This is a story about a lonely university student who abandoned everything, and yet was filled with determination as he undertook the challenge of majoring in physics and minoring in math despite possessing no qualifications. What began as one simple tale about the first year has at this point expanded into a narrative saga with many ups and downs and plot twists covering the course of six years, which felt as if they lasted a millennium. I hope you enjoy reading about this journey. It has been quite the experience, filled with joy, sorrow, hope, despair, love. So much has happened that it feels almost unfair keeping it all to myself. Part of this is meant to serve as a diary, so that I will never forget. Another part of me wants to give you something interesting to read. But perhaps another part of me also simply wishes to be understood. Without further ado, let us raise the curtain. It is quite long, so I advise you to perhaps prepare a drink and snacks beforehand.
University. The real deal. The place you have to go to get a good job, so they all said. Thanks to everything I heard about university while I was in high school, I thought it would be some sort of hellish experience, picturing studying day and night endlessly. There was a popular saying about the future course load: “For every hour of class, you’ll have to put in three hours of studying at home.” Now, consider that usually you’ll have three classes that are an hour long each per day, and that’s about 12 hours of work right there each day. That’s insane. A staff member of the high school once told me that directly. “It can’t be that bad as long as you do your homework,” I questioned her. She looked at me like I was doomed. Lots of people also tell horror stories about calculus especially. Even my dad. I didn’t like math much myself at the time either, so I wasn’t particularly hopeful about it. My English teacher (who had a master’s degree) had also told of how insane English professors are. At the university I planned to attend, two English courses are required for everyone, so there was no escaping that. It’s not hard to imagine how everything can make university seem like a daunting experience, just as how many middle schoolers picture high school to be something fearful. So during the summer after I graduated high school, with despair at my side, I often listened to Cytokine’s “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” while imagining the trials to come.
Soon enough, it finally began. I had moved into my dorm room. It wasn’t the best room. Pretty small, with only three shelves. The bed was also barely big enough for me, and I’m not a big guy (for you) either. You could easily tell the age of the place by looking at the scratches on the floor and walls, or the graffiti under the mattress where people who previously lived in the room over the years had signed their names. I had a roommate, but not a roommate in the traditional sense. Each dorm room had two inner rooms, and only the bathrooms were shared. It felt good to be living on my own. At least, it did for me. A lot of new people apparently were very unhappy to have to leave their homes and be separated from parents. Some could barely handle it. I remember one person killed themself during the first month I got there. Well, the email we got informing us of the death didn’t state the cause, but when they don’t, you know it’s gotta be suicide. Anyway, as I said, I thought living alone was pretty fun. You become your own person. I was making toast soon after getting there when it hit me: “If I don’t eat this, I’ll die.” It was all up to me now to keep myself alive. Pretty cool. I was used to being alone at this point, but my roommate was a real normie. He was popular at his high school, had a girlfriend, was on the sports team, all that. Things changed for him quickly though. With the new physical distance between him and his girlfriend, they grew emotionally distant, and argued on the phone frequently. The walls were real thin, so it was easy to hear everything on the other side whether you wanted to or not. They soon broke up. Also, he used mad amounts of toilet paper. I walked in on an unflushed toilet once and discovered that he didn’t fold the paper. He just kept on pulling it and balling it up as he went. What a mess. On the other side of the wall, there was a gay guy whose voice irritated my ears. Maybe it was just the way he spoke. It always sounded like he had his nose plugged. Very nasal speaking. I didn’t know he was gay at the time, though. Sure, he had the voice, but hey, he could just be a straight guy that just happens to speak like that. I only learned otherwise when I heard him on the other side of the wall getting it on with the residence advisor. It’s at times like those that I wish I was a fujoshi who might enjoy being exposed to something like that. Not to mention, every night at 10 or 11 pm, he called his mom. That was usually when I went to bed at the time, so it was pretty annoying, but I’m getting sidetracked now. This is supposed to be a story about how university was for me, not the people around me.
Let me tell you, I’ve never really lived in a city until I came to university. It was always lame suburbs for me, which I think are a mistake. You don’t have anything nearby like you do in the city, and you don’t have the space and privacy of the country. It’s the perfect balance of all the negatives and none of the positives. So, always living in suburbs, I never knew the joys of the outside world. But I gotta say, when I moved to university things turned around. The city was nice. A true college town. Most things were within walking distance. Whenever there was a cool looking movie, I could walk down within fifteen minutes. One notable movie I saw was Interstellar. A stellar movie, in my opinion. Haha. I also quickly developed a habit of eating burgers weekly at the local A&W, and let me tell you, those were the best burgers I’ve ever had. I tried McDonald’s again later to compare and they were so bad. The buns tasted like those cheap brown paper bags. I regretted even buying them. Really bad. Of course, I also had to buy my own groceries at this point, which was just across the street from the A&W, so I could go, get burgs, get groceries, and walk back. Pretty convenient. At some point, I also got very into Delissio’s rising crust pepperoni pizza. To this day, I still have it every week.
