belief). Of course there were times when I wanted my Mom to cook for me, and stress sometimes ruined my appetite. Because everything in that room was “mine”, I felt more inclined to keep everything organized. My schedule was completely unrestricted by parental input; ice-cream at 2 a.m. is the best ice-cream. I found myself heavily relying on my friends when I was stressed (which is often), even if it was just through messages. It helped me form strong bonds with the friends I had. You just have to keep busy and avoid sitting in your room. The actual room was clean and simple, like what you’d expect. I didn’t really decorate it, except for a few pictures, so staying in my room always made me a bit depressed. I’m not a party-person, so I’ve got nothing to say in terms of social life at Waterloo. You’d think that since everyone supposedly plays League of Legends that I could make gaming friends; I tried to a few times and it didn’t quite work out.

I’m never one to procrastinate, and once you get to university, you come to the realization that it’s one of the biggest faux-pas. It isn’t that there are an unbearable number of assignments, but they’re definitely more lengthy and challenging. Procrastinating on one thing just results in a domino effect; leading to more stress.

Being an Arts student made me extremely self-conscious. The University of Waterloo is known for its STEM programs. I know this, and just skimming the r/uwaterloo Reddit thread always makes me feel out of place; it’s usually either memes or CS students discussing their co-op opportunities. This thought has been on my mind for quite a long time. I find the most comfort in understanding that I made the choice with great reason; Waterloo’s co-op program. Being terrified of getting a co-op job is a whole other stressor, but for now, I’m satisfied knowing it wasn’t a thoughtless choice.

My electives were all over the place. I took Computer Science courses, and as someone with no background in it, CS is a lot of work. It was straightforward enough, and I enjoyed coding and problem-solving, but it added on quite a lot in terms of course load. I would do it again, but for now I think I’m done with CS courses. On the other hand, I took a Korean class and firmly believe that I may have made one of the biggest blunders in my life. It may have been easy for people who have started learning Korean on their own, and were extremely interested in the culture (from watching Korean dramas or listening to K-Pop), but for me, the fast-paced, lengthy lectures, and weekly quizzes made it hell. Needless to say, I didn’t know what I was getting into for my first term. The good part of doing a range of different courses is that I’ve developed a clearer vision of my interests. I’d like to point out that my experiences will differ from anyone else’s, so don’t pass up courses or anything else I’ve mentioned using my opinion as a basis.


First year passed by in a flash.