To celebrate the rainy March Break Open House Day, I am slotting in another blog post :)
There is the preconceived notion of a lack of social events at Waterloo - this is untrue. There are a large variety of events available for students, and people will often find their happy spot or friend group during their first couple of years. It’s just that it’s difficult for people’s schedules to align so that everyone can attend certain get togethers or events.
It just happens to be extremely convenient for specific programs like engineering where everyone in the class has the same assignment and exam schedule in their earlier years. It is also quite convenient during first year since the majority of your friends live on residence. Once in your upper years, your friends will be moving on campus and will not be in close vicinity anymore. Then there’s the issue of being off-stream due to co-op, which breaks friendship ties further.
Many people have a difficult time juggling a social life with academia during the beginning of their undergrad. For me, I had such busy school schedules that I basically didn’t want to join clubs or go out of my way to meet people from 1A through 3A. Outside of being in a relationship, I had very little extra time. When I did have time, I would want to do things on my own - watch TV, play games, hang out with my classmates that I’ve already gotten close with, be with my roommates/close friends, etc. Joining a club didn’t seem to benefit me much as it seemed out of the way for me and it was difficult to commit to something long term since assignment and lab difficulty was unpredictable. I built a friendship circle from the closest, most convenient friends (classmates or roommates for example).
I only began going out of my way to meet people in 3B, when I started getting electives and being able to choose courses that I enjoyed or tended to have less work load. This term in particular, I have finally been active in a club and met people I can relate to and enjoy being with.
In engineering, it is very possible to have interests outside of your field, it just isn’t as convenient. and depends on the person's priorities. Many people are heavily involved in school politics, clubs, sports teams, or other community activities. They just have different ways of juggling their schedules.
Dealing with Real World Problems
Waterloo co-op provides some very good structure and setup for students to face real world problems. Undergrad is a playground for real life. You start paying your own tuition, signing your first rental agreements, cooking your own food, dealing with conflicts in a work or roommate setting, and living on a budget. These are important life skills that you will face after undergrad.
And I’m not saying you don’t experience these things at other universities - but when in co-op, you are faced with further responsibility of finding housing and suitable roommates, doing your taxes, cooking your own food, etc. You will learn how to face these problems and deal with them yourself.
I often ate out during first and second year, but I started gaining motivation to cook my own food. It just made little sense to eat out everyday, especially if you’re the type to want to save money. Plus, it’s not very impressive when going to a friend’s place and being completely useless in the kitchen :)
Being on co-op means that your living situation will be different almost every term. For some, this gets to be a bit of a hassle. You will never be able to leave things behind, meaning you should try to pack light when moving to your next co-op placement (impossible for girls though, to be real).
Then there are the roommate situations. Doing a quick count, I’ve lived with a total of 30 different people in the span of my undergrad career when sharing a suite or apartment of some sort. This is a lot of people. I usually tried to live with friends or at least acquaintances, but I have also lived with completely random people. Luckily, I haven’t gotten into too many roommate conflicts in the past.
Figure out your priorities when selecting your living situations. Do you want to live with friends who you trust? Would you rather save money and go with a cheap sublet, but risk dealing with irresponsible or problematic roommates? Do these things even matter to you and do you care about interacting with your roommates in the first place?
A general tip is to always meet your roommates before signing a lease or sublet with them, because you could run into roommates that don’t clean after themselves, play loud music, host parties weekly, or are generally irresponsible and don’t lock the front door, etc. You might also want to ask around from mutual friends to be sure. Four months is a long enough duration that you wouldn’t want to deal with recurring problems.
I’ve also lived on my own for two terms (as in no roommates at all) during co-op. This was actually pretty lonely, thinking back. It was definitely nice to have my own space, to not be disturbed by others, but at the same time, I missed the ease of being able to socialize with someone person-to-person by running into them in the kitchen or living room. Plus, when you are in a good situation with your roommates, you may often share meals, appliances, cleaning supplies, etc. together and save money.
Even living in a whole new region or city can be a huge change for people who are used to creating friendships with people their own age, or people in their close vicinity. These are things you will not experience if you plan to live at home during your entire undergrad.
TL;DR: Doing co-op at Waterloo doesn’t just give you a degree and some work experience. It’ll also be about the experience you gain from living at a ton of different cities, trying out various companies, meeting all sorts of people. You won’t know how it is until you open all the doors and try it out, and there’s nothing wrong with starting late.