Not too long before getting to university, I had watched the anime “Ping Pong,” so I was now a big fan of the sport despite having never played it before. Luckily, there was a table at the student lounge, so I got my game on and played some. There, I met a guy who, in high school, used to be on a sports team like rugby or something, but he and the team were caught underage drinking on school grounds and banned from playing sports. It was really easy for him to get booze too, since he lived near Quebec, where the legal age is only 18 instead of 19 like the rest of the country. Luckily for him, though, his school didn’t consider ping pong a sport, so he joined and got good. Real good. Once, an African exchange student ping pong pro came, and they had a battle of epic proportions. The ball was flying back and forth so fast that they had to stand back far from the table, and their movement was high paced. Later in the semester, I saw him at a game of Jeopardy, where people could go to represent their dorm floors in a chance to win their floor a pizza party. Each team would have their members go up in rotation, so although I went, and honestly didn’t help at all, thanks to me just being there, the person on our team who knew it all lucked out and got all the big point daily double questions. Like I said, whoever answered each question on a team went by rotation, so had I been gone, things would have been off just the slightest bit and he would not have gotten the good questions and we would have lost. That’s what you call chaos theory.
For the first few weeks or so, I lent my ethernet cable to my roommate, since he had nothing to connect to the internet with, while I had a wireless adaptor. I used that for a bit, and the speeds were really slow and sometimes I ended up disconnecting, so I asked for my cord back, and oh boy, was it fast. I think I got up to an effective speed of 10 megabytes per second, which, when you live in Canada and are used to third world country tier internet, is amazing. I was very paranoid about acquiring anime though. Were they watching me? What if I was booted out for it? Etc. That quickly left my mind, but soon, the internet speed limit also lowered to effectively 1 megabyte per second, sadly. I wonder why. Was I taking up too much bandwidth and caused a limit to be enforced, or did people just start using the internet a lot more? It remained that speed for a good couple years. Anyway, I think that mostly sums it up for my daily life.
Enough pictures. It’s time for the meat and potatoes of university: the classes. I had planned on majoring in physics and minoring in math. That said, I had no applicable math experience. Due to circumstances in high school, I had not been allowed to even take precalculus, and I only had one grade 11 physics class under my belt. Due to this lack of a math background, I was unable to take the “true” first year general physics courses meant for physics majors and engineering students. Instead, I had to settle for introductory physics, largely meant for arts students who needed a science credit. In other words, I had just begun, and I was already a year behind. Why did I even want to do physics, you may ask. That’s a hard question for even myself to answer. It may have been for the challenge. Playing Touhou and learning Japanese in high school taught me the joy of overcoming difficult challenges, so I may have just been testing my limits and seeing how far I could go. Or perhaps it was my love of puzzle solving. After all, physics problems are just like puzzles. The last reason I can think of is the sense of magic you get from being able to predict how a system will behave and being able to know all sorts of qualities about it. In a way, it felt like modern fortune telling.
That first semester, I had intro to English, intro physics, general chemistry, algebra and trigonometry, and astrophysics and stellar astronomy. English focused mainly on a handful of short stories, a single long story, plus a movie. The movie was good. Into the Wild, I think it was. I brought popcorn with me and ate it in class while watching. What wasn’t good though was the short story portion of the class. We had to memorize all the titles and their authors for when we wrote essays on them during the final exam. It was very unfun. That said, I did get one great thing out of that English class: Grammar lessons. For the first time, I learned what a sentence was. Now, after learning about them, I generally try to avoid comma splices and run-on sentences. That said, comma splices are hard to avoid in lyric translations (I hate using periods in them), so I’m a bit more relaxed about it there. The professor was pretty alright, though I found it a bit strange that he took attendance. As long as you repeated what he thought, you did alright, so I ended up getting 76 in that class, which was a lot lower than my English mark in high school, but thankfully, that was my lowest mark that semester. It became a common theme for me to get just below an A (which is an 80 or above at my university) in all writing courses. Something which only started to change in my 2nd year, perhaps due to taking easier courses or due to sheer luck.
