I had always considered myself a shy person, but not in a self-deprecating way.

“Emily is so shy, I wish she would contribute more in class,” was a remark regularly conveyed to my parents when they spoke with my high school teachers.

I accepted the label of being a “shy person” nonchalantly, but recently, I decided that it was time for a change.

When I received my acceptance to Carleton’s Department of English, I told myself that I was going to make an effort to be a little less timid. I aspired to stand out and get involved as an undergraduate English student.

Don’t get me wrong; I was in various clubs and organizations in high school, but it wasn’t until I had decided on my major that I realized how passionately I wanted to be an outspoken contributor to the world of English.

As cliché as it sounds, I just wasn’t sure what to expect out of university as I arrived on campus for Frosh. During that week, I found myself surrounded by people galloping all around with their skin painted purple. As I listened to the loud, inconsistent repetition of air horns going off in the distance, I couldn’t imagine that, by the end of that week, I’d be “a university student.”  Although it was fun and easy to feel overwhelmed in these moments, I was relieved that things quickly managed to work themselves out.

In the first week of classes, I realized that Carleton was the place for me, and as a writer, I was immediately inspired.

Not only was I introduced to the various Departmental clubs such as the English Literature Society and InWords, but I was surrounded by a whole team of people who would rather read the book than watch the movie.

Without even realizing it, my first week of classes flew by, and the idea that I was struggling with – the conception of myself as an actual “university student” began to seem plausible.  I wasn’t just attending lectures and dragging myself to the cafeteria; I was visiting the English Department and surfing the internet for writing submissions.

This was the experience that I had been craving while I was a shy high school student, so I quickly achieved a lot of personal ‘firsts.’ For example, I secured a writing role as a contributor to Spoon University, an online platform that combined my two favourite things – eating and writing. I was fortunate enough to attend a Writer’s Festival event with my English professor who never let a class pass without enlightening me in some way. I went to my very first protest. I slipped away from the confines of my dorm room to study in the English Department lounge, which offers a view you won’t get anywhere else on campus.


Somewhere between exchanging daily stories in the Fresh Food Court with my roommate, and waking up engulfed in my weekly readings, I’ve come to a realization. As my professor would remind me, it may be something of a “Joycean Epiphany,” (who knew that James Joyce would jump out of my readings and into my reality so unexpectedly?) The realization is this: I am not the shy girl I had once believed I was. Or more specifically, I am, but I am not only her. I am an assortment of many things; a round character, not a flat one. I am the dynamic, not the static protagonist of my own story. I guess this is my way of mirroring Thoreau who “wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

It has only been three months since I arrived in Ottawa and I’ve realized that I brought more highlighter markers than I’ll ever need. It has only been three months since I experienced firsthand what it feels like to really, really miss my mom.

And it has only been three months, and I can’t wait for more.