Perspectives on Academic Challenges and Workload

By Noreen Chan, Year Two, 2019

If you’re looking at this website, chances are, you may be an applicant seeking an active challenge for your academic studies. Although the University Transition Program is one such place, it is so much more than merely that.  

Entering the program with almost no background knowledge about Physics, Chemistry, and Biology other than the learning I had crammed in over the school break and the miscellaneous documentaries and books I had viewed throughout my childhood, I was understandably daunted by the monumental notion of acquiring the full skill set I needed to enter university in a little under two years. As I read the Transition Year One course preview full of 11th grade material that was dappled with 12th grade topics, I knew I was in for a challenge. The goal of early entrance to university suddenly seemed much farther away. The nagging question roiling within my old buddy Self Doubt finally burst out, “Could I really make it?”

That was two years ago. In what seemed like a flash in my life, the multi-dozen-page test study guides I’ve created, the research-intense 40-minute group presentations and the even harder 10-minute individual presentations I’ve done, and even the late-night homework sessions (I am proud to say that I haven’t pulled an all-nighter during Transition because of schoolwork yet, but I did go more than 24 hours without sleep during a flight to Europe) have all whizzed by to create my Transition experience. But to say those were merely my experiences is merely the tip of the iceberg: a great part of Transition is about the community, and it is they who make the challenges conquerable and the heightened workload a memorable experience worth having.

Transition has exceeded all my expectations regarding the learning environment of the cohort: instead of just being my friends who I could rely on if I needed academic support, they are moreover my family that supports me emotionally as well. Sprinkled with inside jokes that are indecipherable outside our remarkable community, our lighthearted ‘complaints’ about the ‘unmanageable workload’ with them countless times are always rewarded with the sweet taste of relief and accomplishment as we hand in our monthly lab or the ever-looming in-class essay. The hubbub of the excitement (punctuated by the occasional disappointment) as we pour over the encouraging and advising feedback from our teachers has become music to our ears, spurring us to confer with one another to find the best ways to improve and participate in the discussions and test preps during class all the more. I did not realize the importance of the community until my third month in Transition, being used to “self-learning” in elementary; getting out of the shell I hid myself in when I was struggling academically was my greatest hurdle. I have since grown to love teaching and sharing my unique talents and skills with my classmates in gratitude for our camaraderie and their help, and I know they greatly value our mutual teaching and learning together as well.

Moreover, the teachers learn both from and with the students. Their passion on expertise enhance the processes of change and communication considerably. Unlike some regular high schools, Transition integrates all its subjects together to the point where teachers stagger their big projects and tests so it never gets to the point where one has to get less than seven hours of sleep a night if they had managed their time well, even if their commute to and from school is three hours a day. The teachers also place a high priority on nurturing the students’ mental and emotional health and wellness, as well as encouraging the demonstration of study skills, strategies for success, embedding them into the challenging learning envrionment.

As a Year Two nearing the end of my time as a Transition Student, the days when I had been worried about making it to this day are amusing and almost innocent to me. But how could I have known that I could do it? How could I ever have guessed that joining this program was a lot more than an academic boost? Of course, it was hard, but with the support of my classmates and teachers, this steep road uphill was a beautiful one I will never regret. There is no better way for me to be fully equipped for the new frontier of university. Through the people I trekked with, any doubts I had about my managing the workload and academic challenges were quickly vanquished. We, my whole class together, have made it.

I can assure you, any tears of struggle you may envision will definitely turn into glad tears of joy.