I had generally enjoyed chemistry until I took the class in university. It was a lot more heavy on memorization than in high school, which helped kill any joy I had for it. We had to know so much about the elements on the periodic table and memorize all the complex molecules and details about them. The actual problems weren’t bad at all, but that memorization man. Talk about artificial difficulty. That was part of what drove me to physics. We had a mix of online homework and textbook questions to do, plus a three hour lab each week. Strangely, each online assignment I always got close to 100% since we got multiple tries, while for the textbook questions I only scored 80%. Every time. Ti be honest, I had no idea what I was doing in the class. But I had one strategy that didn’t fail me: making use of units. I knew what units the final answer needed, so I would use whatever formulas I could in order to reach that end. That homework took a long time to complete, though it was nothing compared to what I would experience in my coming years. I ended up making a playlist titled “chemistry dancehall” which was just basically a mix of everything from Alst’s dancehalls. I remember the first test we had though. That was a nightmare. I couldn’t even finish it, and I think it was my first university exam ever. After the time limit ended, I was in shock, like “I can’t believe that just happened,” went straight to my room, and went to sleep. I was fine after waking up, but I swore never to take chemistry again. Somehow, I got a decent mark on the test though, just above 80%, so it all worked out. I had no idea how that was even possible. The professor was really boring though. She thought the term “magic numbers” for nuclei was dumb, which I thought was pretty cool. The labs were also horrendous. Somehow, I got the best mark in titration though, and the lab instructors were very impressed. I do still love the labcoat I had to buy for it too. Very fashionable. With each lab being three hours, you couldn’t help but be paranoid like “If I mess something up now, there’s no going back. I’m done for.” You also had to pass the lab portion to pass the course, but in the end, I didn’t do too bad and passed the course miraculously with an 83.
The physics class was the most fun of them all. The professor always cracked jokes, and picked on chemistry a lot. Once, he even recommended a manga that taught special relativity. I already couldn’t believe that much, but then he opened it to a random page and out of his mouth came the words “Oh, risqué.” The absolute madman. Don’t tell me there was actually fanservice in there and he was looking at it in the middle of class and recommending it.
The homework wasn’t even homework, since all the answers were online, but all he wanted it to be for was to help keep physics in your mind a bit anyway. You can already guess that this wasn’t a real physics class, and you would be right. It was all conceptual physics. That is, no math. It was really easy, though I only ended up getting an 82 despite that. Maybe it was also because of the labs. Yes, we also had a three hour lab every week for that too. Astronomy, on the other physics hand, was even more fun though. The course really required textbook reading, which wasn’t easy, but it was still an interesting class, and our university has a really large telescope, so we got to use that a bit and even take pictures. This was the same professor as the intro physics class too, which made things even better. There was one guy in the class that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I call him Stardad, because, well, he was a dad, and he loved the stars. Had his own small telescope at home. He was a pretty cool guy, but sadly, I never saw him again after that semester, probably due to math, which I shared with him. He had a lot of trouble with it, and I still regret not offering to help him, because he was really rusty after years and years of not touching any. I’m sure he did great in astronomy though, and even I got an 87 in that class, which was a bit unexpected, but the most unexpected mark that semester was yet to come.
Math. Algebra and trigonometry. Precalculus. I hated it. I never did like math much. “Who put the fun in function?” I tweeted. It always seemed to be full of contradictions, but the thing is, I was just wasn’t taught to this level before. High school math did me no favours, and this class cleared all my misconceptions, such as the infamous freshman’s dream. That is, (a+b)^n = a^n + b^n. We had main lectures, then a lab every week. The lab would rotate weekly between relearning concepts we should know, such as factoring, and reviewing and practicing stuff covered in the class. The main lab instructor, who is also the local cosmologist at the university, was a really funny guy in an asshole kind of way. During the very first lab, we had a skills test so that he could see what we already knew and what we didn’t. The next week, after he looked over our results, he gave us the news: “You’re all retarded.” Yes, that’s exactly what he said. I thought it was hilarious, but I hear that some people couldn’t take his sass and he made a girl cry once. There were a lot of people taking the class. I think it may have been the largest class I took at university. There were about 150 people taking it, I think. The professor wasn’t amazing, though I do give him points for his memes. Yes, memes. He was a big memer. The class was structured really well too. I don’t think I would have done so well without the mathlords on twitter to help, but in the end, I learned a lot, and even scored 93. I really thought it was a mistake. Could it have been that… I was actually good at math?
And then the first semester was over in the blink of an eye. Next up, I had the infamous calculus 1, intro to English 2, intro physics 2, folklore, and linear algebra. Winter had begun, and I got a new roommate.
The new roommate was a lot quieter than the previous, which was nice. He also gave me some star wars glasses, for some reason. Not eyeglasses, but drinking glasses. I didn’t really get to know much about him, but whatever. He was alright. At least he didn’t play music and sing to it loudly while in the shower, like my old roommate.
