Written by Warren Tanaka
If you could paint your university life on a canvas, what colours would it have? Would you paint it black and white, like an age-old TV screen playing an outdated TV show? Or would it be filled with all sorts of vibrant shades and neons, with colours that never seem to mix?
My canvas has splatters of some random colours on it. Of course, as a freshman, it is still mostly black and white, but there are some yellows, blues and greens here and there—courtesy of my friends making the days much more bearable. I have some reds on the canvas too, and they represent the stress I feel when my assignments turn me into an academic victim.
Source: Warren’s desperate attempt to draw something
No matter what your canvas looks like now, one thing is certain: it’s a work in progress. If your canvas currently looks bleak and dry, why not just paint over it? If you don’t like a specific colour on your canvas, replace it with another colour! Your canvas of life is always evolving as each day unfolds. Ultimately, your goal, and mine, would be to paint what you think is the most magnificent, the most splendid picture on your canvas.
If any problems smear the paints on our canvas, we need to find a way to ensure our painting escapes unblemished. What problems? A lot, actually. Your brush may suddenly snap out of nowhere, you run out of paint and the nearest art supplier is a hundred kilometres away, or even, for whatever reason, your canvas catches on fire! In the context of university life, this may translate to difficulties in finding friends, or maybe academic stress so heavy that you’re at your breaking point. Is this normal? Is everyone feeling this way too? How do you survive through this?
Well, read on.
Friends are a palette of colours, with each friend bringing a unique shade into your canvas of life. In this way, they are the key for you to paint a masterpiece. Let’s frame it as this—you could eat out with them, visit everywhere together, take photos with them, have a heartfelt talk with them… the list goes on, with each experience bringing a new colour to enrich your university life. Without these colours, you restrict the diversity of colours available for your painting.
Source: Warren’s majestic art skills
It’s understandable if you find it difficult to find friends, at least in the freshman year. Finding the right person to hang out with can be somewhat experimental: if you can intimately connect with them, congratulations; you’ve found a new friend. If not, that friendship is probably not going to last. As a freshman, you haven’t had enough time yet to go through this rigorous experimental procedure and so, friendless as you may be, keep in mind that that’s normal. And if this line of logic follows through, by Year 2 or Year 3, things should be looking up for you.
On the topic of why some people cannot make friends as easily as others, I interviewed other freshmen (i.e. my friends) to have different perspectives. Gabriel, another freshman at NUS, gave me a profound answer (much to my surprise). “It’s hard to find friends in university because we all come from different backgrounds,” he said. “There are those who come directly from JC, from Poly, from IB schools, then there’s those who come from NS; each different place has its own set of culture which they are already used to. And when they come to university, they can’t understand each other’s mannerisms and so they can’t find topics to talk about.”
Source: Warren’s iPhone // this is the guy who gave me a good answer; just look at him…
Regardless of what makes it difficult for you to find friends, there is always a solution. Different backgrounds? Find people with the same background—there are no unspoken rules against that. You could also find something arbitrarily common between you and others. For me, I’ve managed to find someone I somewhat hang out with often by capitalising on our collective hate against HSH1000 as a topic to talk about. If you can’t find anyone still, the best bet is to surf the internet. Reddit is a good starting point with its chronically active r/nus subreddit. Posting something along the lines of ‘finding someone to go to this particular lecture with’ could work; the Reddit users there are generally welcoming and receptive to it. Alternatively, as my friend suggested: join CCAs and attend the NUS student life events to meet new people. He claims he’s gotten a lot of new friends there.
Not the Canvas We Want
All NUS students would know about the horrors of Canvas. Wherever you go, whatever you do, Canvas always watches you. In fact, I think I had a nightmare a few weeks ago where my phone was constantly pinging with a billion ‘Assignment Created’ notifications from my professors. I woke up in a cold sweat that morning.
Source: Warren’s iPhone terrorised by Canvas
In our own version of canvas, we do not tolerate such behaviours from NUS’ Canvas. Nonetheless, Canvas will never go away how much we harp about it, so the best we can do is to grit our teeth and suck it up… that is, without stress destroying us in the process. It’s important to recognise that our life’s canvas also bears the weight of academic stress. This stress adds colours that often muddle the brighter colours that paint our university life experience.
Coming from a JC background, I was initially put off by the use of continuous assessments. In the past, I did all my assignments casually, with little care given about whether I got the questions wrong; only my A-Level exams mattered anyway. But now, university put everything I did under the harsh academic spotlight, and my paranoid self started to put my utmost effort into every little task my professors gave me. Funnily enough, I even found myself obsessing over the 5% participation mark, diligently attending every physical lecture. It was extremely tiring.
Source: Warren’s Canvas filled with a gazillion of graded quizzes
Nowadays, I’ve toned down this academic arms race against time. How? Let me tell you something that might be a bit controversial: you don’t need to attend all of your physical lectures as long as you have access to the recorded lectures. I’m not saying this so that you can slack off, but the reality is that this is more time-efficient. Every lecture is about two to three hours long, but if you watch the lecture at two times the speed, half of this duration can be allocated for completing your abandoned assignments instead. Besides, there’s also the threat of falling asleep mid-lecture and completely wasting your time, while you can just take a power nap in the middle of watching the lecture before finishing the rest later. But of course, as much as you can, attend the physical lecture. Other than being able to clarify any doubts directly, attending the physical lectures is a sign of respect for the professors who prepared for the lecture.
If you feel like you don’t have the courage to skip lectures, a silver lining you can hold onto is that this is only your first year at NUS. This is supposed to be your honeymoon phase—at least, you, as an NUS student, have a whopping 20 MC S/U points allocated to you, which gives you the leeway to strategise which courses you want to focus more on. And if you feel like you’ve screwed up horrendously, in the wise words of another friend of mine: “Just S/U lor.”
Don’t ever be afraid to S/U your courses, since you’re in your first year (unless you S/U a course you got an A or A+ in, for whatever reason). The maths behind GPA and S/Us is a complicated thing, but if you’re interested, a fellow Redditor has it all written in this post.
Crafting a Masterpiece
In our university life, we encounter a diverse palette of experiences—and we paint these experiences carefully, stroke by stroke, with great determination to craft our own versions of a masterpiece. Whether the experiences you accumulate are pleasant ones depends on yourself: will you succumb to loneliness and stress, or will you resist? Either way, remember that it’s normal to face challenges in finding friends or dealing with stress, but only you can seek out the solutions. So, even as we are surrounded by our problems and challenges, let us continue painting our masterpieces. Cherish friendships, find your footing regarding your academics, and paint a vibrant picture that you’ll be proud to call your own.
And, if you ever feel tired of painting, let go of that brush and let others paint for you. If the problems you face are far too insurmountable to be shouldered alone, share the burden with someone else (that is, if they’re comfortable with it). Whether it be your family members or perhaps a particularly nice stranger you met on a bus, there is always someone willing to lend a listening ear and maybe even guide you through life’s obstacles. Your artistic journey through the freshman year doesn’t have to be a solitary one. With the help of others, you will see just how beautiful your painting is in the end.
Source: Warren’s beautiful masterpiece