My Confession: A Letter to Incoming and Returning Students

Written by: Amanda Paxton

I have a bad habit: I watch TV on vacation. Not just an episode of House of Cards at the end of a day of sightseeing. I worked my way through all 22 episodes of Flight of the Conchords during a week in Madrid. On a visit to Oxford, I binge-watched Glee in my B & B, which was on the banks of the majestic River Thames. I know my behaviour is irrational. I paid thousands of dollars and booked these trips months in advance, looking forward to the new and exciting experiences I would have. Experience is what we pay money for on vacation, and with good reason: it stays with us and can change us forever if we let it. Instead, I found myself reclining before my laptop in my Oxford bedroom, not so much as glancing at the Thames through my window.


So why did I spend so much time locked in my Madrid hotel room instead of eating tapas? Nerves. On both of these trips I was on my own, and travelling alone can be daunting. As eager as I was to explore these new places, I spent a lot of time avoiding the discomfort that accompanies new adventures. That’s not to say I didn’t eat my fair share of tapas, only that I could have eaten more. And, in retrospect, that makes me sad, because it’s not every day I get the chance to visit Spain.


Going to university is like visiting a foreign country. You work hard and pay a lot of money, all in the hopes that you will come away different, changed in some unknown way, for the better. Yet an astonishing number of people approach their time in university as I approached mine in Oxford and Madrid. Instead of immersing themselves in the university experience, they keep themselves at arm’s length from it. Sure, they’ll show up for their classes (mostly), and pass their courses (hopefully). But for them university is something to get through instead of something to dive into. They will emerge with a degree, just like I returned from each trip with a new stamp in my passport. But they won’t have had the fullest form of the life-changing experience that university offers. And I think that’s a shame, because it’s not every day that you get to go to this magical place called university where you have the chance to grow, learn, and evolve in extraordinary ways.


If I were entering university now, I wouldn’t treat it like I treated my time in Oxford and Madrid. I’d weigh the nerves that accompany new experiences against the regret of not having those experiences at all. I’d read the books, even the hard ones. I’d attend the classes, even the ones I think I can skip. I’d talk to my colleagues, my professors, and the folks whose job it is to give me guidance. I’d join a club, or even start one. And, most of all, I’d do these things even on the days that they seem especially tough. Because I’d remind myself that my time at Trent will fly by, and that I want to be sure not to miss it.

In the Fall term Dr. Paxton will be teaching WRIT 1001H: Write In Time, ENGL 2001H: Critical Practice, and ENGL 4251H: Advanced Studies in Romantics. In the Winter term she will teach WRIT 1001H: Write in Time, ENGL 3403H: Those Wild Victorians, and WRIT 2002H: Write it Up.

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