All that you’ve read up until this point has been what I wrote after finishing my second year. I am now continuing this after finishing my third, so I may not remember things as clearly, but let’s see.
In my new English class, we had the same professor as before. This time, we were focusing on poetry, which I thought would be really helpful to translation since I would learn to analyze poems, a skill which I could use for lyrics, but that wasn’t really true. I didn’t learn anything. I really don’t like English classes. Got a B in that one too.
Intro to physics 2 was more of the same. This time, we were learning about waves and electromagnetism, with a little bit of modern physics. We had more jokes and demonstrations for the professor, which was still fun. A ball almost hit me while he was throwing things around once during a demonstration. That sure kept me awake. But yeah, easy A for the most part. However, at one point, something strange happened. I can’t remember exactly at what point it happened, perhaps during a lecture about the history of nuclear physics, but the professor had gotten really emotional talking about how evil Hitler was. And the strangest thing was, there was a girl in the class who was giggling at this. Did she think he was putting on an act for a joke? He was always cracking jokes, but this didn’t seem like one to me. After that semester, he retired without warning and never came back.
Folklore though, that was a mistake. One of the most boring classes I’ve ever taken. Of course, I ended up getting only a B in that course, since it was a writing course. I took it hoping to learn about interesting stories and legends, but it turned out to be more about how folklore research is conducted, festivals and traditions (western ones which were so boring that I could not care less about them), and even children’s games like eenie meenie miney moe. I have no idea if I spelled that right, but I’m sure you know what I mean. We also had to analyze commercials for certain tropes, and look at clothes. Honestly, I can not convey how different it was from what I expected. The only good part of the class was when we actually did look at creation stories from various religions and compared them.
Linear algebra 2 was extremely painful. My mind had not fully adapted to thinking geometrically yet, so I did not have a good time finding distances between lines or the closest points on two lines or shortest distance from a point to a line to a plane or anything like that. Projections were also not very fun. I think I would do a lot better in the course now, but it’s too late for that. Gaussian elimination for matrices was pretty easy, though it was extremely tedious for big ones. We got some nightmarish questions on assignments too. During the final exam, I was so exhausted that I started hallucinating while finding determinants and solving huge systems of equations. I did well in the end though and barely got an A. Phew.
Calculus 1 (differential calculus) was where I think I started to like math and accept the fact that I was good at it. It just went over so well. I never really had any problems, it wasn’t bad at all like anyone said it would be. The worst part was optimization, but even that, looking at it now, is pretty simple. What gets most people is the chain rule, but I finished the course with a great mark without any problems. At least, that’s how I remember it now, and I grew what I like to call the left eye of differentiation. The ability to instantly see how any function is composed and how to differentiate it. There were only 60 or so people in this class. Compare that to the number of people taking precalculus and you can see that a large number of people either failed or just decided to never take math again. The more people dropped, the more determined I became to keep going.
In order to graduate on time, I had to finish calculus 2 (integral calculus) in the spring. For that spring semester, I had to move into the newer rooms, which was a plus. There was more space, the beds were bigger, and there were more shelves. It also looked nicer in general and the walls were thick enough that you couldn’t hear everyone and everything around you. My roommate during this time was an African exchange student who was a grad student for environmental science. I don’t know if he showered with his shoes on, but every time I looked in the shower, it was full of dirt. He also had rotten meat in the freezer. Not a very clean person. He wasn’t a bad guy though. Just not clean. Because it was in the spring, the class itself was really small at 13 or so people. The course lasted about a month. We had three classes a week, each a little under 3 hours long. But, it was the only class I was taking, so I had no problems and mostly managed to chill the whole time. Again, I never really had any problems, though some people said that integral calculus is the wall that stops a lot of people. Somehow, I got an even higher mark in this than calculus 1, and developed the right eye of integration, however after finishing the course and not using integration or differentiation again for an extended period of time, I soon went blind again for the most part. That said, I had made it. I survived the first year of university unscathed, where so many people find themselves dropping out. Now, just three more years to go and I get a fancy piece of paper.
That about sums it up for my first year of university. It turned out to not be so bad, but then again, that was only my first year. In my second year, there were more difficult challenges to come, and beyond that… Well, things really got out of control. You can especially look forward to the next year if you’re a fan of physics, because that’s when I began taking real physics courses. It was a bit daunting, considering most people taking the courses were those who were qualified from the beginning. As for me, I was missing a grade 12 physics course, and intro physics taught me nothing in problem solving. Not to mention I had to spend a year catching up on math.
Anyway, this was my first time writing something like this. I’m not very experienced in writing prose but I hope you enjoyed reading it. You can catch my second year post here.